Jazz Plus delights the senses
HIROMI, A JAPANESE jazz pianist, gets into her music during Saturday's show.
There's nothing in Sonoma quite like standing in the massive tent on the Field of Dreams when the lights come down, the crowd begins to cheer, and any one of the Jazz Plus headliners hits that first note.
Last weekend there was a rush of sound that moved like a tornado for John Fogerty, a tsunami for Sheryl Crow and a sonic boom for the Gipsy Kings.
The seventh annual Jazz Plus Festival exploded onto the stage this weekend with three straight days of music. Final event totals are still being calculated, but the event, which drew in thousands of spectators, raises money to provide music education in the Valley's public schools.
Friday night kicked off with the bluesy sounds of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The group is made up of the husband and wife duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks - both music royalty in their own right. The pair even went head to head at the Grammys when both were nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2009, which Trucks took home for his "Already Free" record. While both had massive success in their own careers - he as the lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers and she as a Grammy award winning singer/songwriter - their raw talents fused when the pair decided to make beautiful music together. The 11-piece band behind them offered a solid musical foundation, highlighted beautifully by Tedeschi's throaty, deep blues voice. Much of their play list came off their debut album, "Revelator," which drops on June 7.
But at least in terms of crowd response, the night belonged to Fogerty. At 66, the rocker can still command a stage the way he did as front man for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he threw the hardcore CCR fans a major bone with songs like "Down on the Corner," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Born on the Bayou." He also did a solid job introducing fans to the music he's created as a solo artist after leaving CCR, most notably his popular baseball hit "Centerfield."
"We're here to have a good time and play some rock 'n' roll," he yelled to a huge swell of applause. And so it was.
But while Fogerty was familiar and friendly, far fewer people had ever heard of, let alone listened to Hiromi Uehara, who opened Saturday night. This Japanese jazz pianist put on the performance of a lifetime, performing with a drummer and a bass guitar, and literally throwing herself into the music as she flew back and forth across the keys. Hiromi has earned numerous accolades throughout her relatively short career, including the Recording Industry Association of Japan's Jazz Album of the Year, and she provided the only true jazz of the weekend, making it all the more surprising that more fans didn't come out.
Pop superstar Sheryl Crow had the crowd in the palm of her hand and she headlined Saturday's showcase. She smoothly transitioned between her pop radio hits, such as "A Change Would Do You Good" and "If It Makes You Happy" to her softer ballads like "Strong Enough."
At 49, the songstress proved she's got the staying power to carry her career for many more years.
Sunday brought the flavors of the world with a delicious set from the Gipsy Kings. This band of brothers pulls influences from Spain, France and South America, creating a completely unique sound that got the Sonoma crowd up and shaking their botíns. Playing hits such as "Volaré" and "Bamboleo," the fiery rhythms literally hit so hard you could feel the impact in your chest. Each member took center stage for a solo on their instrument of choice, with a particularly breathtaking drum exhibition where the performer's hands moved at lightening speed. More than an hour of music was not enough as the crowd begged the band to come back to the stage shouting "Encore, Encore!" And the band complied.
In between sets, guests enjoyed performances in the Festival Pavilion, including the student musicians of Sonoma Valley High School, where food such as Johnny Garlic's flavorful fires and Ben and Jerry's ice cream could be purchased along with a full variety of Sonoma Valley wines.
Inside the Patrons Tent, guests feasted on rich buffets from Park Avenue Catering (the hazelnut gelato was so sensational it should be illegal), while the bar quenched guests' thirsts with Patron margaritas and full flights of local wines.
Sonoma Jazz Plus has given more than $450,000 to Valley schools to provide instruments, music teachers and concerts to give students a full range of musical outlets in a time when the Sonoma Valley Unified School District can not afford to cover that education.
For more, visit www.sonomajazz.org. For video clips of the weekend performances, go to sonomanews.com.