Time was, Healdsburg was the “Buckle of the Prune Belt,” though travel magazines these days call it “America’s Best Small Town,” not that there’s necessarily a conflict.
What happened? Well, the wine industry hereabouts took off, and all the plum trees were uprooted and the fields turned into vineyards.
And the Hotel Healdsburg took over an eye-sore vacant lot, built a classy inn and opened for business, going a long way toward making Healdsburg the “destination” it is today.
But in between, Jessica Felix came to town, and with her a rolodex bulging with jazz performers and their managers. Not long after, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival was born – an event that has come to define Healdsburg as much as any other.
Starting today, tickets are on sale at the Festival’s website, so old fans and new converts can see what the Healdsburg Jazz Festival is all about.
Now in its fifteenth year, the Festival’s 2013 line-up keeps to the same high standards in performance and rigorous adherence to “real jazz”, bringing such stalwarts of the art form as Charlie Haden, Charles Lloyd, and Fred Hersch back to town for return concerts, and adding some soulful zest with Sweet Honey in the Rock, a bit of hip with the Will Bernard Quartet at Spoonbar, and the community-based Freedom Jazz Choir with the Marcus Shelby Orchestra.
“I got help for the concerts from the NEA grant,” she said, referring to the National Endowment for the Arts. “And a lot of artists are coming for Charlie,” she added, speaking of bassist Charlie Haden. Sponsors, memberships, and especially ticket sales help finance the robust 10-day festival.
Haden is the subject of a two-day tribute at the head of the Festival, at June 1 and 2 in concerts at the nearby Jackson Theater. “They want to be here for him, to honor him and to play with him if possible.” Haden has been playing less often in recent years, due to health issues, but he seems to be bouncing back somewhat, Felix said.
“Then Charles Lloyd offered us this exclusive U.S. engagement this year, of his duo project with Jason Moran.” The sax-piano concert at the Raven on June 8 marks the third time the legendary Lloyd has come to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.
New this year are “ticket bundles” for the weekend concerts, and hotel-concert packages directed at out of town fans. The hotel is in Santa Rosa, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel (“Healdsburg hotels don’t need to sell their rooms, they’ll be full anyway,” said Felix).
The festival finale at Rodney Strong Vineyards also has a couple new elements – one of them being the a cappella women’s singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, a slight but not significant divergence from the instrumental-centric foundation of jazz.
The other innovation is a new “shaded area” at Rodney Strong, to shield concert goers from the sometimes sizzling summer sun there. The finale is Sunday, June 9, with saxophonist Azar Lawrence and his quartet opening the show.
“We’re trying to make things better,” said Felix about the innovations in ticketing, artists and venues. "We keep looking for ways to help our audience enjoy the festival in new ways."
Make that fifteen, and counting.