Festival ‘New Orleans’ Finale – June 10

Dr. Michael White’s
Original Liberty Jazz Band

Seven-piece group direct from New Orleans,
plus the Russian River Ramblers

Sunday, June 10
7 p.m. (doors open 6)

Buy ticketsRaven Performing Arts Theater
115 North Street, Healdsburg
Reserved Seating: $45 Gold Circle, $30 General

Event Patrons Lee and Dave Stare

New Orleans clarinetist Dr. Michael White frequently states that his mission is to preserve the traditional music of his home city, which is generally said to be the birthplace of jazz. But “preserve” doesn’t really do his music justice because the “traditional” music he and his seven-piece Original Liberty Jazz Band play is thoroughly alive. It is not “updated” either in the mode of modern players who might deign to fancifully revisit ancient relics. Dr. White plays the tunes the way he has actually heard people from that era play them, because some were still alive back in the ’70s when he began exploring the music. In fact, some of these artists played in the earliest incarnation of the Original Liberty Band, which Dr. White formed in 1981. More significantly, he plays the tunes the way he feels them, and encourages his bandmates to do the same. Even though the songs are 100 years old, they sound completely fresh. As a result, the Original Liberty Band has become the most revered New Orleans outfit playing this music.

It’s hard to imagine how this form of music got started. There was blues, of course, and classical music education in schools, and second-line parades for funerals. But how did musicians put all that together to instigate this joyous syncopated sound? It’s a bit of a mystery but one can speculate that it’s a pure expression of New Orleans Culture, a blend of ethnicities, rhythms, gumbo variations, whiskey, gambling, and lewd dancing. Was there a catalyst? Who knows? It is jazz and it started right there because it had no choice not to. At 62, Dr. White has become the man everyone seeks out to learn about this historical genre. The “Dr.” results from a PhD he earned at Tulane University in, of all things, Spanish – which he taught for years at Xavier University in New Orleans,  but eventually left behind in order to teach African American Music studies. Since 1995 he has been the main consultant on trad jazz for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Coming from NOLA direct to Healdsburg for this exclusive performance, the Original Liberty Band consists of Dr. White on clarinet, Steve Pistorius on piano, Gregory Stafford on trumpet and vocals, David Harris on trombone, Mark Brooks on bass, Seva Venet on banjo, and Herman Lebeaux on drums.

Listening to them play you hear not only echoes of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet but also hints of klezmer music, Kurt Weill, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Enjoy it, even though you may have trouble staying seated.

Opening our New Orleans finale will be the popular local group the Russian River Ramblers. Nobody would confuse Sonoma County with New Orleans, but they do share a couple of attributes. One is public resilience in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The other is . . .  alcohol. Not many know it but the Russian River Ramblers, a popular local trad jazz band that has played the Healdsburg Jazz Festival many times, has an intimate connection with wine country. That’s because the band’s ebullient banjo player Dave Stare is the founder of Dry Creek Vineyard, one of the major vintners in the county.

Retired since 2006, Dave built the vineyard with a maverick sensibility and acute attention to detail – characteristics that carry over to his musicianship. To make great wine you have to know how to syncopate, and that’s what traditional jazz is all about, too. Featuring Steve Schaffer and Mark Lightner on trumpet, Charles Moeller on clarinet, John Ray on trombone, Carl Eltz on tuba, Joel Hernandez on guitar, Peter Martin on piano and Dave on banjo, the Russian River Ramblers are a great vintage, and quite intoxicating.