With high aspirations for my new soapbox I clamber up only to be confronted by … writer’s block.
Okay, not quite. I’ve got plenty to write about; the hesitation is with which subject to begin. This palimpsest was never to solely focus on current events or current music, necessarily, but current thoughts – wherever they lead.
Yet, this first post is inevitably drawn to a current affair due to my proximity to it: the end of the world-renown, little known Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we have known it for the last dozen years.
The Board of Directors recently published a press release stating that, due to financial issues, the 2011 Festival would be canceled and Jessica Felix, the Artistic Director, was to be let go.
Losing the 2011 Festival is bad enough, but Jessica is more than just the Artistic Director; she is the founder of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival and quite literally its driving force. There can be NO Festival without her – not as they have been for the last 12 years.
That may be precisely the goal the Board is trying to achieve: change the nature of the Festival. Truly, though, there is a lot of ugly politics due to egos and personalities. Laying those aside for a moment, changing the nature of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival is suicide.
Why? Because for 12 years the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has been singularly unique. It is a small town Festival focused on one form of music – that form that encapsulates the innovative, improvisational, interpretive, artistic musical impulse to follow the tune wherever it may go: jazz. Real jazz. True jazz. Pure jazz. Jazz with a capital “J.” Not the adult, smooth, contemporary, instrumental music that is erroneously referred to as “smooth jazz.” That music is fine for those that enjoy it. But it is light-years away from the historical form of music that arose out of a chaotic culture clash between Africans, African-Americans, Europeans, Americans, plus the Christian and African-based faiths, and cultures of the Equator: Cuba, Brazil, and more.
It is the music of American history, plain and simple. Along with blues and gospel, jazz is the third cornerstone that led to all of our contemporary music: rock-and-roll, R&B, hip hop, and country.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival has been one of the very, very few annual Festivals anywhere in the U.S. to devote itself so completely to jazz. It has presented and explored all of the various forms of jazz over the years; swing, bebop, cool, hip bop, avant-garde, free form, blues, New Orleans, etc. But the Healdsburg Jazz Festival goes much, much further, promoting education among our children in an effort to perpetuate and expand the audience for jazz on into the future. That is truly a visionary cause, a unique vision, and a vital one for jazz. It is no secret that jazz artists are not topping the Billboard charts anymore, and struggle to get their music heard.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is special because Jessica knows all this in her soul, and has diligently pushed the music and her love for it out to everyone who wants it. The Festival without Jessica will not have that heart and soul. Even if they bring back musicians that have played here before, it won’t be the same | period.
It takes money to run such an organization, and now in the midst of Bush’s Recession money is tight for everyone, including non-profits like the HJF. It’s hard to argue for spending money on music when people are losing their homes, health care, and struggling to make ends meet.
Jazz, though, comes from when African-Americans faced true darkness and despair; it arose during slavery alongside blues and gospel, coming from the oppressed hearts to provide light in their lives. Music has always lifted the human spirit. Even in hard times it is worth spending time, effort, and money on it. Without it we humans wither and become really cranky.
This writer and website will do what it can to reverse the egregious actions of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s Board of Directors. But if they can’t see the damage they are doing to such a fragile, vital community effort, then I will be at hand ready and willing to help Jessica do what she can elsewhere to promote jazz and jazz education in whatever future ventures she undertakes.
Jazz won. The community, both local and musician, spoke up loudly and demanded that the Healdsburg Jazz Festival continue as it has with Jessica Felix at the helm. The board of directors bowed gracefully to the demand, reinstated Jessica, and resigned en mass so she could reconstitute the board with new members.
One small step for Healdsburg, one giant step for jazz.