On Saturday, September 26, Healdsburg Jazz presents the world premiere of Charles Lloyd
, Zakir Hussain
and Julian Lage
playing together as a trio for the first time, to be streamed live around the world. Each musician will be driving to the intimate wine country town in Northern California for this extraordinary real-time live show. Saxophonist/flautist Charles is heading up from Santa Barbara, tabla-master Zakir from Marin County, and guitarist Julian all the way from Nashville, Tenn.
The group will play together in safe, socially distanced fashion without an in-person audience, from the Paul Mahder Gallery
, captured by state-of-the-art sound and video equipment and beamed to a world-wide audience. For a minimum $15 donation, viewers will have 72-hour access to the concert after the live performance, which starts at 7 PM Pacific Time.
The coronavirus pandemic may have shut down the Healdsburg Jazz Festival
this summer, but jazz fans around these parts should know by now, after 22 years of festivals, that Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix is capable of pulling a rabbit out of her hat. And so she has again with this superstar trio. It will be her last concert as Artistic Director of the festival, as she is retiring on Sept. 30.
“Charles and Julian had been scheduled to perform during this year’s festival,” Jessica says of the early-June 10-day jazz blast that had to be canceled. “Knowing we still have NEA funding available, I really wanted these three longtime friends of mine to be here and perform the kind of live concert that few other festivals have attempted to do during the pandemic. Most are rebroadcasting past shows, but I wanted to offer Charles, Zakir and Julian the opportunity to play together in a safe venue. I am very honored they’ll be here on this emotional weekend.”
The concert will have an additional special meaning because it completes a circle that began in 2000 during the second Healdsburg Jazz Festival. It was there that Charles Lloyd, making his festival debut, invited a 12-year-old kid from Santa Rosa to sit in with the band on guitar. That kid was Julian Lage. Julian went on to become a real Healdsburg stalwart, playing 12 festivals, maturing on the way into the superstar he is today. For their parts, Charles performed at eight festivals and Zakir four.
Charles Lloyd: “I can feel in my bones that it will be an evening filled with wonder, and it is an honor to be able to give this concert as a final tribute to Jessica Felix who has been an ally and friend for many years. Her contribution to the Healdsburg community cannot be measured with words.”
Zakir Hussain: “I am looking forward to this with great excitement. Special thanks to Jessica for inviting us. The Healdsburg Jazz Festival always inspires artists to exceed expectations. It is always special to perform there.”
Julian Lage: “This is the final production for Jessica, so it’s such an honor to be participating in it. She’s given so much of herself for so many people with so much love and respect. My goodness, the festival would not exist without her. And my development wouldn’t have happened without her. The people I’ve met through the festival, the standards I was raised with. I am a child of this movement that she spearheaded. To be part of her world has been a gift.”
To audiences familiar with the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, a trio of this nature, a musical aggregation of spectacular potential, would not be out of the ordinary. It’s just what Jessica has done amid presenting hundreds of acts in her 22 years here. But this year the trio happens to be the only case of musicians appearing in Healdsburg to play a show of this caliber—the rabbit she pulled out of her hat. And it will be accessible to thousands upon thousands of viewers.
At 82, Charles Lloyd still seems unstoppable. This will be the sax legend’s first concert of 2020 and one can only imagine the music bursting to get out of him.
Charles, Zakir and Julian have collaborated before, but not altogether in a formal setting, so this performance constitutes a world premiere. Charles and Zakir first played together at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York. As Charles tells it, “The afternoon of our concert, someone had threatened to bomb the Golden Gate Bridge. Later Zakir said that ‘music is about creating bridges, not destroying them.’ ”Charles affirms that the music they made that day “was deep and joyful, a feeling that continues to this day when they play together.” In 2004, Charles and Zakir formed a trio, Sangam, with the great drummer Eric Harland, releasing one self-titled album and playing at the 2008 and 2011 Healdsburg Jazz Festivals.
It’s always dicey to call someone “the greatest in the world” at something, but that appellation is pretty much the consensus view of Zakir Hussain, whose skills on the tabla are very close to being supernatural. Zakir says he is looking forward to the upcoming trio show “with great excitement.” As he tells it, “It is a singular honor to have master Lloyd select me to perform with him at the prestigious Healdsburg Jazz Fest. I also look forward to working with the fabulous Julian Lage.”
With 10 acclaimed records under his belt and a resume playing on dozens more, Julian is a wildly eclectic musical spirit recognized as the top guitarist of his generation. He is primarily a jazz guitarist but a master of many styles, from bluegrass to classical to Hindustani, each of which he weaves together seamlessly. Julian, who had been touring with Charles in the months before the pandemic and is on Charles’ recent album 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero), had only experienced playing with Zakir while sitting in at the Charles Lloyd and Friends 80th Birthday Celebration that anchored the 2018 Healdsburg Jazz Festival. A brief encounter but enough for Julian to recognize Zakir as an “absolutely radiant being.”
Julian on Charles: “Charles is a master, a true master in the sense that his life experience manifests through a sound that is so cultivated and genuine. We’ve been playing together lately. One of his superpowers is that he includes others in his world of spirituality and inspiration. To be in his presence actually improves my playing. You can really feel it. It’s profound.”
Julian on Zakir: “Saying he’s special is an understatement. Y’know, he’s got a unique combination of traditional background with a progressive vision. That’s pretty rare. It’s one thing to have a vision and another to be able to manifest it around the world.”
Julian on Jessica: “The festival is Jessica’s vision, a vision of including musicians who really come from the same source… not stylistically, but like minded, passionate, risk-taking artists. And presenting it to the community in a really approachable way. As a fan, that’s how I’ve always viewed the festival. She makes it available to everyone, not just elites. She created demand, and it just kept going. It’s really centered on the music and the community. And for me it’s extra special because it happens to be a hometown experience.”
NEA Jazz Master, Charles, who is ethnically a blend of African American, Choctaw, Irish and Mongolian, was born in Memphis in 1938. He came up playing the blues, left Memphis to study at USC in Los Angeles, and had quick success in jazz after moving to NYC to join Chico Hamilton’s band and playing in Cannonball Adderley’s group. After forming his own band in 1964 he riveted the world with his live recording, Forest Flower
in 1967, which remains one of jazz’s best-sellers. The record converted thousands of rock-and-roll hippies to the wonders of jazz improvisation. But shortly after that release, rather than continue on a path to fortune and fame, Charles shocked everyone by dropping out of performance and for many years in isolation in Big Sur, California, concentrated on his spiritual practice, which included experimenting with various international musical forms.
Charles found his way back to jazz and live performance thanks to an incredible French pianist, the late Michel Petrucciani, who in 1982 inspired him to get off the mountain and back onto the stage. In 2004, Charles and Zakir Hussain formed Sangam, which also featured the great drummer Eric Harland, and the band released one self-titled album on ECM. The trio performed at two Healdsburg Jazz Festivals—2008 and 2011. In 2007 the saxophonist formed the Charles Lloyd Quartet, with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland. In 2015 he formed the more folk-blues-oriented Marvels with Bill Frisell on guitar, and in 2018 Kindred Spirits, with Julian.
Zakir was born in Bombay, India, in 1951. His father, Alla Rakha, was a renowned tabla master who provided Zakir’s earliest instruction. Zakir began performing concerts as a preteen and rocketed through the ranks of Hundustani classical music before arriving in the U.S. in the band of Ravi Shankar in 1970. In ’74 he formed the Indian-jazz fusion group Shakti with British guitarist John McLaughlin. He brought his tabla virtuosity to artists ranging from George Harrison to John Handy to Van Morrison to Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer who included Zakir in the Grammy-winning Planet Drum project, featuring percussionists from around the world. Zakir has appeared on around 150 records by Indian and American artists, as well as his own, has composed soundtracks to several films, and even acted in a few.
Born in 1987 in Santa Rosa, California, a few miles south of Healdsburg, Julian was a prodigy on guitar as can be seen in the short documentary film about him called Jules at Eight
. At the same age he jammed onstage with Carlos Santana. At 15 he joined the faculty of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and at 16 became a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s Generations Band. Julian studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, and the Berklee School of Music. The guitarist’s first album, Sounding Point
from 2008, featured bluegrass musicians and a percussionist versed in numerous international styles. The record was nominated for a Contemporary Jazz Grammy award. He went on to make nine more records, and recorded with scores of other artists, including Fred Hersch, Nels Cline, John Zorn, David Grisman and Bill Frisell.
Julian’s start at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival is a well-etched facet of local lore. He caught Jessica Felix’s attention when he and his father would wander into her jewelry store, Art & All That Jazz, on the Healdsburg Square. Jessica suggested music for young Julian to listen to, and she got ahold of a cassette of Julian, then 12, playing and was impressed enough to ask Charles Lloyd—who was scheduled to make his Healdsburg Jazz Festival debut that year, 2000—if he’d consider inviting the boy to sit in on stage. Charles already had a guitarist in his band, the late great John Abercrombie, so another one was not necessarily required, much less an unknown tyke. But Charles agreed, and Julian stepped up, holding his own in the band that also included Billy Higgins.