Sometimes you just have to make a full day of it. This Saturday, jazz fans have that very option with two worthy shows up in Sonoma County.
First, there’s the Russian River Jazz Festival, which kicks off its main stage entertainment at 11am with Jon Batiste & Stay Human (pictured above). Don’t get there late—Batiste is a tremendous performer whose combo is equally at ease with Thelonious Monk tunes and New Orleans dirges. The band has a habit of untethering themselves from the confines of the stage (they perform in busy streets and newspaper offices alike), so don’t be surprised if, partway through their set, they hop into the crowd and strut along the beach playing “St. James Infirmary.” After Batiste, Oakland-bred vocalist Goapele and Larry Graham with Graham Central Station deliver the goods to the festival’s idyllic setting of Johnson’s Beach, surrounded by redwoods and right on the Russian River.
Smooth-jazz headliner Boney James plays the Russian River Jazz Festival at 4:30, but that’s when the diehards will cut out for an early dinner before heading to see Cécile McLorin Salvant and Ramsey Lewis at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. Though his recent recorded output veers toward synthesisers and swampy funk, Lewis primarily plays acoustic piano in concert, combining his classical training and church upbringing in a trademark, soul-jazz style. (Lewis indulging the audience with his huge hit “The In Crowd” is a foregone conclusion, but his incisive version of gospel standard “Wade in the Water” is a highlight of his recent sets.)
In the acoustic marvel that is the Green Music Center’s main hall, Lewis shares a bill with Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist and pianist Cécile McLorin Salvant, a take-your-breath-away singer who inhabits and repossesses each song she soulfully tackles from the Great American Songbook. Below, hear her a capella rendition of “Poor Butterfly”:
(Staying the night in the North Bay? Can’t get enough? Then crank up the endless boogie for Sunday’s lineup at the Russian River Blues Festival, which includes Trombone Shorty and Gary Clark, Jr., both of whom are outstanding in a live setting.)