Monday, June 09, 2008

Come Sunday at Healdsburg Jazz Festival's 10th Season

Sunday morning, June 8, a few of us headed up to Healdsburg for the close of the tenth anniversary of this wonderful jazz festival in the heart of Napa Valley's wine country. The festival, which this year was ten days long over two weeks, May 30-June 8, in celebration of its ten years, added, for the first time, a Sunday morning concert. Earlier this week I'd thought I was going to be driving up to Healdsburg alone, when I got a call late Saturday from a friend, asking if I wanted to carpool to meet him at West Oakland BART. Of course I said, yes! I was so happy not to have to manage the solo drive a second time in two days, and though on the drive up we encountered construction and detours on Hwy. 101 N, we still arrived on time. (Schedules at Healdsburg are approximations, which was great for those of us making the hour and a half trek there from the East Bay.)

Founder, Jessica Felix, was elated Sunday morning as the early birds filed into the Raven Theater for church--what else can I call it, as Reverend James Newton :-) led the congregation in a journey along the triangular slave trading route, one which many of our ancestors participated in, whether this was as enslaved Africans, European American captors, or as beneficiaries today.

The physical and spiritual loss to our collective humanity was immense, but this music, jazz and it's parent, blues which gave birth to gospel music too, is an example of a people's survival strategy. This music is the black Rosetta Stone; it is at the heart of who we are.

If you want to know how African people survived in the western world, listen to jazz--our ancestors were innovators and creative thinkers. Newton said. Improvisation is the legacy we inherited and still reside philosophically as the world shrinks and expands yet, as Ruth Naomi Floyd, sang Sunday morning at the concert, "We're still a long way from home."

Later the Philly singer said, she was barely able to hold her composure as Bobby Watson, took us along the emotional landscape of the African experience, which might have begun with slavery, but didn't end with emancipation-- I could see the pain in her eyes as she sang...hear it in the timber of her voice...the power the weeping and the wailing...the sorrow for what we had and what we gained and what we lost and where we are and where we have left to go before we arrive. We're still "a long way from home, Africa and heaven."

The band was awesome Sunday morning, and even though it was early for a jazz concert, I'm sure many black artists on stage yesterday were used to getting up and going to church come Sunday morning...maybe just not recently. I'm not an early Sunday morning church going woman either, but I wanted to be at George Cables' first major appearance since he got his liver and kidney transplant last year in October. He was why I was there. I would have gotten up even earlier to see George play. I was so thankful he was still here, looking well and doing well after he was so sick.

This was his first major performance since last year's festival when he performed with his band. George is central to the Jessica Felix team. She said last year, that he has supported her vision from day one and helped her with the first festival, and others since by performing and advising and supporting her efforts. We all knew what she meant when she said, "We have much to be thankful for."

George Cable's life. I love the man and what he brings to the planet and into my life every time he plays, or just acknowledges my presence on the planet. I remember years ago when I went up to him after a concert and introduced myself to him and prefaced it with, you might not remember me. He responded with, "of course I remember you, Wanda."

Other patrons who got up early for the late service (10 a.m.) and came out to celebrate whether they had to travel or lived just moments away from the venue, truly left lifted, elated by it all, whether this was George Cables' solo performance of "Going Home," Pam and Bobby Watson's lovely saxophone/piano duet "We Fall Down," the incredibly sad, "Oh, Freedom," and incredibly healing piano duet with George Cables and Ruth Naomi Floyd: "Come Sunday," or the closing: John Coltrane's "Resolution" from A Love Supreme. Newton and Floyd read the poem first.

I haven't said much about James Newton, the musical director of this concert, which I hope is released along with other powerful sets, on a Healdsburg Jazz 10th Anniversary DVD. He was simply marvelous as the emcee and on flute. As he played, he conjured the ocean waters, the turbulence of the sea as the ships ploughed through, despite Amazing Grace, delivering captive Africans to docks along the southern and eastern seashores here. It was erry...a soundtrack from a scary movie, one where we're active participants 'cause the troubled waters are still just as troubled. Maybe more so today as we fall down, get up and fall down again.

I was undone and put back together and undone over and over again. I am undone again, right now, as I think about our ancestors, the griots, what Newton called Billy Hart, the drummer at the set--Billy Hart: the heart and the rhythm, the pacemaker, peace maker, the true end of the journey--I was undone over and over again, especially when the three saxophonists came together on John Coltrane's Resolution: Bennie Maupin and Bobby Watson and Craig Handy blew like they were recalling the journey across the Atlantic, as Mama Oya and Yemanja held us close as some Africans were lost at seas. Mama Oya kicked up the waves and made the wind blow harsh against the ships--tearing the sails and masts, tipping some ships over.

She made life difficult for those who harmed her children. As the musicians rocked to and fro, the rhythm was a wave like those constrained below --sandwiched like sardines, chained...suffocating in the stench and horror...felt on the ships...the heat wave our ancestors felt in the fields as imagined breezes kept them going...bending and reaching...bending and reaching, as they willed the sundown at dusk...imagined a cool sip of water before they died.

The orchestra: George Cables on piano, James Newton on flute, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jay Hoggard on vibes, Billy Hart on drums, and Darek Oles on bass, with special guests: Bobby Watson, Pam Watson, Craig Handy, and Charlie Haden, were the air beneath the wings of The People who Could Fly those who remembered, those who were patient, those who resisted and insisted on, as Max Roach said, Freedom Now, whatever that meant, whatever that took.

I was encouraged and fortified. I'll never forget the people who were there with me, my friends: Kenneth and Gloria and those I met later on in the lobby between the heavy first set and the resolution--a just as heavy second set. We didn't even think about an encore as we wiped our tears and stumbled into the light.

What does one say after the church says, Amen, or ashay! What can one say on the Lord's day--those of us who are here, those of us who survived?

I heard people talking behind me during the service. My choice of language here is intentional. It was a service--we were thankful to be here, all of us who were there. Come Sunday was an opportunity to look, at what we can do together. The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is an opportunity to find something to do to restore the peace, to repair the damage, to help us find home.

I was at a dance performance last Sunday, at the San Francisco International Arts Festival (, which also ended Sunday, June 8, with a concert at Yerba Buena Center Gardens in San Francisco, with Omar Sosa's Afreecanos. If I hadn't bee in Healdsburg, I would have been there or at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, it's tenth anniversary also ( Well anyway, the Brazilain choreographer/dancer, Cristina Moura's "Like and Idiot," asks the unasked question posed by "Come Sunday," where do we go from here? The theme at this year's SFIFF is: "Truth in Knowing/Threads in Time, Place, Culture."

As long as there are people in our society who have no home, who are left out and have no salvation--we can't rest, we can't feel content, we have to make opportunities available. At the end of Moura's performance, she broke the third wall and looked at members of the audience and said: "I can do something with you. You can do something with her. You, in the blue scarf, you can do something with him." The stage went dark and the lights went up. I felt like I'd been given a charge, as if I don't have enough to do, right? Similarly, at Come Sunday, I was pleased to know that others are doing this work to, trying to heal our community and bring peace with justice to the world through African derived art forms in America, in this case, jazz music.

I wish there were more young people at the Come Sunday concert. I hope this concert continues as a part of the festival in years to come. I was exhausted emotionally afterwards, especially given the fact that the Grand Finale at 3 p.m. featured three more bands, and three other sets. I was afraid to ask anyone how hot it was as I hoped my sunscreen blocked harmful ultra violet rays. Pianist, Cedar Walton, whose Trio, featured David Williams on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, said, "It's hot up here too."

He was followed by the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet with Renee Rosnes, Ray Drummond, and Victor Lewis, followed by an alumni band. Everyone except Lewis Nash had played at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival before. Among those I hadn't seen perform earlier over the past two weeks, were vocalist Mary Stallings, whom I didn't recognize when I was taking photos on the sidelines. Gosh, she is so pretty! Kenny Barron played a bit on piano and Babatunde Lea sat in on a couple of tunes. He and Lewis Nash closed out the set with Jay Hoggard, Kanny Barron (I think, George came back), Bobby Watson on alto saxophone and Craig Handy on tenor sax. The closing piece was a Monk tune.... Miss Renee Rosnes was phonomenal on piano earlier, Bobby Hutcherson was literally dancing at his vibraharp as he conducted, a subtle nod or clinched fist pumped, or a sweep with his mallet singled a change to his enesmble, the marvelous Ray Drummond and again Victor Lewis. (I recalled a similar gala when the festival celebrated the music and legacy of Billy Higgins.)

Five sets in one day was a bit much. I couldn't even consider an after party, and was happy to climb into Kenneth's car with Gloria and let them drive Miss Daisy home :-)


Post a Comment

<< Home