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All-star lineup keeps it classy at Tanglewood Jazz Festival

The Tanglewood Jazz Festival program, which runs tonight through Sunday evening at the al fresco concert venue in Lenox, chooses to err on the side of elegance. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Au contraire: The highbrow picnic vibe of the place matches better with classic straight-ahead jazz delivery than it would with avant-garde deconstruction or wild honks and screams.

And when the purveyors are such legends of the music as Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal, and Jimmy Heath, all of whom appear on Sunday night's double bill, there's nothing else to do but to fall into the embrace of their accumulated wisdom and artistry.

The first part of Sunday's concert features Jones with the Italian singer Roberta Gambarini, with whom he has an album forthcoming. It's quite the cross-generational as well as intercontinental pairing: At 89 and going strong, Jones has seen it all, and his piano has accompanied just about everyone who shaped the music, from Charlie Parker in the 1940s to Charlie Haden in the 1990s. Together with his late brothers, trumpeter Thad and drummer Elvin, Jones has had an almost incalculable impact on jazz history.

At less than half his age, Gambarini is a chanteuse with a deceptively straightforward approach. Neither an ornamentalist nor overly stylized, she's sim ply a top interpreter of the songbook who isn't afraid to stray from the safer standards into such holy ground as Mahalia Jackson's "Come Sunday." Her poise is most evident in her scatting style, which is conversational rather than spectacular and all the more impressive for the lack of pyrotechnics. Gambarini has numerous friends in high places - high, that is, in artistic age and experience - and she has the scholarship and the old soul to merit such exalted company.

If anything, the second part gets deeper with a performance by pianist Ahmad Jamal and saxophonist and flutist Jimmy Heath. At 77, Jamal feels today like an integral part of the jazz canon but was, in his time, quite the subversive: He revolutionized jazz piano in parallel with, or arguably even before, Thelonious Monk.

Meanwhile, Heath, 80, is like Jones - one of a trio of musical siblings, along with drummer Tootie and the late bassist Percy. Jimmy Heath was one of the performers who offered musical tribute last week at the funeral of legendary drummer Max Roach, whose death leaves artists such as these gentlemen among the shrinking group of custodians of the memory of bop's early days, and true national treasures.

Hank Jones and Roberta Gambarini, followed by Ahmad Jamal and Jimmy Heath, perform Sunday at 8 p.m. at Seiji Ozawa Hall. Tickets $17-$57.

Other highlights . . .

HUGH MASEKELA The iconic South African trumpeter is an elder statesman on the world music circuit. But his work in Afrobeat, Latin crossovers, and much else shouldn't obviate the fact that he is originally a jazz artist with a distinguished bebop history, particularly in his early years. He appears on a double bill tonight preceded by percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his band. Considering Masekela is featured on Sanchez's 2005 album, "Do It!," a little all-star stage reunion seems a possibility. (Tonight at 8 at Seiji Ozawa Hall. Tickets $17-$57.)

MINA AGOSSI If you need a dash of virtuosic weirdness to break the ambient civility, check out Agossi, the French-African singer whose growls, hollers, and general vampishness have sparked comparisons to Eartha Kitt. Unorthodox but wholly sound of musical mind, Agossi breaks down songs like a mad mathematician, working in a stripped-down setting of just bass and drums, allowing her full license to deconstruct the melody. (Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Jazz Cafe in the Hawthorne Tent. Tickets: all-day lawn passes $33 or free with ticket to main stage event.)

SACHAL VASANDANI Among the youngbloods admitted to the Tanglewood party this year is singer Vasandani, whose recent album, "Eyes Wide Open," is mature in sound and rich in texture but also possesses enough youthful angst in its lyrical themes to ward off the fogeyism that male vocalists so easily slip into before their time. (Sunday at noon at the Jazz Cafe in the Hawthorne Tent. Tickets: all-day lawn passes $33 or free with ticket to main stage event.)

AND DON'T MISS . . . More tasteful and technically proficient male vocals with Kevin Mahogany (Sunday afternoon) and Kurt Elling (Sunday evening); bossa nova with veteran Brazilian singer Leny Andrade (Sunday afternoon); Boston-area saxophone teen prodigy Grace Kelly (tomorrow night); and two sometimes edgy pianists, Cuban Aruán Ortiz (tonight) and Canadian Renee Rosnes (who will be taping Marian McPartland's NPR "Piano Jazz" show tomorrow afternoon).

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