While Greg Hester has worked a number of jobs during his 66 years, he’s always been a musician.
The longtime Cloverdale resident has been a professional jazz pianist for more than 35 years while working as a bar manager, property appraiser, tasting room host and mail carrier. He also helped run an after-school music program at Cloverdale High School.
On Saturday at 7 p.m., he will perform alongside Bay Area virtuosos Roger Glenn, Tommy Kesecker and Yancie Taylor as part of the main event during the Sonoma Mendocino Coast Whale and Jazz Festival at the Gualala Arts Center.
It’s not surprising the Oakland native was chosen for the festival. He has played the Healdsburg Jazz Festival a number of times, as well as other jazz festivals in San Jose, Sonoma, Hawaii and Frankfurt, Germany.
His birthday last month was spent performing at the Main Street Station in Guerneville with Geoff Whyte on drums, Rob Wright on bass, Jim Passarell on trumpet and Don Oliver on sax. A surprise visit by his good friend and fellow musician, Chuck Peterson, was the icing on the cake.
“Chuck is a wonderful sax-flute player who worked the very first Monterey Jazz Festival with the Earl “Fatha” Hines Big Band in 1958,” Hester said. “Billie Holiday was also on the bill.”
Hester’s primary musical interests encompass classic jazz, bebop, standards and some blues. Although he never had any formal jazz training, he was fortunate to have several excellent mentors, among them Ron Crotty, Chet Baker and Dave Brubeck.
“I respected my elders,” he said
He has some 350 songs committed to memory, writes music and can be heard on several CDs with drummer Lee Charlton.
In the early ’70s, as a student at Santa Clara University he put together his own band as a sophomore and, during his senior year, was performing several nights a week in San Francisco.
Finding suitable gigs locally at the time was challenging, but he knew he could make money and find music work that better fit his style in Europe. A year out of school, he packed his bags and moved first to the Netherlands and then to Munich, Germany to take advantage of vibrant music scenes.
Returning to California in 1979, he found disco the rage and there were not many gigs for a jazz pianist. By 1985, he and his wife, Jocelyn, had moved to Cloverdale, bought a house and settled down to raise their two daughters. She worked for the school district as a second-grade teacher at Jefferson School and, Hester, before being hired by the postal service, worked in the tasting room at Rodney Strong Vineyards. He still continued to perform whenever the opportunity arose.
During his 20-year career with the postal service, he still worked about 100 music jobs.
Now that he is retired, Hester is busier than ever, with about 150 performances annually. He plays at private parties, restaurants, taverns and wineries throughout Sonoma and Napa counties, and especially enjoys playing close to home at the Cloverdale Ale Co. and Piacere Ristorante Italiano.
Contact Towns Correspondent Mary Jo Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org.