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Seven Jazz Jubilee acts you shouldn’t miss—because we said so

If you haven’t already taken a glance at the schedule for the 35th annual Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (go on and pick up one of their official programs), then let me warn you—this event is massive. At any given hour during the four-day festival, there could be as many as 30 performances going on at once.

One of the pleasures unique to the Jazz Jubilee is being able to stroll from venue to venue sampling the stunning variety of jazz styles—from standards to country-tinged two-step—and this year, festival organizers have outdone themselves. Beginning Friday at 1 p.m. and running all the way through Monday afternoon, the 2008 Jazz Jubilee features the most stylistically diverse lineup in the festival’s history. Ragtime and Dixieland are as well-represented as ever, but fans of swing, blues and straight-ahead crooners will find themselves deep in talent this year as well. And if one sound really catches your ear, be sure to check out the special concert showcases, each highlighting a particular style. Also, don’t miss the Next Generation performers—more than a dozen bands, all 21-and-under—from California, Colorado, Oregon and British Colombia, Canada.

Perhaps the toughest choice comes on Sunday morning, when you’ll have to choose between the Sunday spiritual music events and the Bloody Mary contest.

Here are our choices for can’t miss acts, along with some suggested requests:

Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band
One of the Jubilee’s premiere international acts, the Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band came all the way from Hungary to participate in this year’s festival. Their name says “Ragtime,” but the group—together since 1985—is practiced in a number of styles, including swing and spirituals.

Request: “Black Beauty”—Bohém does right by this lush Ellington masterpiece.

Friday: 1pm Yolo Room; 4pm The Depot; 7pm Turntable Junction; 9pm the Crest. Saturday: 1pm Embassy Suites Ballroom; 4pm Abe’s Attic; 8:30pm Gus & Joan’s. Sunday: 1pm Embassy Suites Ballroom; 5:30pm Golden Eagle Room; 10pm Yolo Room. Monday: 2:30pm Hyatt Ballroom.

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers
Sure, it’s an obvious choice, he is one of the headlining acts after all, but New Orleans native Kermit Ruffins (pictured above) is exactly what this festival is all about. Combining brass band standards, hot-jazz classics and funk sensibilities, the trumpet player embodies the bon temps—people coming together to laugh, drink, eat, sing and dance—that makes jazz such a powerful art form. They’re called the Barbecue Swingers because Ruffins likes to combine his onstage skills with his skills at the grill. One can only hope he’s bringing that kind of party to Old Sac …

Request: “Palm Court Strut”—you’ll see why.

Saturday and Sunday: 8:30pm and 10pm Firehouse Lot.

Billy Mata & the Texas Tradition
For 30 years, Billy Mata has been entertaining audiences and winning awards with his ringing baritone. Add to that fiddle and pedal steel-guitar players of jaw-dropping skill and classic tunes, and you’ve got a Texas-sized slice of Western swing heaven.

Request: “Wishful Thinkin’”—Mata digs into the Bakersfield Sound with a Wynn Stewart chart topper from 1960.

Tom Rigney takes that “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” thing seriously.

Photo By Laura Martin

Friday: 2:30pm Hard Rock Cafe; 5:30pm and 10pm Riverfront Refuge. Saturday: 1pm Hyatt Ballroom; 7pm and 10pm Marilyn’s on K. Sunday: 2:30pm Abe’s Attic; 5:30pm Turntable Junction; 8:30pm Gus & Joan’s. Monday: 10am Sheraton Grand Nave Ballroom.

Pearl Django
Seattle’s Pearl Django are one of the country’s most sought-after gypsy jazz bands. An obvious choice for those Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli fans, Pearl Django is sure to convert Jubilee-goers new to the hot-club style.

Request: “The Conversation”—a beautiful hot-jazz waltz.

Friday: 2:30pm Holiday Inn John Q’s (with John Cocuzzi); 7pm Delta King Paddlewheel Saloon; 10pm Pyramid Alehouse. Saturday: 11:30am Hard Rock Cafe (with Jake Hanna and Anita Thomas); 4pm Marilyn’s on K; 10pm Golden Eagle Room. Sunday: 11:30am Abe’s Attic; 2:30pm Swing Dance Emporium (with Bob Draga); 5:30pm Firehouse Courtyard; 8:30pm Hideaway. Monday: 10am Delta King Paddlewheel Saloon.

Tom Rigney and Flambeau
He may be a Bay Area boy, but Tom Rigney’s sound is all bayou. The fiddler’s zydeco stomps and Cajun waltzes resound with the clear, voice-like quality of his playing, and he’s got a band that you almost have to dance to.

Request: “Co Fa”—a Creole French classic.

Friday: 1pm Turntable Junction; 5:30pm and 10pm Freeway Gardens. Saturday: 2:30pm Sheraton Grand Nave Ballroom; 7pm Firehouse Lot; 10pm Holiday Inn Ballroom. Sunday: 11:30am Hyatt Ballroom; 7pm Firehouse Lot; 10pm Turntable Junction. Monday: 2:30pm Riverfront Refuge.

Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band
They hail from the breezy Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Wash., but the sound of the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band is classic New Orleans. Uptown Lowdown has been together since 1971, and every moment of those 37 years of practice shows in their ultra-smooth, Dixieland chops.

Request: “Canal Street Blues.”

Friday: 3pm Pizza Tent at St. Rose of Lima Park; 5:30pm Abe’s Attic; 7pm Garden Terrace; 10pm Yolo Room. Saturday: 12am Crest Theater; 1pm Downtown Plaza Piazza; 2:30pm Hard Rock Cafe; 8:30pm The Depot. Sunday: 11:30am Delta King Paddewheel Saloon; 1pm Railroad Museum; 4pm Gus & Joan’s; 10pm Firehouse Courtyard. Monday: 1pm Embassy Suites Ballroom.

The Blues Stage at Laughs Unlimited
OK, we’re cheating a little bit here, but the lineup at the festival’s official Blues Stage is too good not to be included as a whole. The Sacramento area is loaded with stunningly talented blues artists and the Jazz Jubilee has wrangled a ton of them to grace their blues showcase. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with the blistering guitar work of Steve Foster, Jimmy Pailer and Johnny “Guitar” Knox; to check out Sacramento blues-rock legends like Mick Martin and Lee Boots & the Southside Shuffle; or to catch vocal powerhouse Linda Bracamonte.

You can catch these great blues acts at Laughs Unlimited on Friday from 1 to 11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. has the Blues Stage lineup and links to all the performers’ Web sites, and remember to check out the Jazz Jubilee program for a complete festival schedule and details on all these amazing acts.