Fest Five: Ross McMahon

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Though he’s a newcomer to SJZ’s Board, Ross McMahon has always been involved in the arts, first as an Irish step dancer and later as an ice skater, competing in both disciplines at the national level. He played guitar in bands throughout the Bay Area while getting his Bachelor’s Degree in American Literature at Santa Clara University.

Ross first volunteered at campus radio station KSCU then later at WTUL New Orleans while attending Tulane Law School. Ross has been a trial attorney with the Santa Clara County Public Defender Office for the last 15 years. He’s a long-time attendee of SJZ’s flagship event, the annual Summer Fest, and enjoys combing the offerings for his must-see shows each year.

Below, the five acts Ross is most excited to see this weekend:

Will Sessions & The Internet

As much as I would like to be at the Kaiser Permanente Main Stage to see one of my all-time favorites, Tower of Power, kick off this year’s Summer Fest, the one-two punch of cutting-edge contemporary music at the Jazz Beyond Stage on Friday night is just too much to resist.

Detroit’s Will Sessions is an eclectic brand of R&B and soul and their live mixes of hip hop instrumentals (including a 2011 tribute to Nas’ masterpiece Illmatic) are both legendary and critically-acclaimed.

The Internet, supporting their latest release Ego Death, are a band whose stars are aligning, and it may be some time before fans get a chance to see them play in such an intimate setting again. Their progressive take on 90’s neo-soul and the star power of singer Syd tha Kyd make their performance a potential best-of–fest. It’s a coup to have both of these artists play back-to-back on Summer Fest’s opening night and a testament to the great musical diversity of the weekends offerings.


Bombay Jazz

Shakti, the collaboration between John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain, was the group that first opened my ears to the shocking possibilities of East-meets-West improvisational music. Bombay Jazz, a group featuring jazz guitar legend Larry Coryell, saxophonist George Brooks, bamboo flautist Ronu Majumdar and tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur, furthers this tradition Saturday at the California Theatre in what should be an original and masterful performance. Of all the options at this year’s Summer Fest, Bombay Jazz is the performance that I’m looking forward to the most.


Ali Shaheed Muhammad

To music fans of a certain age, A Tribe Called Quest represents the high-water mark for East Coast “conscious” hip-hop. Ali Shaheed Muhammed was one third of that group, and after Tribe’s split, he went on to work with, and produce for, such artists as  D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige and Gil Scott-Heron. He is currently the co-host of Microphone Check on NPR. His DJ set at the Jazz Beyond Stage on Saturday night will be worth staying out for.


Shai Maestro Trio

The former pianist for Avishai Cohen, Isreali Shai Maestro brings his own trio to Café Stritch for consecutive performances starting at 2:30pm on Saturday afternoon. Expect a dynamic, rhythmically-complex and seasoned group of musicians. Stritch is an intimate space, so be sure to get there early. They’ll be featuring their new record Untold Stories which they describe as “a musical summary of four years of activity with the trio.”


Sax Appeal with Javon Jackson, Jimmy Heath, Gary Bartz & Donald Harrison

Calling Sax Appeal a “super group” is a bit of an understatement. The jazz professionals who comprise this band are more of a bucket list for saxophone aficionados. Their individual resumes are ridiculous and their collaborators too many to mention – suffice to say that these four musicians have performed with everyone from Miles Davis to Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, Art Blakey and just about every modern jazz artist in between. Their jazz summit at the Kaiser Permanente Main Stage at 4pm on Saturday is a must-see for me at the festival.)

Ross knows who he’s excited to see at Summer Fest. Who’s in your Fest Five?  Share your picks with us by contacting info@sanjosejazz.org or tagging your choices with the hashtag #FestFive on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Click here to purchase your Summer Fest tickets.