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Sonoma’s Tuesday Night in the Plaza music is all about women, and jazz

TUESDAY JAZZ AT THE MARKET

June 13: “Just Like a Woman” with Rhonda Benin, Denise Perrier, Pamela Rosa and Tiffany Austin

July 11: “Cabanijazz Project” led by Javier Cabanillas

Aug. 8: “Eddie Henderson Quartet” with Sylvia Cuenca, Essiet Essiet and Peter Zak

Sept. 12: Jeff Sanford’s “Cartoon Logic Septet”

All shows free, 6 – 8:30 p.m., at Grinstead Amphitheatre, Sonoma Plaza

www.sonomavalleyjazzsociety.org


The Sonoma Valley Jazz Society begins its annual series of monthly jazz concerts at the Tuesday Night in the Plaza tonight, June 13, with an all-women’s band and four featured women singers who will deliver the heart and soul of America’s music from the stage of the Grinstead Amphitheare, beginning at 6 p.m.

The show, “Just Like a Woman,” takes its title from Aretha Franklin’s hit song, itself a game-changer in popular music of the Sixties. It’s been presented several times in the Bay Area over the past few years – every spring at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley - with a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists giving voice, full-throated and proud, to the importance of women in music in general, and jazz in particular.

“This is our 28th year, and 27th doing the shows in the Plaza,” said Janice King, a long-time president of the Sonoma Valley Jazz Society who now serves as volunteer advisor and concert coordinator. “It was started by a small group of people in the town of Sonoma that love jazz, and wanted to present keep it going. I think it’s important because it’s one of the few American indigenous art forms – most everything else came from Europe.”

King said the jazz society has a core of about 100 members and sponsors who keep it going, almost entirely on volunteer energy. Along with the four-times-a-year Tuesday Night in the Plaza shows, the second Tuesday of each month from June through September, they also put on a couple special concerts a year and help other support jazz events throughout the region, notably in Napa, Vallejo and Healdsburg, each of which has its own jazz community.

“We’re all jazz people who want to keep the music going,” said King.

Oakland-based Benin is the driving force behind the show, and “driving force” is a good way to describe her, a big woman with a big voice who commands not only the stage but the entire hall where’s she playing. But Benin is only one of four featured vocalists who will deliver their business in the show. It’s subtitled “A Celebration of Bay Area Women in Music,” and the other vocalists – Denise Perrier, Pamela Rose and Tiffany Austin – are all talented singers, each with their own style and story, familiar to jazz fans in the North Bay and beyond.

“Denise Perrier is to me an icon in the Bay Area,” said King, “an amazing woman, she’s been around a long time – and she’s got a lot of energy.” Favoring standards but venturing into Latin and blues as well, Perrier is known as “the voice with a heart” for the intimate connection she forms with her audiences.

Also on the program is Pamela Rose, who often performs songs that may be familiar to a wide audience, but, less widely known, were written by women. Consider “A Fine Romance,” usually considered a Jerome Kern song, but co-written by Dorothy Fields.

The fourth artist, Tiffany Austin, is the “rising star” of the bunch according to King, whose 2015 debut album “Nothing But Soul” got a four-star review in Downbeat magazine. She also has a law degree from Berkeley, but chose to pursue a music career instead.

In fact it will be an all-women’s stage show Tuesday night, with the Lillian Armstrong Tribute Band providing the instrumentation with Tammy Hall on piano, Aneesa String on bass and Ruthie Price at the drums. Armstrong was the second wife of jazz giant Louis Armstrong, but a pianist, composer and singer in her own right as Lil Hardin – she met her celebrated husband when he played in her band, not she in his, in the early 1920s.

TUESDAY JAZZ AT THE MARKET

June 13: “Just Like a Woman” with Rhonda Benin, Denise Perrier, Pamela Rosa and Tiffany Austin

July 11: “Cabanijazz Project” led by Javier Cabanillas

Aug. 8: “Eddie Henderson Quartet” with Sylvia Cuenca, Essiet Essiet and Peter Zak

Sept. 12: Jeff Sanford’s “Cartoon Logic Septet”

All shows free, 6 – 8:30 p.m., at Grinstead Amphitheatre, Sonoma Plaza

www.sonomavalleyjazzsociety.org

But women in jazz is far from a novelty – some of the earliest jazz and blues artists to break through with significant record sales in the 1920s were women, and all-female bands have long been a valuable element in the spread of the high-energy, emotional, improvisational genre. Think of Billy Wilder’s film “Some Like it Hot,” with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag, hiding in plain sight in a female jazz band touring the country during the height of Prohibition.

Then there’s “The Girls in the Band,” a 2011 documentary about all the women, sung and unsung, who have been key creators of the story of jazz over the last 100 years – it screened at the Sonoma International Music Festival in 2012.

But for Sonoma, the place for jazz is in the Plaza on the second Tuesday of the month, all summer long. “We picked Tuesday because it’s really for our local people, as opposed to the tourists,” said King.

“Sitting there on a warm night, listening to music, you’ve got your picnic planned, having some good wine, and kids are playing – it’s a real community feeling.”