Coupla (coco)nuts Dori Caymmi and Joyce kick off the fest.
By Greg Cahill
lWhen North Bay jewelry designer and jazz buff Jessica Felix heard that Santa Rosa radio station KJZY planned to start a smooth–jazz festival in her hometown of Healdsburg, she didn’t just get mad, she got creative.
You might say the 58–year-old Felix knows a thing or two about real jazz, music that isn’t afraid to challenge the listener.
During the 1980s, while living in Oakland with her then-husband Ken Schubert, Felix often hosted top jazz acts at the couple’s Gallery 552, a studio in a converted Victorian mansion that also served as the couple’s home. Felix housed her guests, cooking for them, partying with them, getting to know them. As a result, she developed close personal relationships with some of the biggest names in the business.
Jazz remained a part of Felix’s life after she moved to the relative quiet of Healdsburg a few years ago— after all, her jewelry and gift shop on the plaza is called Art and All That Jazz. But she had no plans to take on the often-demanding life of a festival promoter.
That all changed in 1999 when Felix teamed up with the Healdsburg Arts Council to host the Cedar Walton Quartet at the inaugural Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Under the guidance of artistic director and founder Felix, the festival has grown to include year-round events, with several in local wineries and restaurants, and a world-class public-school jazz–education program.
Now in its ninth year, the fest kicks off on May 3 with a “pre-festival” jazz gala featuring Brazilian chanteuse Joyce with Grammy–winning samba composer and guitarist Dori Caymmi at the Trentadue Winery. Chef Mateo Granados will provide a Brazilian–inspired menu paired with local wines and proceeds from the event will benefit the education programs.
That Brazilian flavor carries over as the fest begins in earnest on June 1 with the Stephanie Ozer Quintet hosting special guest vocalist Leny Andrade at the Geyser Peak Winery. On June 2, jazz pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber brings her red-hot quartet to Barndiva for two shows. Barber is the neo-boho queen of modern cool, a literate lyricist and savvy song interpreter who is blessed with a supple alto voice and plenty of attitude. The daughter of a jazz saxophonist and a blues vocalist, she can pen wistful originals that yearn for a new generation of Beat artists or drape the pleading classic-rock song “Light My Fire” in midnight blue.
The following day, the festival hosts a concert dedicated to renewing the spirit of New Orleans with the ReBirth Brass Band and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ New Orleans Quintet. Delfeayo, the third-born son of the four talented siblings in the Marsalis jazz dynasty, has toured with Ray Charles and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He is a recording artist and a much sought-after jazz record producer.
Other festival highlights include vocalist Rhiannon headlining a free June 5 concert in the Healdsburg town plaza with guest musicians Otmaro Ruiz, Abraham Laboriel and Alex Acuña. The Cookers—featuring all stars Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Craig Handy (who holds down the alto chair in the Mingus Big Band), David Weiss, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart—turn up the heat June 8 at the Raven Theater. Guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Dave Holland team up June 9 for a duo concert at the Raven. Hall has been a major influence on two generations of jazz guitarists, including Pat Metheny (who has recorded with Hall). Holland contributed bass lines to two of Miles Davis’ most influential recordings: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He also has played with everyone from Chick Corea to Stan Getz to Thelonious Monk.
The festival closes on June 10 with a co-headlining bill at the Rodney Strong Vineyard that features the George Cables Project with Gary Bartz, Eric Revis and Jeff “Tain” Watts; and the Roy Hargrove Quintet with special guest vocalist Roberta Gambarini. Jazz lion and eclectic trumpeter Hargrove alone is worth the price of admission; if you’re not familiar with the lesser-known pianist George Cables, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s gala kicks off on Thursday, May 3, at Trentadue Winery, 19170 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 5:30pm. $130. For complete ticket and schedule information for the fest, go to www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.