Although events are scheduled throughout the metro area all year long to mark the 75th birthday of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, Memorial Day weekend is definitely ground zero for the celebration. Because Davis was born on May 25, that's only appropriate -- as is the choice of East St. Louis, his childhood home, as the location for a 12-hour all-star musical festival. The Miles Davis Arts Festival kicks off at noon on Saturday, May 26, at the Casino Queen's riverfront area, and the free concert is set to run until midnight. Two stages allow the music to go on nonstop. Here's a quick chronological look at highlights:At 1 p.m., musicians who got their start in jazz at Davis' alma mater, Lincoln High School, will take the stage as the Lincoln Alumni Band. You'll get the chance to hear vocalist Erika Johnson, drummer Montez Coleman (who has toured with Kenny Garrett and the late Betty Carter) and pianist Tony Suggs, current pianist for the Basie band. At 2 p.m., St. Louisan Clark Terry performs with the Jazz Edge Band in what promises to be a must-see set. Terry was an early mentor for Davis when the teenage horn player was first breaking into the professional music scene in the early 1940s. The St. Louis All Stars & Legends -- featuring Oliver Sain, John Norment, Jerome "Scrooge" Harris and underappreciated guitarist Eddie Fisher -- appear at 4 p.m., followed by trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (this booking is still tentative at press time). After sets by singer Phil Perry at 6 p.m. and Mardra and Reggie Thomas at 7 p.m., things really hit high gear with the appearance of pianist Herbie Hancock and sax player Wayne Shorter. Both musicians were members of what many regard as Davis' finest group, the legendary quintet that changed the direction of jazz in the '60s. They'll be followed at 9 p.m. by another Lincoln High alum, trumpeter Russell Gunn, who continues to build an international reputation as one of the hottest young horn players in jazz. After a 10 p.m. set by vocalist Barbara Morrison, famed pianist Ahmad Jamal -- a major influence on Miles' modal experiments -- will close out the festival from 11 until 'round midnight.
For more information on the Miles Davis Arts festival and related events -- such as the May 23 "Milesville" seminar at East St. Louis City Hall -- check out the Miles 2001 Web site, www.miles2001.com.