Bobby Watson, Azar Lawrence, David Weiss, Billy Hart, Babatunde Lea and guest Chico Freeman
With the George Cables Trio (first set)
Saturday, June 9, 7 p.m
Raven Performing Arts Theater
115 North Street
Reserved Seating $75 gold circle and $45 General
Event Patron Judy Voigt
The band closing out the final Saturday of the 20th anniversary Healdsburg Jazz Festival could have been called Billy Hart Babatunde Lea Percussion Extravaganza, or The Return of Chico Freeman, or The Bobby Watson Soul-Bop Review, or any number of other possibilities. But Festival All-Stars will do fine. Each of the players is a Healdsburg veteran who has delivered some of the most scintillating performances in the festival’s history. Now they are all together in the type of special collaboration on which the festival thrives.
Taking the players in order, Bobby Watson is a classic post-bop alto man, taking some cues from Lester Young but with lightning articulation and enough skills to have served as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for five years. Azar Lawrence, a fiery tenor player with long tenure in McCoy Tyner’s band, brings a helping of ecstasy. David Weiss is an adventurous trumpeter and band leader who back in 2007 managed to wrangle hard-bop legends like Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, and Cecil McBee into a band dubbed The Cookers, which to this day carries the mid-’60s torch for tight hard-blowing jazz. Billy Hart (who happens to be the Cookers’ drummer) is the melodic drum master who made the creative leap from hard-bop to the experimental ’70s, and who is one of the heroes of Healdsburg festivals past.
Babatunde Lea is a self-taught San Francisco percussion archive unto himself. And tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, heir to Chicago jazz royalty, is the guy who split for Europe 15 years ago and how has returned to show U.S. jazz fans what they’ve been missing. His performance with his father, late tenor master Von Freeman, at the 2000 festival is still talked about often. Essiet Essiet will be on the bass (see notes on the early show at the Raven) and Marc Cary will handle the piano duties (see June 7).
Jazz is a many-splendored thing. It can be poetic, introspective, intricately arranged, free-form, Latin-tinged, bluesy, political, pretty much anything it wants to be. The Festival All-Stars represent the facet that just has to do with all-out blowing. Which seems to be a pretty good way to usher in the next 20 years.