Like many home cooks, mellow jazz records are often my go-to dinner music. Giant Steps by John Coltrane, for example, invariably leads me down the path of happy dining. "Jazz on the Menu," a benefit for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, takes the idea of informal dinner jazz out of the home kitchen and into the restaurant—in a live setting.
Slated for Feb. 3, the event brings live jazz to 10 restaurants in Healdsburg and Geyserville which have volunteered to donate 25 percent of that night's proceeds to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival; the list of participating restaurants includes Dry Creek Kitchen, Spoonbar, Ravenous Cafe, Rustic and others. Each restaurant will host a different duo, trio or quartet donating their time, and the funds raised will go toward music programs as well as building financial security for the festival, which is now "debt-free but not out of the woods," according to festival founder and artistic director Jessica Felix.
Fundraising aside, it's a chance to listen to the jazz stylings of Bob Affifi, Chuck Sher and Dave MacNab while gobbling up a plate of spicy camarones borachos and sucking down a salt-licked margarita at El Farolito—or tucking into a stack of ravioli followed by homemade cheesecake at Catelli's to the sounds of Bennet Roth-Newell and John Norris. Afterward, a concert gets underway at Costeaux French Bakery featuring a set by the SSU Faculty Blue Note Sextet and a dessert bar.
"I can't think of a night more fun than this," says Felix, "to have music everywhere and people eating to support jazz." This year's festival takes place from June 3 to June 12 and features an opening-night performance by Fred Hirsch and Julian Lage. After a controversial shake-up last year during which the former board of directors ousted Felix citing money woes, the festival was returned to her leadership due to substantial public outcry. Still, financial struggles remain, and though grants are "almost nonexistent," says Felix, the passion for jazz in Healdsburg runs high.
"It's the first time we've done something like [Jazz on the Menu], and we've had a really great response," says Felix. "The hardest part was getting enough musicians to play at different places! There are only so many jazz bass players in this town."
Jazz on the Menu steps out on Thursday, Feb. 3, at participating restaurants; music from 6:15pm to 7:30pm. Concert at Costeaux French Bakery (417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg) at 7:30pm; $20; free to diners at participating restaurants. 707.433.4633. www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.