Ambrose Akinmusire is skipping the Grammys to honor his Oakland musical heroes

Described as possibly “the most distinctive, elusive and ultimately satisfying trumpeter of his generation” by New York Times, Akinmusire is a master improviser whose original compositions blend influences beyond classic jazz, including poetry, blues and hip-hop. And while his talent and accomplishments regularly send him to locations around the world, there’s still no place like home.

“I believe that Oakland in particular is sacred ground,” Akinmusair says. “I think it’s a place where you can come and recharge. And that’s something I see in the culture. That’s something I hear in music. It’s something I hear in the way we talk.”

The four-show run will conclude his role as one of SFJAZZ’s resident artistic directors for 2022-23. “I Said [SFJAZZ] I just wanted to find creative ways to say thank you. Showing gratitude,” the musician says of the opportunity.

He began his role last March with a residency titled “Porter,” after his first jazz trumpet teacher, the late Robert Porter, and featured guest performances by some of the Bay Area musicians and mentors who shaped him as an artist, such as bassist Marcus Shelby.

“There were a lot of older cats that were here that mentored me that nobody knows about. Like Ed Kelly or Robert Porter or Khalil Shahid … a drummer named Hi Fi — all those old-school cats that were around,” says Akinmusire, who played in the Berklee High School Jazz Ensemble. And some of them were former Black Panthers and all these other things. But they played jazz and really helped develop me and a lot of the younger musicians.”

The tribute to his musical heroes continues with this new series of performances, featuring artists such as drummer Thomas Pridgen, formerly of the Mars Volta, and saxophonist Joshua Redman, a fellow Berkeley High student.

Akinmusire will perform as part of a quartet, trio and duo at the SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium and then finish with a solo performance at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, giving a great countdown structure to the performances — 4, 3, 2, 1 — for which Akinmusire credits to departing SFJAZZ founder and executive artistic director Randall Kline.

For the duo performance, Akinmusire will be joined by legendary double bassist Ron Carter – a dream come true for the trumpeter. “At a young age I wanted – and still want – to be Ron Carter. I want to grow up and have the integrity that he has. I mean everything he says, every note he plays has so much integrity and beauty in it,” says the musician, noting that Carter doesn’t usually play with artists of Akinmusair’s generation.

The latest solo performance at Grace Cathedral carries special meaning, says the musician, who notes that about a year and a half ago he recorded a solo album that has yet to be released.

“Playing solo was just something that was in the back of my head,” he says. The appeal, he adds, is the beauty that lives in sitting with yourself—and that’s enough.

“I think when you have a lot of technique and can play almost anything you put your mind to, it’s hard to give in to beauty. It’s hard not to do the flashy stuff,” says Akinmusair. “So I wanted to do a solo project that was just sitting at the center of beauty. The center of self, which to me is beauty. And that’s why I’m doing Grace Cathedral [show].”

And that’s probably why so many music lovers relish the opportunity to experience it with him.

Ambrose Akinmusire performs nightly February 3-5 at SFJAZZ Center and February 9 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Details here.

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