Opening Night

Bill Frisell-Julian Lage Duo

Friday, June 1
7 and 9 p.m.

Healdsburg SHED
25 North Street
$75 SOLD OUT

Event patrons Cindy Daniels and Doug Lipton

It is fitting that the Healdsburg Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary edition is starting out with a duet of the two most creative guitarists in jazz. Julian Lage, of course, is no stranger to the festival. A Santa Rosa native who made his debut at the festival in 2000 when he was all of 12, Julian is an HJF all-star, having performed onstage here approximately a dozen times. And those who have seen him would no doubt agree, it isn’t enough.

Bill Frisell is also a Healdsburg veteran, and it’s pretty clear that he created the template that Julian is following. Not that they sound alike. In fact, it is their dramatically different styles that make their collaboration so exciting to anticipate. Since releasing his first album in 1983, Frisell has pushed open the territory of what people generally consider jazz.

Just looking at the two previous shows he played at Healdsburg festivals gives an idea of what this means. The first was with pianist Jason Moran’s high-flying post-bop trio Bandwagon in 2010, the second in 2013 with the Haden family, a country-folk vocal outfit featuring the late great bassist Charlie Haden’s daughters. To Frisell there is no separation between these two genres – he just knew that he was going to bring jazz-forged virtuosity and sensitivity to each occasion.

It’s unlikely that 20 years ago many people would have predicted that this festival, tucked away in wine country, would survive anywhere near this long, much less become perhaps the premier small-bore jazz festival in the country.  This didn’t happen because the festival was predictable. It had to improvise…


Frisell’s entire career has been about expanding the possibilities, and this is the terrain upon which Julian romps. After showing he could easily hang at age 11 with jazz heavies like saxman Charles Lloyd, drummer Billy Higgins, and guitarist John Abercrombie, he went on through the years to perform at Healdsburg with trans-Pacific players, classical and rock guitar shredders, and sublime pianist Fred Hersch (see Saturday, June 2), among many others. Like Bill Frisell, Julian respects no boundaries. But whereas Julian’s playing is quicksilver and spidery, Bill’s is precise and determined. Both are after purity of sound and rarely fail to achieve it.

Another trait that makes them the perfect pair to open the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s 20th is avoidance of the ordinary. It’s unlikely that 20 years ago many people would have predicted that this festival, tucked away in wine country, would survive anywhere near this long, much less become perhaps the premier small-bore jazz festival in the country. This didn’t happen because the festival was predictable. It had to improvise all kinds of fresh strategies to keep going. And so it is with the remarkable playing of Bill Frisell and Julian Lage. They will take you on a journey, and all you need to bring are open hearts and ears.