Terence Blanchard can put a spell on you the way he moves from a whisper to a shout. But spell-casting isn't a foolproof profession, and the New Orleans trumpeter wasn't casting much of a spell Wednesday in Los Gatos, where his band ran into a large but largely indifferent crowd in Town Plaza Park -- just down the block from the Apple Store on Santa Cruz Avenue.
Maybe it was Blanchard's fault; overall, he didn't connect. But he was battling an ever-stronger, 21st century connection: that between Silicon Valley concertgoers and their iPhones. Wow, were there ever a lot of people flipping through their email and Twitter accounts as Blanchard's quintet began its twilight performance, part of the terrific Jazz on the Plazz series. During breaks in the music, MC Michael Jacobi kept telling the crowd, "It doesn't get any better than this," but most didn't seem convinced.
Actually, the music was strong, from "Autumn Leaves" to a bluesy Second Line bounce. It's just that, if you care to see the famous Blanchard -- he's scored dozens of movies and leads one of jazz's most talent-rich groups -- you'd do better to follow him to Yoshi's San Francisco (Friday and Saturday), the San Jose Jazz Festival (Sunday) or the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz (Monday). As it turned out, Los Gatos was just a warm-up for the band's continuing tour.
The evening was more interesting sociologically than musically. In the plaza, you could see the arts meeting
During one of saxophonist Brice Winston's escalating ascension solos -- in most jazz clubs, this would be met by intense audience concentration, nodding heads, encouraging shouts -- a line of well-dressed young women moved through the eastern side of the park, shouting greetings to friends, trading hugs. You could see the response of the jazz hounds sprinkled through the audience: they clapped dutifully for Winston's solo, intent on maintaining protocol and buoying the band.
Don't get me wrong. Some people were listening -- just not that many. And while the general level of inattention seemed strange, I suppose you could argue that it's nothing new at all: pick up a 19th century novel and read about the social scene at the opera; if you believe the descriptions, no one paid a whit of attention to what was happening on stage.
At Jazz on the Plazz, Blanchard was in a Miles Davis-y mood -- playing lonely, piercing cries on the trumpet during "Nocturna," a moody ballad by Brazilian songwriter Ivan Lins.
"Wandering Wonder," a Blanchard original, started at a simmer and became a wild, Miles-y electric stew, with thick swirls of percolating patter from young drummer Justin Brown, who's from Oakland and now is a first-call player in New York; lush acoustic piano jabs and synth-keyboard scrambles from Fabian Almazan, who grew up in Havana, accompanied the piece. Blanchard, plugged in by a foot pedal, became many Blanchards, throwing clutches of high notes at the crowd.
Finishing his first set, Blanchard told some stories -- about visiting Lins at his home in Rio; about saxophonist Winston being from Tucson, Ariz., not your typical jazz spawning ground. He also introduced the other band members, including Joshua Crumbly, his skinny acoustic bassist.
"We'd like to call him a Juilliard graduate, but we can't because he's still at Juilliard," Blanchard, 50, said. "He just turned 20. That's why we take all these day gigs," he joked (the sun hadn't quite set at this point). "No night gigs until he turns 21."
Later, near the end of the concert, Crumbly strapped on his electric bass and put some bottom into a world-groove number, another fusion-y stew, and something happened. You could feel the audience settling down, its level of focus increasing. Was it Crumbly? The cool night air? The wine? At last, for a moment, the jazz on this "plazz" was the focus of attention.
Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069.
and his Quintet
When/where: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Yoshi's San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St.; $20-$24, 415-655-5600, www.yoshis.com
When/where: 2 p.m. Sunday, San Jose Jazz Festival Main Stage, Plaza de Cesar Chavez; $20, $5 ages 5-12 (admission price includes all Aug. 12 festival events), www.sanjosejazz.org
When/where: 7 and 9 p.m. Monday, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, $25-$28, www.kuumbwajazz.org