Houston Jazz Festival The August deaths of bassist Dave Nichols and big-band leader Milt Larkin have cast a sobering pall over an otherwise upbeat and productive summer for Houston's close-knit jazz community. Everyone (fans included), it seems, could use a pick-me-up, and the 17th Annual Houston Jazz Festival may be just what the doctor ordered. As usual, this year's events are focused on celebrating homegrown talent. Thursday's kickoff concert at Midtown Live will feature George Thomas with Phil Blackman. Later, the Kinny Abair Quintet will share the Miller Outdoor Theatre stage with the Joe LoCascio Quintet, the latter featuring saxophone ace David Caceres. Friday is Latin jazz night, with Mark Towns and the Fabulous Jalapenos. The Jalapenos mix and match salsa, merengue, jazz and rock. Saturday, blower extraordinaire Frank Lacy -- whose savvy on trumpet has made him a hot commodity throughout the country -- will perform prior to being honored as Jazz Artist of the Year. Kickoff concert, 5:30 p.m. today at Midtown Live, 3400 Montrose ($5 donation); other shows, 811 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive, Hermann Park, 626-8000. Free.
Book Talk and Storytelling This Munchkins event is for adults, for parents and teachers who'd like the lowdown on this year's new books and the secrets of storytelling. 7:30 p.m. Munchkins Books for Children, 2530 Times Blvd., 522-3911. Free.
Try out a few new bars The Gay Men's Chorus of Houston invites musical types to "try out a few new bars -- musical bars, that is." The GMCH invites all interested men to come out; no auditions or formal training required. This season's weekly rehearsals begin tonight, 710 p.m. Grace Lutheran Church, at Missouri and Waugh. For more information, call 521-SING.
Swan Lake Should we call this the battle of the ballerinas? Two of the Houston Ballet's new stars, Lauren Anderson and Tiekka Schofield, alternate in the coveted Swan Queen role. Rachel Beard and Barbara Bears, principals who've already had a shot at the demanding Odette/Odile part, will also have their nights in this production. Of course, such competition is of interest only to hard-core balletomanes. For the average fan, it's a wonderful night of Tchaikovsky and romance. Opening tonight, 7:30 p.m. Other performances listed in Thrills, Dance. Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, Texas at Smith, 227-ARTS. $10$80.
Itty-bitty Ren Fest Why wait for the rainy season and drive all the way out to Plantersville when you can enjoy ye olde fun at your local HEB Pantry Foods store? Early this evening, a crew of wenches and chain-mail-wearing men will entertain carnival style in Missouri City. 68 p.m. HEB, 4703 Lexington Boulevard, Missouri City, 261-8055. Free.
Fantasy Folk Art: Fun & Magical Mayhem This show of rowdy folk art made by fun-loving Texans includes useful objects, like lamps, as well as paintings and sculptures. Sometimes it's hard to tell where usefulness leaves off and art begins: for instance, Alan Gerson's lamp has a big-mouthed matron as its base. The show opens with a reception, 69 p.m. tonight, and continues through October 20. Heights Pavilion Art Marketplace, 244 West 19th Street, 861-3411.
Listening to the Voices of Vietnam An original dramatic and multimedia work from the earnest students of Clements High School, Voices is based on the individual experiences of people touched by the Vietnam War. 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and Tuesday, Clements High School Auditorium, 4200 Elkins Road, Sugar Land, 634-2206. $6; $5, seniors and students.
Healthy Ears, Healthy Learning Trot the little pitchers out and have their ear canals examined. Kids get a goodie bag; parents get a little peace of mind and some lessons about ear infections and hearing problems. It's also likely that they'll hear about Cedax (ceftibuten), "a pleasant tasting antibiotic" because this ear-education fair is sponsored by the Cedax people. 10 a.m.2 p.m. Children's World Learning Centers, four locations, including a center in Spring. For more information, call 376-0940. Free.
Highflying pizza planes The Red Baron Stearman Squadron, a fleet of biplanes with frozen pizza sponsorship, and the Canadian Snowbirds, that country's aerobatic demonstration team, will perform in-air feats of derring-do. American military aircraft will be on display, and the audience will thrill to a Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment and the wingwalking of Teresa Stokes. Bring the kids; bring your dad!8 a.m.6 p.m. Today and tomorrow. Ellington Field, take I-45 South to the Ellington Field/Dixie Farm Road exit, exit right and stay on feeder road until you go under Ellington overpass and then curve up and over the freeway to the airfield entrance, then enter on Challenger 7. For more information, call (800) 4-HOUSTON. $10; $5, children under 12; free, children under six. Coupons available at Diamond Shamrock, Hi/Lo Auto stores and Stop 'n' Go stores.
Houston Women's Festival This daylong celebration of the feminine is put on by the Athena Art Project, a nonprofit devoted to supporting women artists, and such billing might put off good-time gals -- who would want to hang around with a bunch of pouty womyn when you can have fun -- but don't worry. Though this festival has arts and crafts and the obligatory nurturer piffle, it's also got beer and wine, Girls with Guitars, the Cow Pattys (a Texas musical comedy experience) and comedian Nancy Ford. Have a drink, enjoy the entertainment and take a gander at the art show. For women and their friends, rain or shine. 1 p.m.midnight. Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan, 868-1910, AthenaArtoAOL.COM. $12.
TEXAS HERB GROWERS AND MARKETERS ASSOCIATION HERB MARKET STOCK UP ON COMFREY, HYSSOP AND MUGWORT FOR YOUR FALL GARDEN, JUST TRY A FEW NEW BASIL VARIETIES OR JOIN IN THE LIVELY HERB TALK. FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE ASSOCIATION'S ANNUAL CONFERENCE IS HERE, AND ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING HAVING TO DO WITH HERB FANDOM WILL BE OFFERED. 15 P.M. RAMADA NORTHWEST PLAZA HOTEL, 12801 NORTHWEST FREEWAY (HIGHWAY 290). FOR MORE INFORMATION, CALL LUCIA'S GARDEN, 523-6494. FREE ADMISSION.
A SATURDAY OF SIGNINGS SPEND ALL AFTERNOON ENJOYING MURDER AND MYSTERY AS A QUARTET OF TEXAS WRITERS SIGN THEIR BOOKS AND DISCUSS THEIR ART AND CRAFT. NEAL BARRETT, BILL CRIDER, DEAN JAMES AND KAREN HANSON STUYCK WILL BE IN THE STORE TOGETHER. CRIDER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN KILL. 13 P.M. MURDER BY THE BOOK, 2324 BISSONNET, 524-8597.
SMOTHERS BROTHERS THE YO-YO PROMOTERS, FOLK SINGERS AND EXTRAORDINARILY TALENTED COMICS WILL PERFORM ONE SHOW ONLY. WHY NOT TAKE THE FAMILY TO SEE THIS DUO, WHO HAVE A UNIQUE REPUTATION AS BOTH NOTORIOUS (THE TV SHOW) AND WHOLESOME (EVERYTHING ELSE, UNLESS YOU COUNT THE SUBTEXT OF SOME ROUTINES). 8 P.M. THE GRAND 1894 OPERA HOUSE, 2020 POSTOFFICE, GALVESTON, (409) 765-1894 OR (800) 821-1894.
NATHAN DETROIT'S FLOATING CRAP GAME WOO-HOO, HERE'S THE CHEAPEST THEATER GALA IN TOWN. TO BENEFIT AN UPCOMING PRODUCTION OF GUYS AND DOLLS (A GUYS AND DOLLS WHICH, WHILE USING THE DELIGHTFUL FRANK LOESSER MUSIC, STRIVES TO CAPTURE THE SEEDINESS OF THE ORIGINAL DAMON RUNYON STORIES), THE HARD-WORKING THESPIANS OF INFERNAL BRIDEGROOM PRODUCTIONS ARE HOSTING NATHAN DETROIT'S FLOATING CRAP GAME. HORSESHOE AND THE TEXAS GUINNESS LOVERS WILL ENTERTAIN WHILE CITIZENS MIX, MINGLE AND GAMBLE (POSSIBLY EVEN GAMBOL) WITH NATHAN, ANGIE THE OX, MADAM LAGIMP, KNIFE O'HALLORAN, SOCIETY MAX AND OTHER COLORFUL CHARACTERS. THE EVENING STARTS WITH EATING AND, WE ARE TOLD, "PRETTY GOOD" CHAMPAGNE. BETTER THAN COOK'S, WE HOPE. BECAUSE GAMBLING (THOUGH NOT GAMBOLING) IS NOT REMOTELY LEGAL, THIS CRAP GAME WILL NOT INVOLVE REAL MONEY. BUT PRIZES WILL BE AWARDED TO CITIZENS WHO SHOW MERITORIOUS SKILL. GUYS AND DOLLS OPENS SEPTEMBER 27; THE BENEFIT IS TONIGHT. 8, CHAMPAGNE AND EATING; 8o30, the oldest established permanent floating crap game; 10:30 p.m., prizes. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway. For directions, call 223-8346. For more information, call 524-2932. $14.99, champagne and food included.
Splendors of Ancient Egypt For this remarkable exhibition, the art normally on view in the MFA's Upper Brown Pavilion has been stored so that all 25,000 square feet can be used for Egyptian artifacts. More than 200 antiquities, some dating from 4000 B.C., will be here until the end of March, and you better see them as soon as you can. Other-wise, a) you'll mean to go and mean to go until this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has passed by or b) the show will be sold out. Want a preview? Then keep watching the skies. From 7:3011:30 p.m. Thursday Friday, 200-foot-high images of the jewelry, mummies and sarcophagi will be beamed against buildings all over town: keep an eye out at Party on the Plaza, the Pasadena Livestock and Rodeo Grounds, Rice University, the Summit, Transco Tower and the MFA. The show, a unique combination of artifacts and display, opens today. 12:156 p.m. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. For advance tickets, call Ticketmaster, 629-3700. $10; $9, seniors; $5, children sixeight; free, children five and under. Half price Thursday nights on a first come, first served basis.
The Big Adventure Pee-Wee had one, so why not the children of Houston? This new, fun-based exhibition at the Children's Museum offers kids a "wacky, innovated and exaggerated gallery-sized game board" that -- among other things -- allows the shavers to fly a virtual plane, dodging birds, aliens and similar airborne nuisances. Opening day, today, is free. Noon5 p.m. Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. Free.
Bach Vespers German organmeister, recording artist and master instructor Martin Strohhaecker of Dresden is a guest of the Bach Society, and will play a liturgical Bach program followed by an Ocktoberfest reception in the church courtyard. 5 p.m. Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2553 Rice Boulevard, 525-2864. Free, with a $15 offering suggested.
Rainy Days and Mondays The Old San Francisco Steak House recently added some microbrews to its menu, but the liquid central to the current promotion is water -- cool, clear water. Between now and September 30, the restaurant will take entries from customers. At the end of the month, the restaurant will pay the water bill (up to $150 of it, anyway) for whoever wins. Old San Francisco is also offering "rain checks": eat at this retro palace of surf and turf, and receive a $10 discount coupon redeemable for any meal on a rainy day or a Monday. The steak's not bad, and while you're chewing your meat and eating big hunks o' cheese (every table gets a hunk), you can study the decor, which includes rare Gaumont Pictures and Essanay film company posters. Old San Francisco Steak House, 8611 Westheimer, 783-5990.
National Prostate Awareness Week Hey, girls, next time the man in your life cringes or mocks during a tampon commercial, let him know what time it is: September 24-27 is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Week (yup, a short week), and Methodist Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine offer free screenings for men age 50 and older. Screening exams are noon-8 p.m. today, Wednesday and Thursday; noon-6 p.m. Friday. Smith Tower, 6550 Fannin, fifth floor. Call 798-4117 to schedule an appointment.
Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman's book about the importance of, for instance, empathy, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year -- a welcome sign that Stephen King is not the only thing people read and that there is some interest in what we can do with our brains besides get into good schools because of good test scores. Smarts, in Goleman's view, are as much about understanding yourself and those around you as they are about spatial relationships. Hear what he has to say. 7 p.m. River Oaks Baptist School, 2300 Willowick. Reservations are required; for more information, call Judy Adams, 627-3687. $25.
Antique jewelry Amy Lawch, a Houston-based representative of the London-based Philips International auction house, will discuss and display collectors' item jewelry at a Heritage Society program. Lawch will not give appraisals -- really, no, not even ballpark figures; she will date pieces and talk a bit about their style and historical significance. 10 a.m. Heritage Society Museum, 1100 Bagby, 655-1912. $12.