Jazz singer
FLORAL Jazz artist Jazzmeia Horn will appear at Bacchus Landing on June 20 with the Marcus Shelby Orchestra, during the 26th Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Photo courtesy of Chart Room Media)

The City of Healdsburg began holding Juneteenth celebrations with the lifting of the Covid restrictions, and since then it’s also marked the kick-off of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. The local nonprofit, which has brought world-class jazz to this Wine Country town since 1999, always makes a point to educate and celebrate the cultural diversity that makes up America’s music, introducing a series of established jazz masters and rising stars to local stages.

For this Juneteenth event, on Saturday, June 15, educational workshops will take place on the Plaza during the 2-8pm festivities, along with no fewer than three performing bands on stage, plus jazz poet Enid Pickett and KCSM’s Greg Bridges, who will again emcee among other speakers.

But it’s the musicians who will make the day. These include master trombonist Steve Turre (of the SNL band) with his sextet; a quintet featuring 89-year-old Houston Person and another saxophonist named Eric Person (called Person2Person); and a quartet called MJ New.

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Marcus Shelby, a bassist and interdisciplinary artist, also picks and promotes his musical peers for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Photo by Bethanie Hines)

This last is a group inspired by the Modern Jazz Quartet, a.k.a. MJQ—but MJ New, get it? Like its inspiration, it plays a blend of classical and jazz arrangements, led by pianist Darrell Grant, vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, drummer Cecil Brooks III and bassist Marcus Shelby, the artistic director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

The Shelby Era

“My interest is developing projects and programming around cultural holidays,” Shelby said. “Even outside of the festival, we have a Maya Angelou Day. Every year, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King. We always celebrate Women’s History Month somehow.” So a Juneteenth celebration is, as they say, in his wheelhouse.

Though he’s only been the Festival’s artistic director since 2020, Shelby’s association with the education and performance nonprofit goes back 14 years. During that time he played a key role teaching in the jazz-in-the-schools program, and he introduced one of the nonprofit’s key community programs, the Healdsburg Freedom Jazz Choir, now headed by Tiffany Austin.

Shelby takes that intersection between education, community and the arts very seriously. “You know, I’m an artist,” he said. “Our education coordinator is an artist and vocalist; all of our teaching artists are running our various education programs. And so we put the artists smack dab in the middle.”

Artists First

Putting the artists first is one reason that Healdsburg has become a valued gig for the wide-ranging, globe-trotting jazz artists of today. “Jessica Felix, who founded the organization and was the artistic director for 22 years, left a very, very strong foundation and a roadmap for us of how we have continued,” Shelby said. “And some of that is how we have an emphasis on how we treat artists.”

The jazz giants who have found a receptive audience in Healdsburg are innumerable—Billy Higgins, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Lloyd, Eddie Palmieri, Abbey Lincoln, Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Bobby Hutcherson and Kenny Barron, to name a few. But don’t overlook the newcomers too, like Esperanza Spaulding in 2009 and more recently, Samara Joy just last year.

“No one knew Samara Joy was going to win three Grammys between the time we booked her and the time she performed,” Shelby said. “These things you can’t predict.” One of those three statuettes was as Best Artist of the Year, a prestigious award won by the likes of Alicia Keys, Adele, Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse.

Samara Joy
JOYFUL NOISE Samara Joy appeared at the 2023 Healdsburg Jazz Festival, just months before receiving a Grammy as Best New Artist. She returns this year for another performance on June 16. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Joy returns this year to anchor a June 16 Father’s Day concert at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate, a venue three times bigger than the Bacchus Landing courtyard she played last year, but still smaller than many places such an artist can command.

Bacchus Landing

This year only two events will take place at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, which in previous years has served as a primary location for Festival concerts. On Monday, June 17, a documentary film (5pm) and performance (7:30pm) with Omar Sosa and his Quarteto Americanos will take place. 

The following Sunday afternoon, June 23, an interdisciplinary program with music and dance will take place at 2pm, with Lisa Fischer, Taylor Eigsti and members of LINES Ballet. 

Jazzmeia Horn
FLORAL Jazz artist Jazzmeia Horn will appear at Bacchus Landing on June 20 with the Marcus Shelby Orchestra, during the 26th Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Photo courtesy of Chart Room Media)

However, Bacchus Landing has proved an ideal place for live music, its open courtyard surrounded by tasting rooms and food trucks, and no fewer than four Festival events will take place there this year, from Thursday through Sunday, June 20-23. The first involves a singer some think could break out the way Samara Joy did last year—Jazzmeia Horn.

“Jazzmeia Horn is already highly recognized, but I think her ceiling is unlimited,” Shelby said. Horn, a repeat Grammy nominee, is the headliner with Marcus Shelby’s own Orchestra, at Bacchus Landing on Thursday, June 20. 

Next Friday night sees the trumpeter formerly known as Christian Scott headline as Chief Adjuah, the honorific given him by a Mardi Gras Indian tribe. (It’s not clear if he’ll show up in regalia and beads.) Bebop allstars The Cookers will open the show at 6:30pm.

The next night, June 22,  avant-garde jazz composer and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusiere commands the stage, featuring Bill Frisell and Herlin Riley, after an opening set by harpist Brandee Younger and her trio, again with a 6:30pm start time.

Finally saxophone giant Joshua Redman Quartet, featuring vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa, will close out the 26th annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival at Bacchus Landing on Sunday, June 23.

But those are the headliners. As so often in the past, it’s the opening acts, the mid-week programs and after-hours jams at places like the Elephant in the Room and Hotel Healdsburg that may well create the most indelible memories—and point the way to the future.  

Jazz Quintet
QUARTET PLUS ONE The Joshua Redman Group, featuring vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa, will perform at the 2024 Healdsburg Jazz Festival finale on June 23, at Bacchus Landing.

The next day, Marcus Shelby will start over.

“As soon as this festival’s over, I start working on 2025,” he said. “I sit down and I look at the type of artists we want to bring, the diversity we want to promote in age and artists and genre and cultural influences and gender.”

Then he added, his idealism leavened by realism, “But my main job is to go and find a roster of artists that we can promote and produce.”

Tickets are still available for many of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s 18 events. For the full schedule, links and tickets, visit www.healdsburgjazz.org.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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