History of Traditional New Orleans Music

Henry Butler, solo piano and vocals, and the Russian River Ramblers

Raven Theater, 115 North St.
Sunday, June 11, 7 p.m.
$45 and $30

When it comes to jazz, New Orleans is the city that gave and then kept on giving. The musical breeding ground for such giants of traditional jazz as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, The Big Easy also gave rise to a present day giant, the pianist and singer Henry Butler – a super virtuoso and ebullient performer who embodies the buoyant spirit of his birthplace. Butler can play it all, from early to modern jazz, with plenty of New Orleans R&B peeking through as well.

For his debut festival performance though, Butler will concentrate on traditional New Orleans jazz. Offering up a thoroughly entertaining history lesson while exhibiting his extraordinary talents as a piano stylist and soulful vocalist, Butler will play work from such key figures as Scott Joplin, Morton, Oliver, James P. Johnson and Fats Waller before saluting the monumental pianist Professor Longhair and other early R&B heroes from New Orleans.

Blinded by glaucoma as an infant, Butler began his musical studies early in life, later studying with the influential New Orleans educator Alvin Batiste. After the release of his “Fivin’ Around” for the reinstated Impulse! Records in 1986, Butler quickly built an international reputation as an astonishing keyboard artist and a stylistically inclusive performer. Among his more celebrated recent musical endeavors, Butler joined forces with the brass man Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9 band for the acclaimed album, “Viper’s Drag.” Yet more evidence that, with Butler, traditional New Orleans jazz is in the best of hands.

Opening the show for finale of our 2017 Healdsburg Jazz Festival will be the Russian River Ramblers, a septet of clarinet (Charles Moller), tuba (Carl Elze), trumpet (Steve Schaffer), trumpet (Mark Lightner) guitar (Joel Hernandez), banjo (Dave Stare), trombone (John Ray) and piano (Joe Meeker), conjures the spirits of such artists as Louis Armstrong, W.C. Handy and Sidney Bechet on durable traditional jazz tunes like “Gatemouth,” “West End Blues” and “Bogalusa Strut” to polyphonic perfection. Music that’s nearly a century old has never sounded so fresh.