There is a plethora of jazz festivals. Sacramento used to be the Holy Grail of jazz festivals – at least for traditional jazz musicians such as myself. However, that festival has changed and is no longer one of the premier traditional jazz festivals, in my humble opinion. However, Bay Area traditional jazz lovers do not have to mourn, as there is a wonderful jazz festival in the Bay Area – at the Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma. The festival was begun almost twenty years ago by Fred Cline and Ken Keeler, who leads the Devil Mountain Jazz Band and has been going strong ever since. Unlike many festivals, it is solely a traditional jazz and ragtime festival – no zydeco, or other forms of music. Swing music is considered to be acceptable, however.
This year I had the honor of performing at the festival with the Fog City Stompers. I was substituting on tuba and it was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect and the lineup of bands was exemplary. In addition to Fog City, the festival featured Natural Gas, Devil Mountain, Golden Gate Rhythm Machine, Jambalaya Big Swing Band and the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. In addition, there were some solo performers such as Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, Ray Skjelbred, Frederick Hodges, Bob Hirsch and Tom Brier.
The festival is very well laid-out, with three separate venues – the Barrel Room, the Mission and the Great Lawn. Each venue is far enough from the others that there is virtually no overlap of sound and each venue is prepared with plenty of chairs, as well as a dance floor for those attendees who wish to kick up their heels. Food is available and there is plenty of space for children to run – it is a very family-friendly festival.
Fog City began the day in the Barrel Room. This is the most dangerous room for a band as the accoustics take some getting used to. This is also where the bands are recorded, so it is incumbent on the musicians to ensure that they are in tune and well-balanced. We were the first group and so we had a little bit of trial and error to reach our preferred balance, but the set went well and the audience seemed appreciative. We then moved on to the Mission. This is the smallest venue and the furthest from the main buildings. Here we followed the Natural Gas Jazz Band. Fog City plays a lot of the original Bix Beiderbecke arrangements, and we did a Bix-only set here – every tune was an original Bix arrangement. This was probably our best set – we really were in a groove. Our final set was on the Great Lawn and we cut loose a little bit, to the audience’s pleasure.
Once our sets were done, we stayed to listen to some of the other groups, being fortunate enough to catch Ken Brock’s Jambalaya Big Band in the Barrel Room. They are a really fun group and they really had the dancers going. Wonderful music. The Fog City trombonist Jeff Walton was playing with Jambalaya and he did a wonderful job.
The sun was slipping slowly over the horizon as we finally left Cline. A wonderful day and I cannot recommend the festival highly enough. If you love traditional jazz played by fine musicians in a lovely venue, don’t miss the Cline Cellars Wine & Jazz Festival! And we’ll hope to see you in 2013.