Opening night

Julian Lage featuring Scott Colley and Kenny Wollesen

JL-Press-1-1444250513Healdsburg SHED
25 North Street
7 p.m. & 9 p.m. | $40

Three-course pre-concert dinners at SHED Café served at 5 and 7 p.m., $40;  with two-beverage pairing add $20. Reservations and menu at  SHED online.


A Santa Rosa native (who now lives in New York), Julian Lage has long been a friend of the Healdsburg Festival, having played at nine editions. This time around he’s bringing Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums, a dynamic duo with whom he works magic on Arclight, his groundbreaking new album on which he uses a Fender Telecaster guitar to caress songs from the pre-be-bop jazz canon, such as “Nocturne” and “Harlem Blues,” plus originals.

The Telecaster is one of the bedrock instruments of country music and rock ‘n’ roll, so some purists who prefer the “classic” trebly hollow-body sound of a jazz-guitar could be put off. Julian, however, is not a follower of stylistic conventions.

His first album, 2009’s Sounding Point, featured banjo, djembe, cello, and mandolin in addition to Julian’s acoustic guitar, and no drum set. It was a bold statement for a jazz guitarist’s debut, announcing that to him “jazz” meant “anything I feel like playing.” Indeed, that is Julian’s gospel. He is a fearless talent of remarkable elegance, stunning chops, exquisite sensitivity, and an advanced sense of playfulness. Like Bill Frisell, Julian is a big-sky player – he embraces and channels the wonder of everything around him. (Contrast Julian with this year’s festival’s other guitar star, Charlie Hunter, who is all about the groove.)

lagenewtrioJulian has been at it a long time. Healdsburg Jazz fans will recall seeing him perform in 2000 during his festival debut at age 12 when he stood toe to toe with jazz-guitar legend John Abercrombie as a guest in Charles Lloyd’s group, which included the great Billy Higgins on drums. (For this year’s Healdsburg prodigy, see Joey Alexander.)

By that time, Julian had already been wowing audiences for four or five years. His young life was documented in the film Jules at Eight, released in 1997. At 13 he played at the 2000 Grammy Awards, and he’s been teaching at Stanford University since he was 15. He is a member of several bands, including legendary vibist Gary Burton’s New Quartet.

It may seem a bit perverse to play early-jazz tunes on a rock ‘n’ roll guitar, but that’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that is Julian’s hallmark. Whatever instruments he uses and whatever songs he plays, expect to be amazed.