Healdsburg Jazz Festival fans will be treated to a rare diversion this weekend as lowdown-and-dirty blues invades the jazz festival thanks to harmonica pioneer Charlie Musselwhite.
Handing over the keys to the festival's opening weekend was the best way director Jessica Felix could lure the super-busy blues legend, who's been touring the world with Ben Harper (and racking up Grammys along the way).
On Saturday, Musselwhite leads a “Blues on the Porch” set with Elvin Bishop and Guy Davis, followed by a Cuban set that revisits his globe-trotting “Continental Drifter” album.
Then on Sunday, he dives headlong into jazz improv, sitting in with Joshua Redman's acoustic quartet before inviting Redman to sit in for a spell of the blues.
For the 70-year-old Musselwhite, who lives outside Healdsburg, it's really not that much of a departure. As he points out, “If you can play blues and you can play with that feel, that's gonna color whatever else you do. No matter how much you advance to something else, like jazz.”
But instead of asking Musselwhite to talk about himself at length, as we've done in many interviews over the past decade, we put together a roundtable of the guys he'll be sharing a stage with at this year's Healdsburg Jazz Festival:
Elvin Bishop, country-blues singer-songwriter
On meeting Charlie in Chicago in the early 1960s: “He was about as tall as he is now, but he was skinny so he looked taller. He was skinny as a rail. I think it was in the basement of a record shop on the North Side — the Jazz Record Mart. Charlie lived in the basement.”
On collaborating with Charlie: “There are certain things he just understands, whereas guys without his experience wouldn't be able to butter the biscuit. For my new album, we did this tune called 'Old School' and when it gets to the solo, he plays this Mississippi Delta rolling and tumbling thing over it and it just sounded great.”