Jazz festivals abound in the Bay Area, from North Beach to Berkeley to San Jose, but there's a simple reason for that: There's a lot of great jazz here. This superabundance of festivals means that the definition of what counts as jazz gets stretched quite a bit. That may be because the Bay Area jazz scene, like so much of the culture California claims as its own, is really an amalgam (a fusion, if you will) of many disparate but harmonious elements, brought together in new ways for our sophisticated delectation.
All this serves to explain why it makes sense that Robert Cray, a fine bluesman first and foremost, is playing the S.F. Jazz Festival. His band is bringin' it late in the festival, which began Oct. 25, and he's far from the first to push the jazz envelope. S.F. Jazz has embraced soul, in the form of Lou Rawls and Etta James, as well as big names in salsa. Bobby McFerrin performs in the salute to Eddie Marshall (in which Marshall himself will also participate) on Thursday, and Sunday will ring with the sounds of local swing acts Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and the Blue Room Boys on board the San Francisco Spirit.
But hey, "I'm diggin' it," as Cray himself sings in "All the Way," off his 1999 Rykodisc album, Take Your Shoes Off. No matter which genre you label him, Cray will get your hips shaking and your head nodding to the fine keyboard and guitar licks and deep, rolling vocals that characterize his artistry. His four Grammys (out of 10 nominations) are just the cherries on top of a career that's seen him onstage with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and a host of other luminaries.