Bay area jazz devotees, forced to search high and low for a good outing lately, might find the second annual Smooth Jazz on the Bay an appealing offer. The Sunday event sports a daylong lineup of top talent that will fill the downtown Vinoy Park with laid-back sounds.
Radio station WSJT-FM 94.1 sponsors the event, headlined by alto sax great David Sanborn, considered the granddaddy of the light-jazz format. Also on board will be fluegelhorn legend Chuck Mangione and contemporary mainstreamers Brian Culbertson and Chris Botti.
At 52, Sanborn is one of the contemporary jazz world's biggest stars, with a half-dozen Grammys and countless other awards to his credit. Although he hasn't found it compelling enough to take credit for it, he has come to symbolize the 1980s movement that fused pop and jazz elements into a focused form that exploded with imitators.
But for the Tampa-born Sanborn, variety has been essential to a creative spark that has fueled 16 albums. He has stopped at many musical points in his nearly 30-year career. A former sideman with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and a noted studio standout who has worked with everyone from Albert King to Paul Simon to Carlos Santana, he doesn't bother trying to categorize his music. Certainly, the "music with no barriers" argument would be dismissed as facile if it weren't for the late, great Night Music syndicated radio show he hosted a few years back.
The program gave Sanborn a chance to spotlight some of his personal horn influences (Hank Crawford, David "Fathead" Newman, Phil Woods) as well as purveyors of the types of music that creep into his R&B/funk/blues idiom: Sun Ra, Bootsy Collins, Al Green, Carla Bley.
"We didn't go in there like this was some sort of a cause," Sanborn told an interviewer once. "We just went in with the idea that there are a lot of different types of music in the world and there's something in there that connects all of it."
Mangione, like Sanborn, found a willing audience among the '70s pop minions. In fact, 1978's airy, melodic Feels So Good propelled him from a rather obscure existence in the jazz ranks and into the Top 10 charts.
But Mangione had faded from the scene by the mid-1980s, and actually retired altogether for while, citing road burnout. But a revived interest in his music by the building interest in pop-jazz prompted him to come back.
"I'm loaded with product," he told the Los Angeles Times last year. "And I still have a lot of music in my brain to write down."
Smooth Jazz on the Bay gets under way at 2 p.m. Sunday (gates open at 1) with Chris Botti, followed by Brain Culbertson at 3:15. Mangione performs at 4:30, with Sanborn closing out the concert at 6:15.
Food and beverages will be available. Coolers and pets are not allowed in the concert area.