Healdsburg Jazz Fest is back, live and in person
As Sonoma County emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and the long quiet period for large entertainment events that it caused, next week brings the return of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, founded in 1999 and last held as a live event in 2019.
This year’s fest is notable for another reason, too: It will be the first Healdsburg Jazz Festival under the leadership of San Francisco jazz bassist, composer, bandleader and educator Marcus Shelby, who was named the festival’s new artistic director last fall.
Scaled down, shortened from the usual 10 days to four and presented only in outdoor venues, the festival has been in the planning stages for months.
“We started planning the summer festival when there were still a lot of unknowns. It’s been really tricky,” Shelby said. “But we decided to go forward, following the virus safety regulations as best we could, even as they changed.”
Using smaller venues means fewer seats, and consequently, some of the festival’s performances have already sold out and others are close to selling out. But organizers are prepared to be flexible.
The state is set to end most pandemic restrictions, including face masks and social distancing requirements, on Tuesday, June 15, two days before the festival begins. And assuming the state reopening goes off as planned, the festival is set to respond.
“Based on the rules and regulations of the county, we have been planning for smaller attendance, but we hope to open up and make some more space available after June 15,” Shelby said.
The festival will follow all COVID-19 restrictions, protocols and guidelines set by the city of Healdsburg and Sonoma County public health departments, he said.
This year’s program blends the festival’s long history of presenting authentic live jazz with Shelby’s vision of pairing the music with other art forms.
“I’ve been in San Francisco for 25 years, and my experience with the Intersection for the Arts nonprofit, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and the SF Jazz Festival has led me to incorporate theater, spoken word, dance and visual arts with the music,” Shelby said.
Shelby is eager to apply that experience to the Healdsburg event. For example, you can look for Tongo Eisen-Martin, San Francisco’s poet laureate, who will appear Saturday, June 19, on the same program as the Howard Wiley Trio.
Eisen-Martin’s poem was commissioned for the festival’s observance of Juneteeth, celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the United States, Shelby said. That day’s program also includes an appearance by Enid Pickett, 2021 Healdsburg Jazz poet laureate.
Richmond painter and muralist Malik Seneferu, who has been commissioned by the festival to create a Juneteenth poster, will be recognized at the event.
“The biggest change in the festival program this year is also emphasizing other art forms,” Shelby said.
But as always, jazz music will be center stage, with appearances by Bay Area musicians including singer Kenny Washington, a 2021 Grammy nominee, who will perform Sunday, June 20, at the festival’s Father’s Day evening show.
Even though he is new as artistic director, Shelby has been active at Healdsburg Jazz Festival since 2012. He has served as music director and conductor of the 100-voice Healdsburg Freedom Jazz Choir and Youth Choir and Ensemble at the festival for the past nine years.
The Freedom Choir performs this year in the festival’s only online event, “Songs for My Father,” on Father’s Day.
“We started recording the voices once a month, January through March, with everyone singing from their homes,” Shelby said.
Once recorded, the voices were blended electronically into a single choral performance.
Changes in the festival format do not mean a change in its essential purpose — the celebration of jazz music, he added.
“We’re thankful to the festival’s founder and former director, Jessica Felix, who built a really strong foundation. She retired last October. Jessica and I come from the same artistic tradition,” Shelby said.
“Our mission is still the same for the festival,” he added. “We’re still coming from Black music, rhythm and blues, jazz, Latin jazz, whatever you want to call it. I am just trying to include some other art forms.”
Check healdsburgjazz.org for the latest news and updates.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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