More Than Just a Cover: Music Re-Imagined at Summer Fest

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Excited to hear what Sting sounds like when arranged for a jazz quartet? Interested in learning about an overlooked crossover artist from the 1930’s? Want to hear a local interpretation of a Brazilian legend? Three sets this year aim to add to the legacy of well-established artists by re-interpreting their work for the Summer Fest stage. Just as popular songs are often re-worked by other musicians in jazz, these three artists feed into that spirit by focusing on presenting sets that bring their own musical vision to well-known song catalogs.

The Aaron Lington Quartet headline the Cisco Bella Mia Stage Saturday at 6pm, where they will be playing the music of Sting. Lington has long been a fan of Sting’s work – he admits the first CD he owned was the Police’s Synchronicity – and his song choice will reflect that. “I’m gonna do some of the slightly less well-known tunes,” he says. “I’m tending to lean more toward the side of some of his tunes that sound a little bit more folksy, and some of the tunes that sound a little bit more singer/songwriter.” Though his set will not include staples like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take,” Lington thinks fans who celebrate Sting’s entire catalog will recognize the songs he chose to tackle. “I think big Sting fans will be able to recognize all the tunes that we’re gonna do because I’m doing sort of b-side tunes.”

Though the songs will be largely different, Lington has kept the main melody intact – as he says “that’s the part of it that’s a little bit sacred.” Despite the changes, he believes Sting’s music, given its rich musicality, will translate to die-hards and casual fans alike. “Even if it’s one of these casual fans, my hope is that they’ll still be able to listen to what I’ve done with the tune and say ‘That’s a nice piece of music.’”

ValLimar Jansen and her husband Frank, in addition to leading Summer Fest’s Jazz Mass, will close out the Swing Stage Sunday at 5pm with a performance of their show Sweet Mama String Bean, which focuses on the career of singer and actress Ethel Waters from roughly 1909-1939. A singer and actress herself, Jansen drew many parallels to Waters’s overlooked career when she first read her autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow, in college. Waters continued to be an inspiration. While touring Europe with a Broadway ensemble for Raisin, the musical adaptation of the play A Raisin in the Sun, Jansen discovered how to properly present this crossover songstress’s work.

Sweet Mama String Bean is more than just a musical revue. The show not only covers hits by Waters, but it works to inform the audience about her often under-appreciated legacy. “I was really struck by the fact that she gets very little in terms of history and where she fits, almost like a linchpin in the development of the blueswoman throughout American music,” explains Jansen. “At one point, [Ethel Waters] and Bert Williams were the only two Black people on the Great White Way, and a lot of people don’t know that. At that time, she was making more money than Fanny Brice.” The show focuses on capturing the impact of a Waters performance as told through Jansen’s own voice. Jansen likens the style of the show to recent Broadway hits Memphis and Million Dollar Quartet as well as Fela!, a musical biography of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

Ed Johnson and Novo Tempo recognize a Brazilian music legend when they present “Illuminados: A Tribute to the Music of Ivan Lins” 5pm Sunday on the Silicon Valley Stage. This will be a revival for Johnson and his group, who premiered this set back in 2010 at Yoshi’s. Lins, an internally-acclaimed, Latin Grammy Award-winning musician whose songs have been covered by such acclaimed artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, George Benson, Sting and Sergio Mendes, has been a large influence on Johnson’s career. Additionally, Lins’s 1989 hit “Love Dance” is noted as one of the most re-recorded songs in music history.

Are you excited to see any of these interesting sets at Summer Fest? Let us know by sharing your thoughts on our Facebook post.

Photo Credit: © Carla Fallberg