- Rory McNamara
Healdsburg Jazz Festival turns 20
'I love the ability to bring music to people," says Healdsburg's Jessica Felix, founder and artistic director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, which marks its 20th anniversary when it returns in June 2018.
From an initial three-day venture in 1999—which featured performances by hard-bop pianist Cedar Walton, free-jazz drummer Billy Higgins and vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson—the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has grown into a massive 10-day affair that in recent years has boasted performances by revered jazz figures like the Heath Brothers, drummer Billy Hart and Blues Hall of Famer Charlie Musselwhite, who lives part-time in Healdsburg.
Born in Los Angeles, Felix got her first taste of Sonoma County attending college at Sonoma State University. "Even in college, I used to think Healdsburg was a great area," Felix says. "I loved the river, and we'd always stop at the Singletree Cafe to have breakfast."
After college, Felix lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years. The longtime jazz aficionado began producing events in the 1980s at a converted Victorian house in Oakland, and in 1990 she founded the popular Eddie Moore Jazz Festival at Yoshi's, which she ran for five years.
A jewelry designer by trade, Felix relocated to Healdsburg full-time in 1994 and opened a shop and gallery for her jewelry studio called Art and All That Jazz.
"Something in my head said, 'Go to Healdsburg,'" she says. "Then this storefront became available, and I couldn't resist."
"I've always loved small towns," Felix says. "Being able to know people and feel like you're part of a community is important to me."
Felix founded the Healdsburg Jazz Festival as a way to bring the community together through music in the town's intimate venues, with a commitment to represent the best in what she calls strong jazz, authentic representations of the genre's multifaceted culture. "Jazz has always been an exploring music. It's not supposed to stagnate; it's supposed to grow and evolve and push boundaries," Felix says. "It works with all the emotions. My true goal is to turn people on to the live jazz experience."
In addition to the annual 10-day fest, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival offers an array of performances year-round. The festival hosts weekly jazz performances in the lobby lounge of Hotel Healdsburg, with jazz trios fronted by local talents like Susan Sutton and Bay Area–based drummer Lee Charlton, who performs with Norris Clement and Richard Saunders on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Saturday also marks the next in the Healdsburg Jazz Festival's ongoing Parlor Series, presenting world-class talents at the Paul Mahder Gallery. This week, saxophonist Dayna Stephens returns to town with pianist Billy Childs, who makes his Healdsburg debut.
Education is also a huge factor in Felix's mission to share the music she loves. Last year, she started the Student Jazz Combo Competition to encourage students to explore their creativity while learning from professional musicians and forming tight-knit combos to engage in friendly competition with other schools.
Looking ahead to next summer, the festival is also hosting a 20th-anniversary fundraising gala on Nov. 11 (see Spotlight events listings, p10) to support the upcoming 2018 festival and the ongoing music education programs.
"The 20th anniversary is going to be the biggest event we've ever done," says Felix. "There's going to be something for everybody."
For more info, visit healdsburgjazzfestival.org.