Just last week, James Moody left us. The saxophonist and flute player had a long career that spanned from the Army “Negro bands” in the Second World War to his recordings with the Blue Note label in 1948, his 1949 hit “Moody’s Mood for Love,” to his appearance in 2009 at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. In between he managed to squeeze in two influential stints with Dizzy Gillespie, acted in a Clint Eastwood movie, and even played in the Flamingo band for Las Vegas acts from Elvis Presley to Tina Turner, Lou Rawls to Liberace.
It was a full life, which ended when he chose against aggressive treatment for pancreatic cancer. But in a way it was a classic jazz life – learning the music in spite of difficult circumstances, adapting and prevailing, and in the end doing it his way.
Other jazz legends who have played in Healdsburg have since gone to meet their maker. Earlier this year Abbey Lincoln passed away; her independent creative voice headlined the 2003 festival. In 2007 bebop saxophonist Frank Morgan died just three years after his appearance in Healdsburg. And, perhaps most notably, we lost drummer Billy Higgins in 2001, after he helped launch the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in its first two years.
Then there’s Percy Heath, Jackie McLean, Harold Land — we’re not bringing up these names to scare you. Instead, we hope it’s an inspiration to recognize that we are fortunate that many of the jazz greats of the 20th century have come to our town, thanks to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.
The other side of the legends who have played in Healdsburg are the young talents who have been nurtured here, from guitarist Julian Lage whose first appearance in 2000 came when he was just 13 years old; to Noam Lemish, Taylor Eigsti and most recently Kai Devitt-Lee, like Lage another “local boy making good.” These are among the next generation of jazz stars. But they will not be the last.
For jazz is a continuum, from its inception over 100 years ago to its present manifestations around the world. It’s acolytes learning from masters, amateurs inspired by professionals, students sitting at the feet of mentors. It’s a tradition.
Jazz is ageless, in the same way that any musical tradition handed down across the generations is ageless. But it’s not a one-way street – the stage is level. You’ll find seniors giving tips to teens, and kids showing the old folks something new. You’ll find vibist emeritus Gary Burton picking Julian Lage to spearhead his “Generations” band, octogenarian Roy Haynes driving the beat while men half his age struggle to keep up.
Jazz is not just “traditional,” but everything a tradition should be – rich, inspirational, timeless. And like all forms of ageless art, it finds itself constantly renewed, recreated and resurrected by its own growth, assimilating new trends and techniques, tonalities and temperaments, into ever-evolving performance. That’s what jazz is. It’s all about the music.