In a statement released on Aug. 4, Healdsburg Jazz Festival founder Jessica Felix announced her plan to retire at the end of September after 22 years at the helm of the beloved Healdsburg festival.
Felix cited a desire to return to her jewelry design business and wanting to have time to relax as reasons for her departure.
“I want to relax, travel, socialize and make my jewelry again. It’s time to be in the audience. It’s time to just enjoy my life,” Felix said in the press release.
The annual festival was born in 1999, a few years after Felix opened her store, “Art and all that jazz” in 1994 on the Plaza. In addition to selling her own unique jewelry creations, Felix sold CDs and shared her affinity for jazz by playing in the store throughout the day.
Felix later started hosting a jazz listening club for those who also shared her love of the music genre and she also started presenting occasional shows at local coffee shops. Some of those early shows featured George Cables, Jon Jang, James Newton, John Handy, Renee Rosnes and other members of her extended jazz family, according to the press release.
After these occasional shows at what used to be the Dancing Goat — now Flying Goat coffee — Felix thought about starting up a jazz festival of her own and thus the festival was born.
Shelby, who’s organized choir projects for the festival for several Sonoma County singers, said Felix has been a “true inspiration” for him over the years.
“Not only has Jessica Felix been a true inspiration to me, but she is also one of my very best friends. I met Jessica 30 years ago through Billy Higgins when I was a young musician in Los Angeles. She is a treasure to our community and will be missed,” Shelby stated.
Other notable artists and musicians echoed Shelby’s sentiment.
Filmmaker and visual artist Dorothy Darr said in the press release that while she has worked with many jazz festival directors over the years, Felix brought integrity and a deep commitment to the role.
“I have worked with many jazz festival directors around the world and Jessica Felix occupies a rarefied place. She brings integrity and commitment with a deep appreciation of not only the art form, jazz, but is committed to honoring each artist she invites to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Her amazing hospitality is unparalleled,” Darr said.
Pianist Helen Sung, who has performed benefits for Healdsburg Jazz, made note of Felix’s passion for the community and hard work.
“Jessica Felix built Healdsburg Jazz from the ground up, fueled by love for the music, a passion for her local community and sheer determination. She and her amazing, dedicated team have made Healdsburg Jazz a jewel in the national network of independent presenters,” Sung said, offering a “Congratulations” for Felix’s retirement.
Healdsburg Jazz asked Felix what her fondest memories have been managing the festival over the years, and Felix pointed to two separate tribute events, one in 2013 that was dedicated to bassist Charlie Haden, and one in 2016 that honored Billy Hart.
Despite the cancellation of the jazz festival this year, Felix worked to create an online jazz experience for folks with interactive, virtual classes for kids and videos that featured guitarist George Cables.
“In two weeks we had a new section on our website, ‘Staying Connected,’ offering videos created by George Cables, (guitarist) Romero Lubambo and more,” Felix said. “Then, Marcus Shelby and I created the first Zoom presentation on Duke Ellington in April, and since then one a month. I also commissioned 15 online music education classes for K-5 that are free, and now we are hiring Bay Area and local musicians to play real-time live stream concerts every Friday.”
Felix said of having to pivot festival plans, “COVID never slowed me down.”