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June 9 – Sweet Honey in the Rock and Azar Lawrence

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK - Photo by Dwight CarterSWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK®
and the Azar Lawrence Quartet

Where: Rodney Strong Vineyards, 11455 Old Redwood Highway
Time: 3 pm (gates open at 2 pm)
Tickets: $75 Bar Seats | $65 Shaded Chairs | $45 Lawn
Children 10 and under free. For lawn seating, low chairs only, no umbrellas

Weekend Ticket Bundles available for this concert. Please review all options before purchasing tickets.

Food  available for this event: The Wurst (pdf) and Taverna Sofia (pdf)

Click to order ticketsIn 1973, a group of women who heard the message of singers Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Miriam Makeba and Odetta came together to form a vocal group. They decided to allow their voices to be the sole instruments, drawing from traditions of African chanting and African American gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues, and folk to sing songs about justice, tragedy, greed, life and love. Now 40 years on, SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK®  is a living repository of American history, interpreted by women, imprinted in black.

This unique vocal ensemble will ring out the Healdsburg Jazz Festival with a triumphant roar and a tacit tying together of some of the 15th-anniversary festival’s themes – from the Liberation Music Orchestra’s anti-war freedom ballads to Charles Lloyd’s references to family-tree slavery to the Marcus Shelby Orchestra’s gospel-blues-jazz tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. (see more about Sweet Honey)

Azar Lawrence by Dove ShoreWhen John Coltrane’s classic quartet split up around 1966, his pianist McCoy Tyner and  drummer Elvin Jones sought to assemble their own groups. The challenge for them was finding horn players who could deal with the kind of energy they were used to putting out, which was the energy their erstwhile leader demanded for his marathon saxophone excursions. Luckily they found a guy named Azar Lawrence.

Lawrence, who is leading a quartet with drummer Billy Hart,  bassist Henry Franklin and pianist Theo Saunders on Healdsburg’s final Sunday, grew up in Los Angeles, getting an early education in fiery pianist Horace Tapscott’s Arkestra, then working with muscular players like pianist George Cables and trumpeter Woody Shaw. Coltrane was the model, and when Lawrence  got  the call from Jones in 1972, the saxophonist was ready. Soon after, Tyner expressed interest, and Lawrence started up with him. For most of the ’70s he bounced between the two groups.

The drummer for Tyner’s band in some of that period was  Hart, a highly versatile player who balanced the subtlety required to back singer Shirley Horn with the swing called for by Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery, the funk demanded by Herbie Hancock and the power needed to push Tyner’s post-Coltrane groups. (see more Azar Lawrence…)

More about Sweet Honey: Founded by a Civil Rights Activist, theater director and scholar named Bernice Johnson Reagon, Sweet Honey started out as a quartet at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company in the nation’s capital. The name comes from the first song the group learned, based on a psalm. Member Louise Robinson said, “Sweet Honey speaks of a land that is so rich when you break the rocks open, honey flows. And we thought it was something like us African American women…  strong like a rock, but inside [there’s] honey – sweet.”

In addition to Robinson, the group currently consists of  Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Lynn Maillard and Shirley Childress Saxton, who translates the group’s words into sign language. After 34 years, member Ysaye Marie Barnwell is moving on and the group is in the process of finding a new singer who will join them for this concert.

Over the course of two dozen CDs and DVDs, Sweet Honey has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards, has received commissions to collaborate with symphonies, dance companies and jazz combos, been the subject of  two film documentaries, it’s been given awards for songwriting, and performed for the Obamas at the White House. 

The women of Sweet Honey combine their powerful voices to celebrate change, creating joy in the process. They sing of water and earth and the human beings connected to those elements – the stuff of life. Sweet Honey in the Rock should make the festival finale a day of exultation in Healdsburg.

Azar Lawrence by Chuck KotonMore about Azar Lawrence: Lawrence went on to appear on Miles Davis’ scorching Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall album, and also showed up on Earth, Wind and Fire’s Powerlight, as well as Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear. But jazz always beckoned. When the sax man and drummer decided to join forces again, they secured Franklin and Saunders, mainstays of the L.A. scene. The four have a regular gig weekends at Venice’s RG Club and have coalesced into a tight, volcanic unit.

Pianist Saunders, with his Tyneresque sense of harmony and propulsion, is a big part of the equation.  He is one of L.A.’s most in-demand players and has worked with dozens of jazz greats, including Jim Pepper, John Heard, Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Lloyd, Al Cohn and Joe Lovano. Bassist Franklin was born in L.A. in 1940 and got jazz-tracked early by his father who was a professional trumpeter. Franklin got his first paying gig with the Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet while still in high school, and he quickly fell in with the southland jazz elite, including Harold Land and Hampton Hawes. Known as “the skipper,” Franklin’s elastic way with the bass has gotten him work on more than 100 albums. 

Expect this band to be raging at Rodney Strong, at the finale of the 15th annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

One Comment to “June 9 – Sweet Honey in the Rock and Azar Lawrence”


  1. kim goldstein
    on May 7th, 2014
    @ 5:53 am

    Hi, We will be visiting in California June 8&9. Will both Sweet Honey in the Rock and Poncho Sanchez be playing those dates? Also, are the $65 tickets suitable for handicapped? My husband is awaiting knee replacement and has a really hard time getting up out of low chairs.(He is mobile though.) Thanks. This sounds great!

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