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Drummer Billy Hart To Be Honored at Healdsburg Jazz Fest

Drummer Billy Hart steps into the spotlight as the 2016 Healdsburg Jazz Festival honors this perennial jazz festival favorite and legendary bandleader in a two-day, 40-year retrospective. Hart leads four different bands during the popular festival's opening weekend, as composer, flautist and fellow Healdsburg veteran James Newton serves as emcee, guiding the wine country festival audience on a musical journey through the 74-year-old trapsman's celebrated career.

Also on tap for the 18th annual wine country festival: guitarists Julian Lage and Charlie Hunter; pianists Fred Hersch (performing with Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen) and 12-year-old prodigy Joey Alexander; soul belter/pianist Lady Bianca; Grupo Falso Bahiano; Sinatra-esque singer Kevin Fitzsimmons; Babatunde Lea & Friends; and baritone saxophonist Claire Daly.

The 2016 Healdsburg Jazz Festival runs from June 3 through June 12 at various locations around the city. Tickets go on sale April 1.

"For years," says festival Director Jessica Felix, "Billy Hart has provided phenomenal service at Healdsburg Jazz Festivals, powering bands with incomparable grace and authority. This year, at the 18th event, he steps onstage as the leader, showing exactly why he is one of the great jazz drummers of the past 50 years."

And musicians, she adds, are coming from as far away as Germany for the honor of re-creating four bands, each featuring Hart in a separate decade of his storied career:

Brazilian chorro quartet Grupo Falso Baiano

Quest, which Hart joined in 1987, is a quartet that includes soprano saxophonist/flautist (and fellow Miles Davis alumnus) Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach, and bassist Ron McClure; Enchance, which recorded one album in 1977, with bassist Dave Holland, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman (replacing his father, the late Dewey Redman, who performed on the original album), alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, and pianist Craig Taborn (replacing the late Don Pullen); the Billy Hart Quartet, the drummer's current working band, that draws on a lineup that represents the best of the current New York jazz sound: The Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Ben Street, and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner; and a grand finale featuring Oceans of Time, an early fusion band with tenors saxophonist Craig Handy (replacing original saxophonist, the late John Stubblefield) and Chris Potter, violinist Mark Feldman, guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Santi Debriano, and drummer Lorca Hart (occasionally joining in on a second drum set with his father).

In 11 previous Healdsburg festivals, Hart has propelled the bands of James Newton, Julian Lage, Charlie Haden, the Cookers, Michele Rosewoman, Kenny Burrell, Frank Morgan, and Carmen Lundy, among others. In his nearly 60-year professional career, he has backed jazz legends such as Shirley Horn, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, and many more.

Why does Billy keep coming back to Healdsburg?

"Easy question," exclaims Felix. "The man and the festival are philosophically aligned, each devoted to communicating the variety, splendor and improvisatory power of jazz. While the festival does it with grit and invention, pulling together a great set of acts year after year, Billy does it via his uncanny ability to listen. It's a critical skill any successful jazz artist must possess, of course, but Billy takes it to an altogether different level. He is preternaturally attentive to what everyone on the bandstand is doing simultaneously, and with profound wisdom, compassion and chops adjusts his playing accordingly."

The result, she adds, is "bands that breathe as a single individual."

Jazz, Gospel, Blues and Funk Fill the 2016 Festival

Santa Rosa-raised guitarist Julian Lage, who first played at Healdsburg in 2000 when he was 12 years old, returns on June 3 with his New Trio, showcasing his new recording, "Archlight" (which drops March 11) in an opening night concert at Healdsburg SHED (a modern-day grange hall, fresh foods market, café, coffee bar, and more). And another local guitar hero, the Berkeley-bred Charlie Hunter, hits Spoonbar with his trio on June 8.

Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander

In what may be the festival's fastest-selling ticket, Joey Alexander, the 12-year-old 2016 Grammy-winning piano wunderkind from Indonesia, brings his trio to the intimate, 443-seat Raven Theater on June 10. And the exquisitely sensitive pianist Fred Hersch returns on June 11 for an intriguing duet at the Raven with Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen.

This year's festival Artist in Residence, bassist and musical historian Marcus Shelby, plays a free morning concert with his 16-piece orchestra on June 12 at the Raven that features saxophonist Craig Handy and vocalist Tiffany Austin in a program of freedom songs, gospel, blues and prison songs touching on the legacies of Harriet Tubman and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And there's more. Versatile soul belter/pianist Lady Bianca will rattle the wine glasses at the Blues Brunch on June 4, while vocalist Kevin Fitzsimmons brings his Sinatra-esque swing to Dry Creek Kitchen on June 6. Grupo Falso Baiano invokes the magic of Brazilian choro in a free show on the Plaza on June 7, Claire Daly hoists her baritone saxophone high and swings it low with her quintet at the Paul Mahder Gallery on June 9, percussion master Babatunde Lea & Friends perform at the Hotel Healdsburg Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11, and the festival winds up with a rollickin' "New Orleans Party on the Green" at the bucolic, 185-acre Dry Creek Vineyard on June 12 (artists TBA).

For more information about the 2016 Healdsburg Jazz Festival, or to purchase tickets for this year's concerts (beginning April 1, 2016), please visit the Healdsburg Jazz Festival website.

Photos: John Rogers/ECM Records (Billy Hart); all other photos courtesy Healdsburg Jazz Festival
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