At just about every point in jazz history, the piano has been in the center of things, leading or accompanying. And one could spend a lifetime learning about the bewildering variety of stylistic approaches that jazz players have invented on those 88 keys.
The two biggest upcoming jazz events are testimonies to the piano’s power and mystery, and to the music’s future.
Coming to town are two superb jazz communicators from far-flung corners of the world: Eliane Elias, an established and subtle master from Brazil, and Joey Alexander, a teen prodigy from the island of Bali.
Elias went through that teen-prodigy thing in Brazil in the ’70s and emerged artistically stronger for it. She’s now one of the leading exponents of Brazilian jazz, playing and singing with just the right quiet fire. It’s music with a lyrical surface and strong undertows. And if her style doesn’t move too far beyond Brazilian music and the American standards, that’s OK — ain’t broke, don’t fix.
Elias, whose legion of fans includes Herbie Hancock and Gilberto Gil, makes a welcome return to the Folly Theater (she was last there in 2013), 300 W. 12th St., at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $10-$50; check follytheater.org or call 816-474-4444. Elias will participate in a question-and-answer session for ticketholders at 7 p.m.
Alexander, a Grammy nominee at age 13, wows with flashy technique and fistfuls of notes, but he also has the sense to scale it back, like a piano poet in the making. He’s absorbing and adapting the styles of Hancock, McCoy Tyner and other moderns, and it’s good to see and hear that being done so tastefully by one so young. One comes away hoping that even greater things are ahead for him.
His show is at 8 p.m. Saturday at Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College. Tickets are $23-$38. Check jccc.edu or call 913-469-4445.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has pianist Roger Wilder leading the jam at 7 p.m. Monday, May 15. Drummer and composer Ryan J. Lee brings his ambitious Mezzo String project to the stage at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Bassist Tyrone Clark and his True Dig band appear at 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 19, and singer Ida McBeth returns at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20.
▪ Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has singer Kathleen Holeman’s trio at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 14, followed by tenor saxophonist Steve Lambert’s quintet at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, May 15, followed by vibraphonist Peter Schlamb’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; Hopper’s Agora band at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, followed by bassist Gerald Spaits, reed man Charles Perkins, keyboardist Matt Villinger and drummer Todd Strait at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, followed by saxophonist Ernest Melton’s quartet at 10:30 p.m.; Guitar Elation at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18, followed by tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin, Villinger and Strait at 10:30 p.m.; Holeman again at 2 p.m. Friday, May 19, followed by pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m., trumpeter Stan Kessler’s Cornerstone group at 8:30 p.m. downstairs and organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m. upstairs; and Holeman at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20, followed by OJT at 6 p.m., Hazelton’s trio downstairs at 9 p.m. and the New Transition Quartet at 10:30 p.m. upstairs.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751