The Salem Jazz and Soul Festival is as popular with musicians as it is with fans.
“There’s only 12 slots and we get 400 submissions from people all over the country who want to play Salem Jazz and Soul,” said Henley Douglas Jr. of Salem, Mass., the festival’s co-founder and music director.
All of this interest gives Douglas a range of acts from which to choose. This year, the festival’s seventh, Salem Jazz and Soul will feature musicians who are local and regional, but also have wider reputations.
That would include jazz saxophonist Mike Tucker, who grew up in Danvers and tours several months a year with Paris-based Robin McKelle, a soul singer who records with Sony Records. Tucker plays regularly for jazz trumpeter Tiger Okoshi.
Tucker will play Salem Jazz and Soul with another Boston-based tenor sax player, Gordon Beadle, who has performed in Europe, Australia, and Africa with acts ranging from Martha Reeves and Junior Wells to James Cotton and Solomon Burke.
“Mike Tucker has played with some of the greatest jazz players in the world,” Douglas said. “Gordon has played with some of the greatest R & B and blues acts. They both have such personal, identifiable sounds.”
The challenge in such a pairing, Tucker said, is maintaining his own style while complementing Gordon’s.
“What it forces you to do is try to stick with your own voice,” he said. “I can’t out-Gordon Gordon, and he can’t out-Tucker me.”
Tucker says he has something to learn from “guys from the other side of the spectrum,” like Beadle, who are playing current versions of “old school rhythm and blues.”
“There’s a part of me that feels sometimes jazz has gone too far in being so esoteric, geared toward an audience that has to be expert,” he said. “I like playing music that is still satisfying on an intellectual level, and open to creativity, but also moves an audience that can feel it on a gut level.”