Smooth summer sounds

Jazz bassist Julian Vaughn kicks off Thursday summer concerts on Bradley Fair Plaza

Written by Joe Stumpe

The first headliner in this year’s Bradley Fair summer concert series is a 6-foot-7 former basketball star, preacher’s son and rising jazz bassist.

Julian Vaughn admits there are some “crazy” similarities between himself and Wayman Tisdale, the former University of Oklahoma and NBA player who became a jazz bassist before his untimely death in 2009. Vaughn calls Tisdale one of his biggest influences. “I met him at 17 — I still have that picture — and I met him again at 21,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn and his band kick off the popular free concert series June 6. Audience members should be ready for a group that leavens its smooth jazz sound with plenty of uptempo R&B riffs.

Vaughn, 33, grew up and still lives in Kansas City, where his father and grandfather led the Evangelistic Center Church. He was a first-team all-state basketball player from Shawnee Mission North who went on to play one season at Johnson County College before deciding music, not sports, was his future (although his muscled frame indicates he’s still a regular at the gym). Musical director at his father’s church for the past decade, he recorded his first two CDs and broke into the jazz festival circuit over the past three years.

Tisdale was the first bassist he heard use the instrument as a lead player.

“A friend at school brought his CD to class. He said ‘Check this out, he plays basketball like you, and he plays bass.’ Once I heard that, it went to another level. I didn’t know bass players could do that. I later discovered he studied under Stanley Clarke,” Vaughn said, referring to the jazz bassist considered the greatest of all by many.

Vaughn’s band includes two bass players, though the result is not the heavy bottomed-out sound you might expect. Instead, while another bass player lays down the traditional line, Vaughn’s percussive, cleanly picked 6-string bass soars above it melodically.

“I think that I kind of channel two types of sound,” Vaughn said. “A lot of people like to get up and move or dance, especially at festivals. They really want to hear some upbeat stuff. And for the ones that like to slow down, I like slowdowns, too.”

Vaughn seems like the famously outgoing Tisdale in another way, too — as a kind of outreach minister to youth in the cause of jazz.

“They took a lot of music out of school. It’s hard to get these kids introduced to music,” he said. “I’m not only trying to grow my own career, but make sure jazz stays alive with the next generation coming up.”

Jiosa Returns

Jazz guitarist Denny Jiosa, another performer in the Bradley Fair series, is returning to Wichita for his third performance. His most recent CD was praised by listeners for its rocking approach, but Jiosa said that’s just one style he’ll highlight.

“We’re gonna toss a couple of those tunes in the mix, but primarily it’s an energetic show that we do,” he said. “It’s a bit of a cross between Wes Montgomery meets Santana meets Clapton meets Jeff Beck. It’s kind of like all my heroes rolled up into one.”

Jiosa said he has “a lot of friends” in Wichita thanks to previous appearances here. In fact, one of them -- Wichita bassist Roberto Bernardinello -- will join the regular road band Jiosa brings with him from Nashville. Bernardinello has recorded in Jiosa’s studio. “Great guy, great player,” Jiosa said. Jiosa has been called the same thing by many critics.

He’s definitely a versatile talent, having been nominated for several Grammys for his work recording others, and more recently getting into the winemaking business. “It’s another passion for me right now,” he said.

Thursday Summer Concerts

June 6 Kansas City bassist Julian Vaughn

June 13 Los Angeles trumpeter and songwriter Greg Adams

June 20 Minneapolis saxophonist Steve Cole

June 27 Nashville guitarist Denny Jiosa

July 4 Dallas saxophonist Joseph Vincelli

Concerts are free and held in the plaza next to Newport Grill from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., with many audience members staking out seats much earlier. Audience members should bring their own chairs. Bradley Fair restaurants offer take-out and Newport Grill operates a beverage stand. Radio station B98 FM is the concert series’ media partner.

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