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Chanteuse: Diana Krall inaugurates the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival in May.

Fest Feast

So much music, so little time

By Greg Cahill

With three jazz and two blues festivals as well as a major chamber-music series on tap for the summer season, there can be no question that Sonoma County is fast becoming the wine country's chief pleasure center. The lineups for three of these glittering events have just been released, and there are good things in store.

Jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, legendary vocalist Tony Bennett and pop star Steve Winwood headline the four-day Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, the newest addition to the region's burgeoning festival scene, which runs Memorial Day weekend.

Presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS), a major Colorado-based events organization, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, running Memorial Day weekend, brings music aficionados, food lovers and wine connoisseurs together under a massive 3,000-seat canopy tent two blocks north of Sonoma's town plaza, behind the Mission. In addition, a variety of smaller culinary events are planned within walking distance of the main stage.

Bennett, who bills himself as the consummate saloon singer, opens the festival on Thursday, May 26. British pop star Winwood, preceded by Boz Scaggs, performs on Friday, May, 27. Krall will perform on Saturday, May 28. The closing act is yet to be announced. Jazz violinist Regina Carter and soulful jazz singer Lizz Wright, whose Verve debut is set for release soon, open the shows.

Founded in 1991, and now celebrating its 15th season, JAS began as a simple three-day festival and evolved into two major summer fests as well as year-round free and paid concerts replete with educational programs. Over the years, JAS has presented artists from a wide span of jazz and popular music, ranging from Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Cassandra Wilson to Ray Charles, James Brown, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, among others.

The promoters are banking on that experience, and a host of corporate sponsors from throughout the region's food and wine industry, to make its inaugural North Bay event a success. Tickets for the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival are $35$85. Details are available by calling 866.468.8355 or visiting www.sonomajazz.org.

Facing Sonoma Jazz+ is the homegrown Healdsburg Jazz Festival, widely recognized as one of the Bay Area's premier arts events and now in its seventh year. The festival, founded by Healdsburg businesswoman and jazz buff Jessica Felix, focuses primarily on straight-ahead jazz, bebop and swing acts presented at outdoor wineries and small intimate theaters and restaurants--settings that have created many memorable one-of-a-kind shows. The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is scheduled to run June 412 (some of the unannounced acts are still being booked).

The impressive lineup this year includes the New York Quartet, featuring sax great Bobby Watson, Victor Lewis and John Hicks, on Friday, June 10, at the Raven Theater; Brazilian singing sensation Claudia Villela and the Ricardo Peixoto Quintet with keyboardist Marcos Silva, performing Saturday, June 11, at Quivira Vineyards; the Gary Burton Generations Band with 16-year-old Sonoma County guitar phenom Julian Lage, also on June 11, at the Raven Theater; and jazz piano great Kenny Barron with Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Victor Lewis, and the Regina Carter Quintet (Barron and Carter released a widely acclaimed duo CD in 2001), performing on Sunday, June 12, at Rodney Strong Vineyards.

Claudia Villela is one of the most exciting jazz singers around, delivering an exhilarating blend of bossa nova and bebop; Lage has shown himself to be a talented composer as well as a stunning player, contributing three compositions to Burton's most recent CD; and both Watson and Hicks are veterans of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the drummer's legendary school of hard bop.For details, visit www.healdsburgjazzfestival.com.

Meanwhile, the 10th annual Russian River Blues Festival is posting its strongest lineup in half a decade, with headliners that include Los Lobos, soul sensation Al Green--who picked up a Grammy nomination for his recent comeback album I Can't Stop--and R&B pioneer Ike Turner, whose 2001 comeback album Here and Now won a W. C. Handy Blues Award. The lineup includes Al Green, Deborah Coleman, Coco Montoya, Maria Muldaur and the Johnny Rawls Revue on Saturday, June 18; and Los Lobos, Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Shemekia Copeland, the Tommy Castro Band and Bettye LaVette on Sunday, June 19. Earl Thomas will appear both days on the Wine Garden stage.

Bettye LaVette alone would be worth the price of admission. She more than lives up to the hype as one of the powerhouse voices of soul, and has a deep, theatrical way of inhabiting a song and making it her own that is almost without parallel. And she gets bottom billing.

The 2005 Russian River Blues Festival is at Johnson's Beach in Guerneville. Ticket prices go up after March 18 and April 29, respectively. $42.50$225. Call 510.655.9471 or visit www.russianriverbluesfest.com.

Let the pleasures begin!

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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