Someone recently wrote to us asking if we could compile a list of the free summertime concerts put on by cities around Sonoma County. I’ve had to dig to find these lists on various city websites in the past, so here’s a handy guide for free outdoor community concerts in Sonoma County for summertime 2012. (Note: We’ll add to this list as more schedules are finalized. Also, this does not include every single outdoor free concert; only those put on by cities.)
In a shocking, upsetting announcement, the Board of Directors for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announced today that there will be no Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2011.
What’s more, festival founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix has been voted out by the Board, and will no longer be a part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival she started 12 years ago.
Citing the poor economy, the Board says they’ll focus instead on their music education program which for 10 years has brought jazz to area schools. “There also seems to be a more limited audience for pure jazz in the community as evidenced by lower ticket sales,” Board president Pat Templin says. “There may be an opportunity to broaden the offering in the future. We need to find a winning model that will interest more people and businesses in the community to get involved, provide financial support and to attend a revised music festival.”
A “revised music festival.” A “limited audience for pure jazz.” An “opportunity to broaden the offering.” These are not good harbingers of things to come.
I called Felix to find out what happened. She said she couldn’t comment until she spoke with a lawyer, a bad sign. “I was totally surprised,” she said.
Reached by phone, Board president Pat Templin told me that there are “no plans” to reinstate Jessica Felix in 2012, adding that it was decision not made lightly, and one borne of finances instead of artistic vision (the festival, she stresses, will not move in a smooth jazz direction).
“She’s an amazing person, she’s done an amazing thing, and we’re trying to build on her legacy,” Templin says. “We’re committed to jazz, and to maintaining that reputation. And we’re also interested in some of what the community has told us, that there might be other genres that support the kind of jazz we do.” What other genres might those be? “One is blues,” Templin says.
If Felix can’t comment, then I will: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we know it is committing artistic suicide.
As a journalist, I’ve butted heads with Felix a couple times, but one thing I’ve never, ever questioned is her top-quality booking for the festival. I assume this so-called “limited audience for pure jazz” wasn’t part of the sold-out crowd this year for Ravi Coltrane and Charlie Haden, the sold-out crowd for Esperanza Spalding, or the full crowd for Jason Moran and Bill Frisell.
And that’s just in the last year alone. Previous festivals have hosted, to great acclaim, Joshua Redman, Billy Higgins, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan and Dave Brubeck. Look at those names—and then find me another jazz festival booker in a town with a population of only 10,000 who can attract such stature.
The community needs the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but in particular it needs the festival as booked by someone well-connected, passionate and knowledgeable about jazz. That someone is and always has been Jessica Felix. She’s taken creative risks that have paid off—such as two sold-out shows with the decidedly avant-garde Trio 3 last year—and that’s because over the last 12 years she’s cultivated an audience for jazz in Sonoma County. She’s even saved the festival money by putting up musicians in her home, and finding other local hospitable jazz fans to do the same.
As for ticket sales? The slump isn’t just in Healdsburg—concert ticket sales have been down significantly nationwide; Templin admits she’s aware of this too. So sure, a scaling back on the festival makes sense. A focus on music education is good for attracting new sponsors. A one-year hiatus in 2011, painful as it may be, may be necessary.
But in reorganizing, there’s one thing the Board shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the respect Felix has earned from the artists and fans in the jazz world. Every musician playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival who I’ve interviewed for the Bohemian in the last six years has praised Felix’s devotion, without my asking. The national reputation of the festival speaks to her great work.
If she wants to continue booking the festival she founded—and it seems like she does—I can’t think of any reason to stop her from doing so.
[UPDATE: The Board of Directors have removed all public comments from their website. I've reposted them here.]
[UPDATE: It worked! Jessica's back and so is the festival. Read here.]
The piece began slowly. “Something acknowledging Hank Jones,” Geri Allen had announced. Her fingers fluttered over the piano keys, evocative of Jones’ intro to “Love for Sale,” a tribute that even in its sparest moments echoed throughout the sold-out Raven Theater.
The music took a slight turn to Allen’s “Swamini,” written in remembrance of Alice Coltrane, whereupon Ravi Coltrane made his entrance from the wings. Off-mic, he eased his sax into a sobering moan, then gradually unfolded his tone to fill one of the many open spaces in an inspired, unaccompanied cadenza.
Into the stage lights then walked Charlie Haden, a frequent Hank Jones collaborator, steering the suite to his “For Turiya,” an elegy first recorded as a duet with Alice Coltrane 35 years ago. All together, the trio comprised a suite of angular nuance, and after 14 minutes, in the moment between the final note and the audience’s applause, the history of these three musicians with those who’ve left this world hung in the air.
All three have played in far feistier settings (famously, Allen and Haden with Ornette Coleman, acknowledged in the set by “Lonely Woman”), but perhaps time and loss have tempered the pace. The ballad standard “What’ll I Do” was caressed softly by Coltrane, but for most of the material he seemed to be pulling along Haden’s languorous playing, which relied substantially on open strings, into more upbeat territory. Alas, it never followed.
The concert hadn’t started so somberly—in fact, the crowd had spontaneously sung “Happy Birthday” to Allen—but the drumless trio carried on in slow tempos and ruminative passages throughout the remainder of the set. This was nuanced music for closing one’s eyes and listening, a sublime jazz suited to the hot wine country evening.
I overheard someone remark that the show was “very Healdsburg,” by which they meant unchallenging and smooth, but the tag doesn’t fit. Meanwhile over in the Healdsburg Hotel lobby, Craig Handy played his guts out with George Cables to a packed, whooping crowd. The next day, the unstoppable Dafnis Prieto played drums like a car on five tanks of gas before Jason Moran and Bill Frisell dissected the very concept of music with otherworldly improvisations. Earlier at the Raven, the Healdsburg High School jazz band had torn through gutsy versions of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here” and Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”
Oh, and about that podunk little high school jazz band you thought you could show up late to miss? Count me among the many minds blown by the miraculous Kai Devitt-Lee, staring out over the crowd while unfolding incredible solos and inventive, angular backing on guitar. “This guy’s gotta be a guest artist,” I thought, but nope–he’s 16 years old and a marvel to behold. Get used to the name, folks.
When I talked to Reggie Workman on the phone last week, I asked him how it felt to go from playing large theaters in Europe to playing small coffee shops in America. “The music is not embraced enough in this country so that you can have an ideal situation every time you perform,” he said. “We are constantly trying to make our own situation.”
Last night at Flying Goat in Healdsburg, the café tables were cleared out and Workman’s group, Trio 3, made their own situation by setting up in the front corner near where that one guy is always scribbling in his notebook with a mocha. It may have seemed ersatz and thrown-together—until, that is, the group started playing.
I caught the 9pm show and dear reader, it was one of the most satisfying avant-garde jazz performances I’ve ever seen—this coming from a huge fan of the genre. Workman may be the big name, and certainly his bass playing was illustrious. Andrew Cyrille I equally admire, one of the few drummers confident enough to record a solo drum album, and he punched accents in all the unexpectedly right places.
Oliver Lake, though, stole the show. Never deploying too much from his trick bag, Lake was sparing in his use of bitten reeds, growled harmonies, wild scales and percussive short blasts. Instead, he incorporated them into thoughtful, searing solos with all the elements of a Hollywood movie, slowly building the tension while his rhythm section sped up and pushed him further and further. An inspired spoken-word about labels and division called “Separation” fit right in.
And Flying Goat? What a perfect venue—especially for a more avant-garde act that might not fill the Raven. Both shows were sold out, while the sound, with the café’s high ceilings and hardwood floors, was punchy and alive. It made me proud that so many people came out to a 9pm show on a Tuesday night in Healdsburg to honor three legends of a music so often misunderstood. As long as they don’t mind coffee shops, here’s to hopefully having them back in the future.
If you’re rooting out a jazz musician’s complete discography, Wikipedia is not the place to look. Thousands of contributors are willing to supply page content for, say, Roman Polanski (whose Wiki page is currently locked, natch) but that number dribbles down to almost zero for confirmed jazz heavyweights. How many albums has Sonny Rollins played on as a sideman? Nine, according to his Wikipedia page.
I listened to Reggie Workman last night twice and didn’t even realize it: Once, on the brilliant Takehiro Honda outing Jodo, a Japanese release, and again on the equally brilliant Booker Ervin album The Trance. If I’d have stayed up for another hour, I’m sure I’d have pulled another record from the shelf, randomly, that happened to feature Reggie Workman. How many albums has Reggie Workman played on as a sideman? Eleven, according to his Wikipedia page. (Here’s a work-in-progress discography that lists over 140.)
Trio 3, Workman’s impeccable group with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, is coming to Healdsburg for two tiny, intimate shows at Flying Goat Coffee on November 3 at 7pm and 9pm. When I profiled Healdsburg Jazz Festival founder and director Jessica Felix in 2008, she mentioned Trio 3 in passing among her favorite groups—and an example of the risk one might take with more obscure, avant-garde booking amongst wine-country tastes.
I applaud the risk, and can guarantee that the opportunity to see these three titans of jazz (collectively, they’ve played with John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, Cecil Taylor, the World Saxophone Quartet, Wayne Shorter, Peter Brotzmann and many, many others Wikipedia does not list) will be $25 well-spent. Add the close ambiance of Flying Goat, and the choice is a no-brainer. While they last, get tickets here.
“It must be Healdsburg,” explained a tranquil Kenny Barron to the crowd. “It makes you so relaxed.”
Billed as “A Night in the Country,” last night’s flagship concert for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival could have easily been called “A Night in Wine Country,” with all of that term’s implied reassurance of the sweet life. In a decidedly mellow program of mostly standards and ballads, some of jazz’s finest players serenaded a well-dressed and middle-aged crowd at the Raven Theater with solos smooth and subtle as a vintage chardonnay and arrangements as quiet and nonintrusive as the engine of a Lexus.
It was the damnedest thing: Joshua Redman, Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, and Billy Hart are all intensely creative players whom in the past I’ve seen deliver searing performances. Yet each member of the quartet last night appeared weirdly subdued, as if they either made a collective pact beforehand or were otherwise instructed to keep the show within the lines of accessibility for an unadventurous Healdsburg crowd. This is neither a compliment, nor is it particularly a complaint—although when one hears “Body and Soul” twice in one night, it’s hard not to feel one’s taste is underestimated.
So ballads it was, and if you’re gonna have ballads on order, Joshua Redman is the man to call. Redman’s velvety tone, with its Hawkins/Webster-lite hue, toyed with but never revealed the edges of the tenor sax last night; it was instantly apparent why he’s a star. Coupled with his melodic conception, Redman was perfect for songs like “What’ll I Do,” during which his captivating, lyrical solo—filled with sleek arpeggios and unfathomable bends—was the entire evening’s highlight. And that’s no small feat, since his lengthy intro to “My Old Flame” just minutes before, played alone in the center of the stage to awed silence, ran a close second; it was as if a loving monologue of anxiety and sorrow had been pulled out of thin air.
These heights, however, would have had a much stronger impact in a less plodding context. Paced incrementally, the set opened with Barron playing a stride-tinged solo version of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” and one by one, each player joined in after every couple song—but since Hart on drums came last, most of the set was without a prevalent pulse. The theater was hot. My mind wandered. The band kept playing slow, meandering tunes.
It wasn’t until the very end that things reached full swing, with an appropriate choice: an uptempo rendering of “Strike Up The Band,” with Hart rattling out some attention-grabbing drum roll-offs and prodding his cohorts to finally let loose. Everyone on the stand suddenly came to life, playing the way I was used to them playing, and after a program drenched in molasses, it felt like a majestic coming up for fresh air.
A standing ovation arrived from the sold-out crowd, but the encore, syrupy enough, was an easy-breezy-beautiful rendition of “Body and Soul.” Our tickets were $50 each, and you’d think we’d want to get all of our money’s worth, but it was just too straining. We exchanged glances and bailed.
Though billed as “Bug Music for Juniors,” both the seven-year-old child and the fifty-something-year-old man on either side of me at the Raven Theater smiled and bounced their heads last night as Don Byron launched into “Siberian Sleighride.”
The youngster was thrilled that the cartoons were back up on the movie projector screen in the form of Meatless Flyday, a wacky 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon, and the man was thrilled at hearing one of Raymond Scott’s bounciest compositions revived by Scott’s greatest acolytes.
Holding court on a demonstrative jazz concert, meant mostly for kids, Byron spent equal time explaining chords, syncopation, and why musicians write on piano as he did playing the part-klezmer, part-swing, part-avant-garde jazz that’s his trademark. Watching the New York clarinetist explain jazz to kids, however, was a performance in itself.
“So you can kinda hear it, right?” Byron asked the kids, after playing select passages from both Raymond Scott and John Kirby. “Raymond Scott’s all wild, but John Kirby’s more elegant. He’s like, chillin’ at the club, drinkin’ Cristal. More slick, smooth, and cool. He’s like P. Diddy—you know, the way P. Diddy would hang—draped in nice clothes, clean clothes.”
One by one, Byron introduced the instruments in his sextet, conducting the proceedings like a game show announcer and ending with a drum solo that turned into an off-the-cuff version of “Shaft.” During “Powerhouse,” Scott’s most famous tune, a toddler danced in front of the stage, and Byron played off of its vocal noises during the breaks.
Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons screened in the background, as did old film reels of jazz bands; Byron also spoke at length about the Cotton Club and Duke Ellington, whose “The Mooch” opened up eventually into a free-for-all blowing session—and into the Byron that fans of records like his excellent Ivey-Divey are used to.
After a few solos during “The Mooch,” and after applauding for each one, the seven-year-old next to me turned and said, “We’ve already clapped, like, four times for this song!”
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Because they’re not reading from music. They’re making it up as they go along.”
“You mean they don’t know what they’re playing? Why do they do that?”
I was stumped. “Because,” I told him. “It’s jazz.”
When I worked at the Last Record Store, and pored through people’s record collections on a daily basis, I routinely flipped through countless copies of LPs by Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. There’s such a glut of these albums in the Bay Area that they’re not worth much, and I’d have to break the news gently to a daily stream of baby boomers that we had little use for what to their minds was the greatest music of the century.
There’d almost always be a copy in these collections of Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower, which seemed strange to me until I read Bill Graham’s autobiography, Bill Graham Presents. Say what you will about Bill Graham—and you’d probably be right—but Graham truly excelled at the lost art of adventurous booking; placing Neil Young and Miles Davis on the same bill, say, or booking Gabor Szabo together with Jimi Hendrix.
Charles Lloyd, who Graham loved, found himself booked at the Fillmore along such names of the day as Chuck Berry, the Butterfield Blues Band, Jeff Beck, and the Young Rascals—and eventually wound up guilty by association, in my mind, to It’s A Beautiful Day. Lloyd to me became just another face in the crowd, and in all the times I listened to Forest Flower, I had the same dismissal: it’s close, but it’s not Coltrane.
Maybe I’ve changed. Maybe Charles Lloyd has changed. One thing is certain.
I was such an idiot.
Last night at the Jackson Theater, Charles Lloyd and his quintet gave an utterly transforming performance. Aided by Jason Moran, Ruben Rogers, Eric Harland and Zakir Hussain, Lloyd led his group on a frighteningly inventive sojourn which plunged into unchartered depth and redefined the rules of collective creativity. Amidst a furious storm of talent, the centered Lloyd remarked to the crowd, “It’s better to stick with the ship—and go down with it, if necessary.”
Now 70, Lloyd still plays in the great searching vein of late-era Coltrane, although his solos aren’t an aortic torrent of bitten reeds and quickly-changing ideas but rather more subtly crafted meditations. Last night, lifting his horn and marching in place while switching between tenor sax, alto flute, and a Hungarian instrument, similar to a clarinet, called a tárogató, he brought the audience to numerous pinnacles; or, in his own words, “up there to those elixirs.”
Dazzling pianist Jason Moran was responsible for just as many highlights, with a number of propulsive and chord-driven Gershwin-esque solos that incredibly bent the rules without breaking. Zakir Hussain, sitting in on tablas, added a rich texture that never overpowered the group, and bassist Ruben Rogers held the mast of simultaneous improvisation together with a solid, steady hand.
Lloyd and the group were unbelievable—but it was really all about Eric Harland.
So open to different paths and yet so confident of his own, drummer Eric Harland stole the show as the main superprocessor of the group’s collective thought. With impeccable touch and flawless taste, Harland not only drummed—he actually deciphered the conversation on stage into the most representational and delightful stickwork this side of Jack DeJohnette.
Given the open space offered by Lloyd’s group, Harland responded keenly to every moment on the stand, playing ahead of and behind the beat; keeping time with a footpedal connected to a tambourine; switching to piano when Lloyd directed him, mid-song, and plucking the strings inside while poking hard low notes; going head-to-head with Hussain in rapid-fire rhythm duets; executing ballet-like maneuvers while utilizing every inch of the drum kit; and always, always knowing where the song was headed and when to suddenly stop.
As if to acknowledge his blessed constituents, Lloyd throughout the night placed his hands in a prayer-like position, clasped his arms across his heart, and bowed. He also gratefully thanked the attentive audience, who leapt to their feet and handed him roses at the night’s end.
“When folks come with simple living and high thinking,” Lloyd said to the people, “it always helps us out.”
Which is a shame, really, since they’re one of the best damn classical groups in the country and yet they insist on being called.. . ugh. . . can’t do it. . .. eighth blackbird. For reasons too long to get into here, I’ll allow the privilege of decapitalization to fIREHOSE, but not to Eighth Blackbird; I will, however, say that they were great at the Healdsburg Community Church last week.
It takes a lot to get me inside a church on any day of the week—let alone a Sunday. I suppose some free Tanqueray and J.M. Rosen’s cheesecake at a party hosted by MF Doom with a Susan Hayward look-alike contest and the complete works of Joan Miró on display might do the trick. Either that, or a performance hosted by the fantastic Russian River Chamber Music Society, which for over 16 years has been presenting free chamber music performances in Sonoma County, taking a close second.
So after a visit to the Great Eastern Quicksilver Mine and a dip in the river at Camp Rose, I did the unthinkable and went to church. Eighth Blackbird was just starting, and I immediately realized I’d made the right choice. Their first piece was a wacky thing for violin, clarinet, and piano, and it was both painstakingly precise and yet totally off-the-cuff; the fourth movement, fittingly, was titled after an R. Crumb comic: “Cancel my rumba lesson!”
The next piece utilized a de-tuned viola growling like a UPS truck, and after that, a composition, “Musique de Tables,” was played completely by the rapping of hands, fingers, knuckles and arms upon a tabletop. “Coming Together” was a hilarious duo for cello and clarinet consisting entirely of glissandi, sounding, as introduced, like a conversation between two adults from the Peanuts television specials—the two players wandered around the room, “talking” to each other in a very convincing primal dialogue. And the final piece was pure insanity, another highly complex thing that left me wondering: how do they rehearse this stuff?
Here’s the deal with Eighth Blackbird. What they do, they could be hella pretensh about it, but they’re not; they laughed along with the crowd at the ridiculous moments, they concentrated along with the crowd at the complicated passages, and they came off as very personable and real. The next day I read a tepid review in the Chronicle about ‘em, which was too bad, because I couldn’t see anyone disliking them based on the Healdsburg show. [alas, they played a completely different program.]
Avant-garde music is usually the province of middle-aged intellectuals, but I’d wager to say that any 5-year old—or anyone with an open heart of any age—would easily be ecstatic with Eighth Blackbird. And to think that every composition they performed was written no earlier than 1987! Consider yourself lucky if you were there, and thanks to Gary McLaughlin and the RRCMS for booking ‘em.