Jazz Festival Finale: All You Could Want, and Then Some

It was a hot day, but for the 500 people who braved the 90-degree temperatures it was the music that they'll remember as Healdsburg Jazz Festival draws to a close.


From the eclectic arrangements of opening act the to the blistering bebop of Roy Haynes and Fountain of Youth, with the smooth improvised blues of Sheila Jordan sandwiched in between like a cool afternoon cocktail, the was a musical success.

Maybe not so much in numbers - the is sure to gain twice as many at shows that includes Al Green, Al Jarreau, Huey Lewis, and, this upcoming Saturday, Tower of Power - but it was the most consistently strong Festival finale in recent years.

While each act held its own, the star of the show was clearly "poster boy" Roy Haynes, who at 87 seemed to have a more energy and enthusiasm for the show than he did seven years ago, when he first played the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

First to take the stage was Iyer and his trio, featuring the emotive bassist Stephan Crump. Iyer's music is composed, and the improvisation that takes place on stage seems to do so within rhythm and tonal structures, not chord-based as in traditional jazz. The result is often intriguing, in not transporting, with Iyer's abstract piano defining the expressionism of the pieces. Tyshawn Sorey did an admirable job of filling in for Vjay's regular drummer, Marcus Gilmore – Roy Haynes’ grandson – who couldn’t make the gig.

Iyer and crew made up for it by bringing on Graham Haynes, Roy's son (and Marcus' uncle) to add some brass to the last few numbers. It made a world of difference, elevating the already well-received set to a higher level of appreciation. It's not often this kind of music is played outdoors, in the daytime, instead of at night in a concert hall or New York City club. But from the attentive reception of the audience, it was worth it.

From rad to trad, next up was 83-year old vocalist Sheila Jordan. Like headliner Roy Haynes she too is a designated NEA Jazz Master -- their helped support the event. She was accompanied solely by her long-time bassist, Cameron Brown, and the two of them traded phrases with the effortless assurance of old lovers.

She began her set with a somewhat improvised "Hum-Drum Blues," then segued into a medley of songs associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Jordan overall was in fine voice - she lost it only once, seemed as surprised by the temporary hoarseness as anyway, and rejoiced by singing "I'm back!" when it returned.

She teased the audience and her bassist with improvised lyrics, and noted the singing of the finches who were serenading, or perhaps scolding, one another in the trees on the Rodney Strong grass arena.

At one point she read Dr. Martin Luther King's "Humanity for Jazz" invocation, given at the 1964 opening of the Berlin Jazz Festival, and it was as powerful and inspiriting speech on Sunday afternoon as it must have been 48 years ago.

The afternoon was cooling only slightly when Roy Haynes took over, but it quickly heated right back up again. The lithe senior citizen showed all the agility and quickness not of a man half his age, or even a quarter his age, but of a 11-year old kid doing something he enjoys immensely. He took out the first Charlie Parker song -- was it "Ornithology," to go with the singing birds? -- with a driving, chugging, polyrhythmic drum solo that had his own band laughing with glee.

Then he came out from behind is kit, talking to and teasing and even taunting the crowd with his effervescent energy. "This is a special time… A very special time. I like these special times," he said in mock seriousness, "when people are waiting to see what I'm going to do next."

Given the "" theme of the afternoon, his other son Craig Haynes was on stage playing congas, joining his usual Fountain of Youth band of Martin  Bejerano on piano, David Wong on bass and the very well-Traned saxophonist  Jaleel Shaw. As expected, though not promised, cornetist Graham Haynes joined in for most of the set, and Sheila Jordan came back for that classic jazz jam, "I've Got Rhythm."

"When the spirit hits you, you've got to fly," said Haynes. Fly he did, driving his terrific post-bop band through a short series of Monk, Miles and Bird tunes that proved why jazz is still alive and healthy, in a few places at least. Here in Healdsburg, we're fortunate to be one of them.


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