By Will Broaddus
---- — 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, the festival’s co-founder and music director.
All of this interest gives Douglas a range of acts to choose from, and this year 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.”
But Tucker feels 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.”
Finding new people to play with is an important part of a musician’s development, Tucker said, and the festival will feature several intriguing match-ups.
Some musicians, like Saturday headliners Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson, always appear together — except when Nelson was turning judges’ heads on the third season of NBC’s “The Voice.”
In other pairings, such as Diane Blue with Toni Lynn Washington, the history is limited to a handful of appearances but entails plenty of mutual admiration.
“She’s a really amazing woman, to be so beautiful and still enrapture the crowd like she does,” said Blue, who lives in Boston.
Blue has no shortage of her own admirers, which include Henley Douglas Jr.
“Diane Blue is without a doubt one of the best blues musicians on the scene today,” he said. “We set this up because it’s something you won’t see very often.
“It’s going to be a rockin’ blues show. They can do ballads and all the different genres. When they get it on with a jump blues thing, people will get up and start dancing.”
Blue said she will open the set with some vocals and then will support Washington on harmonica.
“I don’t take on a song unless I can put it over,” she said. “I need to be able to deliver it with some sincerity. Maybe it’s not my story, but I can tell it with some sincerity.”
One of the reasons Douglas chose a local line-up for this year’s festival was to draw attention to local venues where many of the acts play on a regular basis all year.
“There’s world-class musicians who play on a nightly basis on the North Shore, playing the Rhumb Line, Chianti or the Pigs’ Eye,” he said.
Salem native Eric Reardon, for example, who has appeared in the blues jam at In a Pig’s Eye every Friday for the last 10 years, will appear at the festival with Berklee College of Music student Noe Socha.
Reardon got a head start on guitar from his father, Jonathan, who along with his wife, Jen, owns the restaurant on Derby Street. His skills have earned him a steady string of dates at other clubs in the region, where he works six nights a week, and sometimes seven.
He first heard fellow guitarist Sacha at an open-mike night at In a Pig’s Eye.
“My friend Judy Rudd was there, and she said, ‘You have to check this kid out,’” Reardon said.
Douglas has heard Reardon and Socha together and thinks audiences will enjoy checking out the pair.
“Eric Reardon and Noe did a show opening up for Dave Mason at the Shalin Liu in Rockport,” Douglas said. “They got a standing ovation and pretty much blew Dave Mason away.”
Even Turkuaz, Sunday’s Brooklyn-based headliners, have local connections, having formed while its members were attending Berklee, Douglas said.
Salem’s own DJ Radio Scotvoid, formally known as Scott Buchanan, has been spinning turntables for the last four Jazz and Soul Festivals, and this year will be no exception.
While the festival is focusing on local talent this weekend, they help to develop it every year, staging performances by local high school students.
This year, the Salem High School Jazz Band, led by Cynthia Napierkowski, will kick off Saturday’s lineup, while the North Shore Jazz Project All Stars, directed by Mike Tucker, will start things off on Sunday.
“Everything is grooving jazz,” Douglas said. “That’s what the festival has always been about.”
SALEM JAZZ AND SOUL FESTIVAL
When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18, 11:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.
Where: Salem Willows
Saturday schedule: Salem High School Jazz Band, 11:15 a.m. to noon; Tough Love Trio, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; Qwill & The Soul Review Project, 2 to 3; Eric Reardon and Noe Socha, 3:10 to 3:30; Aruda Wakening, 4 to 5:10; Dwight & Nicole, 5:45 to 7:15.
Sunday schedule: North Shore Jazz Project All Stars, 11:15 a.m. to noon; Albino Mbie, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; Tough Tenors: Mike Tucker and Gordon Beadle, 2 to 3; Greg Luttrell, 3:10 to 3:30; Diane Blue & Toni Lynn Washington, 4 to 5:10; Turkuaz, 5:45 to 7:15.