Healdsburg Jazz Fest considered the North Bay's best

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21st annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival

Full list of artists at 10-day jazz festival can be found at healdsburgjazz.org.

Women and international performers highlight the lineup for the 21st annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival, scheduled to take place in a variety of different venues in and around Healdsburg from May 31-June 9.

This year’s festival also celebrates the 50th birthday celebration of renowned jazz label ECM Records.

“People say we have the best music festival in the North Bay,” says Jessica Felix, the festival’s executive director. “In addition to attracting incredible artists, all of the venues are small and intimate spots where you’re never too far from what’s happening on stage.”

The festival begins May 31 with an ECM tribute show at Soda Rock Winery on Highway 128 in the Alexander Valley. Ralph Towner, who is a maestro on the 12-string guitar, will take center stage — a fitting choice, since he has released 27 albums with the label over the years. Towner’s special guest for the night: Paul McCandless, with whom Towner formed the band Oregon. McCandless is an expert with wind instruments.

Ten days later, On June 9, the event concludes with a performance by Dhafer Youssef, a Tunisian musician who plays the oud (a lute-like, pear-shaped string instrument) and will collaborate with a trio of other musicians.

Reached by email earlier this month, Youssef said he was “very pleased to be included and to share the stage with such amazing artists.”

In between the first and last act, the Jazz Fest has booked a lineup that features the Carlos Herrera Trio (June 1), Calvin Keys and Jeff Chambers (June 3), and the Harold Lopez-Nussa Quartet featuring Mayquel Gonzalez (June 7), to name a few.

Also of note: The June 1 performance by Dejohnette- Coltrane–Garrison, a group that comprises drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison. (In case you’re wondering, Ravi is the son of John and Alice Coltrane, and Matthew’s father was Jimmy Garrison, bassist in the classic John Coltrane Quartet.)

The oldest performer to grace the stage is Carla Bley, who will croon as part of a trio June 2. Bley, who will be 83,has been making music for nearly 70 years and touring for 60 of them. Since she originally is from Oakland, Bley considers her participation in this music festival a homecoming.

“[Wine Country] is such a great part of the world to perform,” she says. “At this point in my career I spend most of my time writing music at my desk. It’s nice to get out and see the rest of the world.”

Regina Carter, who performs with a quintet, is excited to participate for an entirely different reason: This will be her first trip to this part of Wine Country since she honeymooned here 14 years ago. Carter will play a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald on June 8 — she’ll share the stage at the Jackson Theater in Santa Rosa with the Joey DeFrancesco Trio and Billy Hart.

“Destination festivals are fun,” says Carter, who has built in an extra day to take in the Healdsburg festival as a tourist. “Unlike other big events, where people just come to talk and socialize with friends, people come to these because they actually want to hear the music.”

Another act attracting a lot of attention is Jenny Scheinman and Allison Miller’s Parlour Game quartet with Carmen Staaf and Tony Scherr. This group, scheduled to play June 5, is known for its “social” music — roots jazz and groove tunes that marries clear and traditional melodies with a host of improvisation that makes every set entirely different.

21st annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival

Full list of artists at 10-day jazz festival can be found at healdsburgjazz.org.

Scheinman, who grew up in Humboldt County, says she loves playing small towns like Healdsburg because of the intimate vibe.

“If you play in my small town, probably 90 percent of the people who live there will come,” she says. “For an audience to feel like they are participating in something unique and close and intimate, it’s different and special than attending a big festival in a bigger city.”

Also not to be missed the Hotel Healdsburg lobby show, which unfolds every Saturday night.

While these performances aren’t on the official event calendar, Circe Sher, a partner at the hotel, says the shows represent some of the greatest jams of the festival, and often attract several of the performers from main acts sitting in with the hotel band after their shows get out.

“The lobby gets packed and the energy in the room can be electric,” she says. “We’ve been long-time supporters of the festival and look forward to it every year.”

New for this year, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival will host “Jazz Village Campus” at West Plaza Park. According to Executive Director Felix, this special area will be a free daytime mini-festival offering the greater community an opportunity to learn about music from creative musicians through an interactive and hands-on jazz experience.

Of course the festival also will bring back the Jazz Village, which it launched last year. This area is a hub integrated within the larger festival with art projects for children, festival musicians signing CDs, jazz radio hosts spinning records, an antique instrument exhibit, and jazz dance and poetry performances.

At last check, the Jazz Village was expecting to host a communal art project commemorating the festival, as well.

There even will be special cocktails; four of Healdsburg’s culinary destinations are set to showcase Jazz Festival-inspired drinks. Participating restaurants and bars include The Harmon Rooftop, Spoonbar, Valette and Campo Fina.

“There really will be activities for all,” Felix says. “We want to make this something to remember.”

For more information about the Healdsburg Jazz Festival or specific lineups, visit healdsburgjazz.org.

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