Healdsburg Jazz Festival Leads Off With Weekend Blues Bash

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Harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite teams with stars of jazz, blues and Latin jazz

In just a week the 16th Healdsburg Jazz Festival blasts off in spectacular fashion with one of America’s blues legends – Charlie Musselwhite – holding down a weekend of creative pairings that promise revelations. Born in Mississippi, reared in Memphis and schooled in Chicago by blues masters like Muddy Waters and Junior Wells, Charlie – this year’s Healdsburg guest of honor – is set to unleash his harp virtuosity and gritty vocals in four different settings on Saturday, May 31, and Sunday, June 1, at the Jackson Theater.  The blues events launch when none other than guitar hero Elvin Bishop joins Charlie in an acoustic trio rounded out by country-style crooner-guitarist-banjo player Guy Davis. Charlie then switches gears for a blues-meets-Latin Jazz extravaganza featuring John Santos y Sus Soneros. With this project Charlie re-creates a unique 1999 album he released called Continental Drifter on which he performed Cuban standards such as “Chan Chan” and “Sabroso” with his own English-language lyrics.

On Sunday, the blues-jazz fireworks will ignite when tenor saxophone star Joshua Redman joins Charlie – first with the harpist sitting in with the saxophonist’s quartet, then vice versa, when Redman struts his stuff with the Charlie Musselwhite Group. What a fantastic opportunity this night will be for music fans to see firsthand how jazz is intimately connected to the blues.

The blues weekend also features a Sunday-morning brunch concert at Davis Family Vineyards with Guy Davis, who is equal parts actor, storyteller and blues avatar.  For full details on the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s Celebrating the Blues Weekend, see the schedule below and visit healdsburgjazz.org.

There is more – much more – on offer at the 16th edition of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

Besides those listed above, other heavy hitters include:

Ron Carter, one of the most acclaimed bassists in jazz history, performs with a blazing quartet featuring sublime pianist Renee Rosnes, who is also leading her own show.

Poncho Sanchez brings his eight piece Latin Jazz Band to Rodney Strong Vineyards, displaying with sublime perfection and effortless virtuosity how Latin grooves can turn bebop riffs into dance music. Poncho’s opening act Claudia Villela, a haunting singer and pianist, will show why she’s become one of Brazil’s most heralded acts.

Renee Rosnes collaborates with her much-celebrated pianist-husband Bill Charlap for a grand piano duet, and as an added bonus vibes master Bobby Hutcherson – a towering figure in jazz – will sit in.

Marc Cary, a pianist of rare sensitivity, inaugurates the festival a “Tribute to Abbey Lincoln.” The great Ms. Lincoln employed Cary for 12 years, and he recently returned the favor with his critically acclaimed album For the Love of Abbey.

Saxophone grandmaster Charles Lloyd and tabla legend Zakir Hussain collaborate on a an interactive workshop free for students grades K-12 .

Bassist-composer Marcus Shelby and his 17 piece orchestra featuring vocalist Faye Carol return to the festival to present his acclaimed suite, Bound for the Promised Land, dedicated to escaped slave and activist Harriet Tubman.  Shelby will celebrate her with his big band and the 80-plus HJF Freedom Jazz Choir.

Violinist Mads Tolling pays a tribute to his great inspiration, violinist Jean Luc Ponty, in a fusion extravaganza at Spoonbar.

And that’s not all, either. Lovers of jazz, blues, R&B, wine and dancing can get their fixes at the Festival by checking out young jazz guitar hotshot Kai Devitt-Lee, Dixieland aces the Mission Gold Jazz Band and the New Horizon Stompers, the Groovemasters starring soul shouter Rhonda Benin, hard-swinging saxophonist Smith Dobson and his quartet, bassist Walter Savage’s Bucket List, ageless octogenarian drummer Benny Barth, Cuban percussion wizard Carlitos Medrano and his band Sabor de Mi Cuba, and drummer extraordinaire Lorca Hart, who will be holding forth at the Hotel Healdsburg, where festival musicians love to come and sit in.

At 16, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival continues to work its magic. Come and see why it’s considered to be one of the greatest small festivals in the world.

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