A Guide to Vocalists at Summer Fest

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Looking to take in some fabulous songstresses at this year’s Summer Fest? Our fantastic cast of vocalists feature locals and former internationals, teenagers and seasoned professionals, yet all further the lyrical tradition of past greats.

Leading our list of distinguished vocalists is four-time Grammy® Winner Dianne Reeves, one of Summer Fest’s headliners. Regarded as one of the finest jazz singers of her time, Reeves’s respectable catalog all but guarantees that her set will be full of welcome surprises. Reeves is set to perform on the Main Stage Sunday at 4pm. We will be featuring a story on Reeves in the coming days, so be sure to check back soon for more on her storied career.

Sara Gazarek seems to be sowing the seeds for a similarly respected career. Her latest, Blossom and Bee, has garnered further acclaim, including a five star review from CriticalJazz. Championed by Dan Heckman of the LA Times as “the next important jazz singer,” Gazarek is a fast-rising, true jazz vocalist who possesses an understated, and uncanny, emotive ability. Her set on the Tivo San Jose Rep Stage will be a treat for those with an appreciation for jazz vocalists. Spend an afternoon with her Sunday at 3pm.

With a fearless streak and a spirit unafraid to challenge convention, Rene Marie’s set on the Tivo San Jose Rep Stage Saturday at 5pm will be essential viewing for those ready to experience a performer known for her sweeping re-interpretations. 2010’s Voice of My Beautiful Country, which re-worked established American touchstones like “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” received everything from glowing praise to angry responses laced with racial epithets, so expect a daring, provocative performance from Marie and her “Experiment in Truth” Quartet.

Summer Fest isn’t without its share of talented local talent either. Sandra Marlowe, an artist always seeking re-invention, recently tackled her first jazz album, True Blue, set for release on July 31. With a voice that proudly displays her operatic sensibilities, Marlowe’s new focus frames her powerful delivery in a much more intimate light. This intriguing interplay is evidence of her extensive training, five years of which were spent with legendary vocal coach Judy Davis, whose past students included Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and Janis Joplin. Count on a performance that will add a touch of gusto atop straight-ahead jazz. Catch her on the Silicon Valley Stage, Saturday at 7pm, accompanied by the Larry Dunlap Quartet.

Joyce Randolph, as Mercury News writer Richard Scheinin describes her, is truly “one of the South Bay’s treasures.” Combining the precision of jazz with the raw emotion found in blues, Randolph’s voice carries a weathered quality that tells of her experience yet shares a loving charm in light of her bare vocal approach. Her latest, Then Sings My Soul, is an especially personal collection of religious and gospel standards profound in their simplicity. Experience her artistry on the large yet intimate Tivo San Jose Rep Stage Sunday at 5pm.

While our last artist may be the youngest of this bunch, she’s already padded her resume with plenty of accolades. Owning a laundry list of awards that most recently included being named one of only twenty U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, San Jose’s own Laila Smith brings to the stage a wealth of talent and experience well beyond her young 17 years of age. A mainstay at Summer Fest, Smith has been performing here since the age of six, giving festival attendees the rare chance to see a young talent truly develop before their eyes. Smith will be performing inside the lovely Fairmont Hotel Saturday at 1pm on the Silicon Valley Stage.

Any singer in particular you can’t wait to see at Summer Fest? Join in the conversation on our Facebook post.