Renee Fleming, Izthak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Jessye Norman, Herbie Hancock to Play Green Music Center
Made public in a season announcement today, the Green Music Center‘s second season includes Renee Fleming, Izthak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Jessye Norman, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Mariza, Bryn Terfel, Garrick Ohlsson, Ruth Ann Swenson and more.
Without a doubt, this is another star-studded season for the center, which opened on the campus of SSU last year. Classical enthusiasts, especially, have reason to celebrate.
Renee Fleming will appear in a season opener on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3pm.
Lang Lang, who performed at the hall’s grand opening last September, returns on Sept. 17.
Tickets for the season range from $27–$140 each, with subscription packages available starting today for donors in the $1,000 Benefactor Society and higher; Tuesday, April 2 for current subscribers and all MasterCard holders; and Monday, April 22 to the general public.
SSU students receive 50% off.
Ticket sales and more info. can be found at the Green Music Center’s site.
Other dates are as follows:
B.B. King and Buddy Guy aren’t just the best headliners the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival (Sept. 24-25) has had in years, they’re also an example of the longtime legends who, lucky for us, return to the North Bay perennially. This fall season boasts everyone from jazz survivor Herbie Hancock (Sept. 18, Wells Fargo Center) to indie-rock progenitors the Pixies (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre), with a little bit of country survivor Wynonna Judd thrown in for good boot-scootin’ measure (Nov. 8, Lincoln Theatre).
When Herbie Hancock was here last, he regaled the crowd with a song he hadn’t played live in 25 years—”Rockit,” the early-turntablist fusion breakdance anthem. Expect similar crossover from jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sept. 17, Napa Valley Opera House) and, to a lesser degree, recent Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 2, Uptown Theatre). Spalding, who has successfully crossed over out of the jazz world with the large help of Starbucks, has got a marvelous hairdo to rival that of Diana Ross, who stops in for a diva show to end all diva shows (Sept. 17, Marin Center). And speaking of glamour, there’s two chances to catch quasi-globetrotting ensemble Pink Martini (Nov. 17, Marin Center; Nov. 19; Grace Pavilion), who continue to receive rave reviews even with the temporary hiatus of lead vocalist China Forbes.
Rock legends abound, with the Last Day Saloon hosting recent box-set grantees UFO (Sept. 15) and Mr. Playin’ It Straight himself, Pat Travers (Oct. 8). Lindsey Buckingham, the poor soul who has been stuck with a not-very-funny SNL skit, plays in Napa (Oct. 25, Uptown Theatre) just before guitar wizard Jeff Beck flies through with three shows (Oct 31, Wells Fargo Center; Nov 1-2, Uptown Theatre). And though they may not be in the Cleveland Hall of Fame, they’re our own legends, like it or not: barf-metal act Skitzo celebrates 30 years of regurgitation this year (Oct. 8, Phoenix Theater).
A strong indie-rock double bill of Band of Horses and Brett Netson brings the bearded out of the woodwork (Sept. 9, Uptown Theater), while Dawes and Blitzen Trapper give a virtual encore a month later (Oct. 7, Mystic Theater). Ryan Adams, whose career has been a rollercoaster to say the least, plays a completely sold-out show (Oct. 15, Uptown Theater), while the almighty Pixies hold the record for quickest ticket sales (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre)—the Napa stop of their Doolittle Tour was sold out in minutes.
While the grizzled country-music patriarch Merle Haggard returns (Sept. 30, Uptown Theatre), many young-uns swim in his wake. Son Volt’s Jay Farrar glides onto the stage with a voice of velvet (Sept. 9, Mystic Theatre), while Dave Alvin continues his quest to make the bandana cool again—if anyone can do it, it’s him (Sept. 15, Mystic Theatre).
Jackson Browne is all over his solo set these days, with stories and spontaneity and rarely any set list (Nov. 9, Marin Center), while master storyteller Tom Russell comes back for a special intimate evening (Oct. 27, Studio E). The nimble and fleet-fingered Bruce Hornsby continues to provide examples of why he’s among the most sought-after in the business (Sept. 14, Uptown Theatre), and at the Napa Valley Opera House, two artists get up close and personal: Rickie Lee Jones (Nov. 3) and Stephen Stills (Nov. 17).
Blues fans looking forward to the great B. B. King–Buddy Guy teamup can also get down and low over at the Mystic Theatre with J. L. Walker (Sept. 15) and Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout (Oct. 1). And if that doesn’t work, then the hell with it—just flush all cares down the drain and go enjoy the crazy theatrics of “Weird Al” Yankovic (Nov. 7, Wells Fargo Center).
Herbie Hancock is a jazz legend. It’s a fact. You can’t strip him of it.
At what’s billed as a jazz festival, you’d think people would be into Herbie Hancock. But after his first song last night, the Blue Note jazz classic “Cantaloupe Island,” an exodus of half-tipsy middle-aged Wine Country dilettantes who’ve been trained that Michael McDonald is “jazz” filled the aisles and headed to their SUVs.
This, I’d think, might be slightly embarrassing for the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, who have suffered as many exhortations to simply change their name as Hilary Clinton has to drop out of the primaries. Frankly, I’m overwhelmingly for it. If you’re going to represent yourself as a “jazz” festival but then book mostly R&B, blues, or pop acts, you’re not only insulting an original American art form but also, I might add, essentially defying a Congressional decree calling for the recognition and preservation of jazz as a rare and valuable national American treasure.
Herbie Hancock, along with Julian Lage and Taylor Eigsti, represents the true jazz minority at this year’s festival, and Hancock occupies a decidedly unique place in jazz, however mainstream it may be. Though most of what he’s done lately falls into classical or pop realms, he has constantly pushed, in his music, the jazz ideal of exploration and possibility. No amount of Starbucks-friendly collaborations with Corrine Bailey Rae can taint that fact, and in a twisted way, his forays into funk fusion, industrial breakdance music, and other non-jazz idioms actually support it. If jazz is a journey, then Hancock is an overarching participant, straying from the designated path with equal parts vision and experimentation.
Example: while Hancock introduced his second number last night, the equally classic “Watermelon Man,” he announced that he and his quintet would tackle it with a few variations. First, they’d incorporate a 17-beat count into the song, based on African music. Second, they’d introduce one extra beat at a time, until they reached 17 beats. Oh, and another thing: they’d bring out a DJ to play turntables on the song.
The exodus continued.
What followed was an entirely creative take on “Watermelon Man,” with bassist Marcus Miller holding down the solid groove while Hancock switched from grand piano, to synthesizer, to. . . wait a second. . . a Key-tar?! Yep—Hancock and his harmonica player traded harp and Key-tar licks, the DJ threw in some scratching and the guitarist played wild octave-pedal scales. In its offbeat and original way, it was jazz—and the idea of jazz—at its finest, and to be fair to the crowd, the multitudes of people who stuck around gave him the first of many deserved standing ovations.
A trio of Joni Mitchell songs from Hancock’s what-the-hell Grammy Award-winning Album of the Year River: The Joni Letters followed, with vocalists Lizz Wright and Sonya Kitchell delivering stellar versions of “Edith and the Kingpin” and “The River,” the latter ending with angelic harmonies between the two. However, Kitchell’s take on “All I Want,” a breathy, sexy rendition, was a misfire compared to Mitchell’s laughing, playful original.
I actually listened to Mitchell’s Blue before coming to the show, and “All I Want” is such a great, weird dichotomy of a song—it’s full of longing and loneliness, but it’s also buoyant and optimistic, like Joni’s looking towards the day that she’ll be happy, feel free and knit sweaters. As the listener, you think that day could be tomorrow and the sweater she’ll knit is just for you. Kitchell sang it instead like there was no hope in sight—just a lot of self-wallowing and bluesy inflection.
Hancock himself played fantastically, but the greater impression left was that of a scientist in a jazz lab, professorially dissecting each number with sheet music in hand and explaining how the quintet would approach each new discovery. Introducing “Jean Pierre,” a vehicle for bassist Miller, he even joked about the song’s sketchy genesis. “This is a composition by the great Miles Davis,” he said, to scattered cheers. “You think Miles wrote it alone? Who knows!” (for further reading on Davis’ notorious habit of plagiarizing other’s songs, I recommend the book Shades of Blue by Bill Moody).
With Hancock’s classic Blue Note era covered by “Canteloupe Island” and “Watermelon Man,” with the Headhunters era covered via the encore “Chameleon,” and with the pop era covered with the Joni Mitchell songs, there was only one stone left unturned in Hancock’s set. I would have never thought he’d play it, not in a million years.
“Are you ready?!” he shouted. “For the first time in 25 years, are. . . you. . . ready?!”
And with that, he strapped on the Key-tar, motioned to the DJ, and led the band in a run-down of the great breakdance jam I used to backspin to when I was nine years old: “Rockit.” The crowd erupted. It wasn’t exactly jazz, but it felt good, and all egregious festival misnomers aside, that’s what any good festival is supposed to offer.
The lineup for the Fourth Annual Sonoma Jazz Festival has been announced. Let the bickering begin!
Thursday, May 22: Kool and the Gang
Friday, May 23: Herbie Hancock
Saturday, May 24: Diana Krall
Sunday, May 25: Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo
Yup—as in each of the first three years of the festival, there’s a couple of acts in the Memorial Day Weekend lineup who could hardly be classified as “jazz.” At this point, it’s a local tradition that seems frivolous to argue, but it nonetheless consistently succeeds in getting hardcore jazz fans riled up to the nth degree.
Steve Winwood and Boz Scaggs, both headliners at the 2005 inaugural festival, rose the eyebrows early. Steve Miller and B.B. King stoked the fumes in 2006. Last year may have been the harshest of all: LeAnn Rimes and Michael McDonald.
Maybe that’s why festival directors have changed the name – slightly. Much like the Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park became “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass,” the Sonoma Jazz Festival is officially known as “Sonoma Jazz +.”
As residents of the “Jazz” arena, both Diana Krall and Herbie Hancock are making return appearances at the festival, with the indefatigable Hancock recently handed a what-the-hell Album of the Year Grammy Award for his Starbucks-friendly sort-of-Joni-Mitchell tribute River: The Joni Letters.
Kool and the Gang, Bonnie Raitt and Keb Mo are gonna have to be content with the “+” category, although after scoping out the crowd in previous years, I hardly think that the average Sonoma Jazz attendee will mind all that much. As for the expensively-dressed and well-Chardonnayed woman sitting behind us last year who continually talked on her cell phone, well, I doubt she’d even notice.
But I have to personally hand it to the directors of this crazy weekend festival. Whatever your take on their choice of booking, they’re bringing world-class talent to an event with an impeccably well-run yet laid-back atmosphere—I mean jeez, it’s held in a tent on a baseball diamond, fer cryin’ out loud. The mood around the festival is jovial and swank, the shows are often sold out, and everyone generally leaves happy.
Here’s another thing you can’t argue with: to reward local residents, tickets go on sale in the town of Sonoma on Saturday, March 8 at the Sonoma Community Center from 2-6pm. Out-of-towners, positively hungry to boogie down to “Ladies’ Night” and “Celebration,” have to wait until the nationwide release of tickets, two days later, on March 10. Pricing and ticket info for the general public is served up here, but the March 8 pre-sale for locals is a strictly in-the-know kind of thing. Cool deal.