Dave Eshelman doesn't want to admit it, but he's yielding to the primordial call of the seven-year itch.
Since retiring from his full-time teaching position at Cal State East Bay in 2007, the trombonist/arranger has devoted a good deal of his time to performing in various settings, from duo gigs with guitarist Randy Vincent to concerts with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. But it's been seven years since he performed with his acclaimed Jazz Garden Big Band, and he's feeling the need for brass.
"There's nothing like hearing your tunes played by a really strong big band," says Eshelman, who has reassembled many of the original Jazz Garden players for performances Friday at De Anza College's 33rd Annual Patnoe Jazz Festival and Monday at Yoshi's in Oakland.
A talent-stocked ensemble that debuted in downtown San Jose's Eulipia Cafe in 1978, the JGBB long maintained its status as one of the region's elite jazz orchestras. Performing at major venues and festivals and collaborating with heavyweight artists like Mel Torme and Joe Henderson, the band gained national attention with four critically hailed CDs (most recently 2001's "Milagro's Journey").
Just when it seemed that JGBB had been relegated to Bay Area jazz lore as one of those ensembles you had to have seen back in the day, Eshelman decided to round up his posse of improvisers. The band's stellar cast includes saxophonists Mary Fettig, Rory Snyder, Bob Farrington and Dann Zinn; trumpeters Louis Fasman, Steve Campos, Mike Olmos and Erik Jekabson; pianist Colin Hogan; guitarist Randy Vincent; bassist John Shifflett; and drummer Alan Hall.
The Patnoe Jazz Festival, which was created in memory of De Anza's beloved music teacher Herb Patnoe to raise funds for music scholarships in his honor (some $70,000 has been distributed over the years), opens with sets by the De Anza Jazz Ensemble and the community band the Daddios, both under the direction of John Russell. The JGBB's set is a retrospective covering some 35 years of repertoire, including a piece inspired by tenor sax titan Michael Brecker, who once performed as a guest with Eshelman's Cal State Hayward student ensemble.
"It's not easy putting a set like this together," Eshelman says, emphasizing the cooperative nature of a jazz big band. "Many of these players have done their own shows at Yoshi's. I'm really conscious of trying to get them as much solo space as I can."
Eshelman could have carved out a career as a player and arranger, but he loves working with aspiring musicians. His former students can be found performing around the world, and as a bandleader himself, he has kept company with jazz's most respected players, like on his 2000 album "Mystique" featuring guitar great John Abercrombie, bass master John Patitucci and drum star Peter Erskine.
Monday's show at Yoshi's opens with a set by Eshelman's Jazzschool Studio Band, which placed second at the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation Festival in April. He couldn't stay away from teaching, either, and recently joined the Jazzschool faculty. For the JGBB, he's written a new piece inspired by the "Nessun dorma" aria from Puccini's "Turandot."
He credits saxophonist Farrington, who's retiring after almost four decades of running the jazz program at De Anza, with sparking the Jazz Garden revival. One of five original members of the JGBB who are still in the fold, Farrington was teaching at Sunnyvale's Fremont High School and Eshelman was on faculty at San Jose City College when the ensemble first came together.
"We were rehearsing at the Gaslighter Theatre in Campbell," Farrington recalls. "I'd bring music stands from Fremont High, and we put out the word to the best players in the South Bay. It was a great band, and what kept so many players involved for so long is that Dave's writing is so darn good. There's been some turnover, but some players have been there right from the get-go."
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.
Jazz Garden Big Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday,
Where: 33rd Annual Patnoe Jazz Festival, De Anza
College Visual and
Performing Arts Center, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd.,
Tickets: $20, 408-864-8507
Also: 8 p.m. Monday, Yoshi's Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, $15, 510-238-9200, www.yoshis.com.