Hart & Soul

A staple of Healdsburg’s summer season since
1999, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival commences June 3–12 for 10 days of live music performed by local luminaries and living legends at various venues throughout the town and the greater Sonoma County area.

Aside from appearances by celebrated musicians like guitarists Julian Lage, whose trio opens the festival on June 3 at Healdsburg Shed, and Charlie Hunter, who brings his band to Spoonbar on June 8, the highlight of this year’s festival is a 40-year retrospective of famed jazz drummer and educator Billy Hart, who will perform on June 4 and 5 with a multitude of gifted artists and share his insights into what he calls the American tradition of jazz.

“We’re dealing with music that mirrors a fairly new concept,” says Hart from his home in New Jersey. “America hasn’t been around that long compared to everybody else. The combination of cultures that produced this country also produced this music. It’s a tradition that now deserves to be studied.”

Hart began his studies in jazz and drumming as a child listening to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. In the early 1960s, he started performing with and learning from jazz and soul masters like saxophonist Roger Buck Hill and pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn.

After moving from his hometown of Washington, D.C., to New York in 1968, Hart’s education in jazz developed further when he began playing with icons like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. “It was illuminating, it was revelatory,” says Hart. “And on the other hand, it gave you a certain amount of pride to understand and know these traditions.”

Over four decades of jazz, Hart also recognizes that the traditions of jazz are as well defined by its continual evolution. He says today’s jazz culture is as fertile as ever with young and talented musical minds nourishing the scene.

During the upcoming retrospective, Hart will play with both longtime musical compatriots and some of these hot young musicians he now regularly teaches.

On Saturday, June 4, Hart is joined by his 1980s co-op Quest, featuring saxophonist David Liebman, pianist and composer Richie Beirach and bassist Ron McClure.

Hart is also slated to perform on Saturday with a collective of artists connected to his landmark 1977 album,

Enchance, welcoming veterans such as bassist Dave Holland and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, as well as contemporary stars like pianist Craig Taborn and saxophonist Joshua Redman.

Sunday, June 5, continues the celebration, as Hart brings his current touring quartet to town for a set of improvised music. Hart will also revisit another of his most popular albums, 1996’s Oceans of Time, with an ensemble that features post-bop bassist Cecil McBee, self-described “jazz punk”guitarist David Fiuczynski, classically trained violinist Mark Feldman and others.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play pretty adventuresome music,” Hart says.

“Some of these musicians are the greatest musicians in the world, they’re powerful and strong personalities and I’m lucky to get a chance to perform with them under any conditions, let alone something that’s supposed to be honoring me,” Hart says. “It will be a weekend of ambitious listening for the audiences.”