JAZZ DIVA Dianne Reeves will headline the June 24 concert at Bacchus Landing, part of the 25th annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Couresty Healdsburg Jazz)

The music festival that put Healdsburg on the jazz map begins this weekend, starting with a Juneteenth Celebration in the Plaza on Saturday, June 17, and ending nine days later on June 25 with another celebration, this one an immersion in the brassy, rhythmic tradition of New Orleans. 

This is the 25th year of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, the silver jubilee of a rich tradition. That inaugural event on June 17 makes clear the African roots of this distinctly American music, jazz. “I hope that anyone who attends our festival enjoys the diversity of Black music in all of its forms, beginning with a rich survey of influences and styles we will present for our Juneteenth Celebration,” said Marcus Shelby, the artistic director of the festival. 

JUNETEENTH Saxophonist Charles McPherson headlines the June 17 kickoff concert at the Plaza for this year’s Healdsburg Jazz Festival, its 25th.

In between, the festival brims with programs at a variety of venues in town, from the hole-in-the-wall Elephant in the Room pub to the floral Ferrari-Carano Winery estate in Dry Creek Valley, with many concerts taking place at Bacchus Landing, the spacious multi-winery manor on Westside Road.

“We will have blues and swing, rhythm and blues, gospel, New Orleans brass music and spoken word. The rest of our festival covers the Black music diaspora from Afro Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, neo soul, straight ahead, traditional and New Orleans, and experimental music,” he continued. 

The talent on the stage for the free Juneteenth Celebration, which runs from 2 to 8pm, includes the Charles McPherson Quintet (led by the saxophonist and featuring Shelby on bass, trumpeter Terell Stafford, Jeb Patton on piano and drummer Akira Tana).

“Our goal is to provide a strong cultural experience for those who attend our festival,” said Shelby. ‘We do that by celebrating the past, present and future of our musical art form and expanding our reach through the intersection with other art forms.”

Indeed, the musicians coming to town over the following days are from a generational span that reaches back into jazz’s origins in New Orleans, with Dr. Michael White and his Original Liberty Jazz Band for the finale on Sunday, June 25 at Ferrari-Carano. 

YOUNG DIVA Samara Joy recently one two Grammy Awards, one for Best New Artist. the 23-year-old singer will headline the June 18 concert at Bacchus Landing for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Courtesy Healdsburg Jazz)

This weekend, however, it’s 23-year-old Samara Joy—the latest contemporary star the genre has produced—who headlines a Sunday, June 18 concert at Bacchus Landing (7-8:30pm). Joy won two Grammys at this year’s awards show, for Best Jazz Vocal Album and the coveted Best New Artist award. She was booked for the festival before the Grammy awards, and the show is now sold out. 

In between, there are several musicians familiar to Healdsburg, including percussionist John Santos, a frequent HJF participant. He is celebrated in a new documentary film, Santos: Skin to Skin, premiering at the Raven theater on Monday, June 19. After the film, he’ll bring his congas and other Caribbean instruments to the stage for a performance.

Other Latin artists include Grupo Falso Baiano, featuring Natalie Cressman, in a lunch concert at the Madrona on Tuesday, June 20. That same day, Carlitos Medrano and Sabor de mi Cuba return to the Gazebo stage for the Tuesday in the Plaza concert, free, from 6-8pm.  

Jazz traditionalists might favor vocalist Stella Heath’s “Billie Holliday Project,” two shows at the Hotel Healdsburg’s Garden Courtyard on Wednesday, June 21, a dinner show from 5-6:30 and a dessert from 7:30-9. 

The next night, guitarist Bill Frisell interacts and improvises with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston, following Camille Thurman with the Darrell Green Quartet to the Bacchus Landing stage. starting at 6:30.

And the following night is a homage to the kind of talent that Jessica Felix, the festival’s founder, consistently brought to Healdsburg during her 22 years as the artistic director. It’s a tribute to Pharoah Sanders and Joey DeFrancesco, two influential musicians who passed away in 2022. 

John Santos at Healdsburg Jazz
RHYTHM KING John Santos is honored with a new documentary film, followed by
a performance, on June 19 at the Raven Theater. (photo by Tom Ehrlich)

Saxophonist Sanders and organist DeFrancesco last recorded together in 2019, reviving Sanders’s 1969 “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” There’s a good chance this evening’s talent will be up to the task of recreating that spiritual masterwork. 

Among the performers will be saxophonists Gary Bartz and Azar Lawrence, drummers Tomoki Sanders and Billy Hart, as well as percussionist Munyungo Jackson, pianist Marc Cary, organist Brian Ho, vocalist Nicholas Bearde and the festival’s artistic director, Marcus Shelby, on bass. 

It’s preceded by a set from Joel Ross, a new generation vibraphonist-composer. The Friday night concert, again at Bacchus, also begins at 6:30. 

Saturday, June 24 brings together both the past and the future of jazz. The future is personified by the Healdsburg Jazz Future Allstars, local high school musicians finding their voice at the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, 9am to noon. 

And that night, Dianne Reeves will perform at Bacchus Landing, 7-8:30. Reeves, a five-time Grammy winner, was lined up to headline the 2020 HJF before COVID intervened; now she gets her night on the local stage to show why she was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2018.

As head-spinning a list of talent that is, there are still more performers in town during this festival, playing in smaller, often free concerts. Consider the prodigious saxophone talent Howard Wiley, with a quartet at the Elephant in the Room on June 17, 9-11pm.

Or the all-volunteer Freedom Jazz Choir, directed by Tiffany Austin, at St. Paul’s Church on June 24, 1-3pm. Or a post-concert jam that same night, with the Sylvia Cuenca Trio at the Hotel Healdsburg Spirit Bar, from 9-11:30. 

It’s hard to believe, but that’s not all. Check out the complete line-up for the 2023 Healdsburg Jazz Festival, with ticket links (where still available), at healdburgjazz.org. 

Previous articleBear Republic Liquidates As Former Restaurant Remodeled
Next articleFlashbacks from Healdsburg


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here