Blue Note Jazz Fest At Napa Valley Preview
Written by Ayana Contreras on July 25, 2022
image above: The Soul Rebels (artist provided)
The inaugural Napa Valley, California installment of the popular East Coast festival, happening July 29 through August 1, will offer an array of artists including Flying Lotus, Emily King, Thundercat, Erykah Badu and Robert Glasper: who all, through the lens of jazz, consistently make cutting edge sounds that defy simple categorization.
Grammy Award-winning multi-genre pianist, songwriter, and producer Robert Glasper serves as the festival’s Artist-In-Residence. And like his famed month-long residencies at the famed Blue Note New York club, this festival features an astounding cast of characters. I caught a night of his residency last October featuring Chicago’s own Isaiah Sharkey and the incomparable Ledisi, who each have Grammy awards, as well. That night was positively electric. Both Ledisi and Sharkey will also perform at Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa.
Blue Note Jazz Fest Napa serves as a part of The Note’s “Western Expansion”, as the organizers call it. So much of the Blue Note’s lore resides in the decades it has presented jazz on the East Coast (primarily out of the nightclub of the same name), but this event is unique because it is truly a destination festival to be held at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, located in Napa Valley (which is even a respectable trek from The Bay Area and Los Angeles) and it features a particularly progressive, yet intergenerational lineup (from original Soulquarians like Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Flying Lotus and Thundercat to Butcher Brown and DOMi and JD Beck [who are signed to Anderson .Paak’s new label APESHIT in partnership with legendary jazz label Blue Note Records]).
Butcher Brown, slated to perform both Saturday and Sunday, is a Richmond, Virginia based combo that is injecting new life into the jazz fusion sounds that served as building blocks for the Golden Age of Hip Hop. They possess a fanbase that straddles a few different scenes. Drummer Corey Fonville explains, “We get daps from the jazz cats, the rap scene, the indie scene, and everyone else.” While chatting with members of the band, whose new album, titled Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey featuring Tennishu and R4ND4ZZO BIGB4ND, drops September 16, producer/multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison shared with me that from his perspective the lineup includes “a lot of those groups of people that we grew up listening to, people that have that jazz influence or the jazz aesthetic but their sound is still reaching today’s modern youth.”
He continued, “And obviously, there’s no age gap or there’s no proper age to listen to any kind of music. But I feel like everyone there is just breaking down genre barriers in the sense of making music for the people.” Meanwhile, Fonville observed the similarity between the lineup and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (released as a film in 2005), an iconic Brooklyn concert that some say serves as the greatest document of the late 90’s/early 2000’s New York-based alternative Hip Hop and Soul scene. It was as if a circa 2000 iteration of “A Great Day In Harlem” had been a major motion picture and concert, rather than a photo on a stoop.
In some ways alternative scenery, and inclusive programmatic choices speak to how the axis of jazz music is shifting, and younger audiences already in tune with larger than life festivals like Coachella or even Burning Man, but not necessarily established jazz fests like Newport might be looking for broader experiences just as much as for musical happenings with the purchase of the ticket.
A Saturday night after party is scheduled to featuring the iconic DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown aka Erykah Badu, plus special surprise guests. Additionally, according to a press release, the weekend will include food by renowned area restaurants, wine tasting experiences and other VIP add-ons.
For anything to grow, fuel has to be injected. This festival is doubly blessed to include multiple generations of jazz change agents, rocket fuel if you will, all in the name of expanding the definition of the music.