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Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa Closed on a High Note with All-Star Line-up

Glasper and Chappelle share a laugh during the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa, Sunday, July 30, 2023 in Napa, Calif.(Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival)
Glasper and Chappelle share a laugh during the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa, Sunday, July 30, 2023 in Napa, Calif.(Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival)

The second annual Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa, a euphoric celebration of music, culture, and camaraderie, concluded this past weekend with 43 scheduled concerts on three stages and just as many drop the mic, impromptu moments by performing and guest artists. The main stage was ignited each night by Artist in Residence Robert Glasper’s jazz-fused music and host Dave Chappelle’s hilarious wit, setting the larger stage of appreciation for the arts and culture. NBA champion and wine entrepreneur Dwyane Wade served as the festival’s Director of Culture and Vibes and helped elevate the guests’ experience by organizing events for food enthusiasts and wine connoisseurs.

“This was the one!” exclaimed host Chappelle. “Talent reigned on every square inch of every stage! This was the place to be. Everything about this festival demonstrated what I love most about our culture: creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness.”

A large crowd gathers to watch Chance the Rapper perform on the last day of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Sunday, July 30, 2023 in Napa, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival)
A large crowd gathers to watch Chance the Rapper perform on the last day of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Sunday, July 30, 2023 in Napa, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival)

To celebrate jazz’s legacy during the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the small-town festival brought in an incredible lineup of cultural luminaries and next-generation superstars from the worlds of jazz and hip hop. Nas, Mary J. Blige, Chance The Rapper, De La Soul, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Rakim, Talib Kweli, Anderson .Paak, PJ Morton, Cory Henry, and Robert Glasper.

“What sets this festival apart and makes it so dynamic is the atmosphere that we meticulously cultivate for both the esteemed audience and the extraordinary artists,” said Alex Kurland, the director of programming for the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa. “Essentially, it’s like an epic family reunion. The kinship between artists and cultural keepers sets the stage for impromptu and legendary collaborations, which enhance the overall guest experience.

Day 1
The three-day, three-stage festival kicked off on Friday, July 28, with J.Period presenting A Jazz Thing Live Mixtape on the Black Radio Stage, ushering in the crowd who braved the +/- 85 degree temperatures. Chappelle, who popped in, was quoted as saying, “I woke up for this.”

Showcasing the diversity of jazz and its influence on various music genres with an impressive array of performers, including Big Freedia, Ari Lennox, The Soul Rebels, Adam Blackstone, Madlib, Cordae, Parliament Funkadelic featuring George Clinton, Ghost Note, Frédéric Yonnet, and Soulive. A magical moment was captured when Robert Glasper and De La Soul, with Talib Kweli sitting in for Dave Jolicoeur, performed “Me, Myself, and I” on stage with George Clinton, who is sampled on the track.

By evening, the grounds were filled with anticipation as Mary J. Blige took to the stage and demonstrated why she has earned the title “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” During her headlining performance, she captivated the crowd by rolling through her iconic hits. Following the show, festival goers hit the official after party, conveniently located on the resort grounds, and hosted by Big Freedia, with 9th Wonder and DJ Trauma spinning until 2:00 a.m.

Day 2
The festivities continued with performances by Meshell Ndegeocello, Talib Kweli, Madlib, Robert Glasper with special guests Lalah Hathaway and Terrace Martin on the Black Radio Stage. The Soul Rebels, featuring Rapsody and Keyon Harrold, were the standout moments on the Footprint stage.

Nas headlined to a crowd that knew every word of his classic hits like “One Mic”, “Hate Me Now,” “N.Y. State of Mind,” and “If I Ruled The World,” featuring surprise guest brass band, The Soul Rebels. Nas stood on stage, his music floating across the crowd that was captivated by the mix of hip-hop and jazz. The sun setting beyond the Napa horizon bathed Nas in a golden light, and he smiled broadly as he swayed the crowd to the beats of his own music.

The performance closed with Chappelle directing The Soul Rebels in a moving and emotional rendition of the Church hymn, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” joined on stage by Nas and Robert Glasper.

In a rare moment, Nas ventured to the afterparty. After chilling on the side, DJ Jazzy Jeff tested the waters by spinning “Respect” and, ultimately, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.” Feeding off the high energy in the room, Nas grabbed the mic and performed on both songs. “The vibe in the room was amazing,” said DJ Trauma, who spun right before Jazzy Jeff. “When an artist is in the room and they’re so comfortable, you don’t even have to ask them to go up? As a DJ, that’s the moment you live for,” he added.

Day 3
The Sunday lineup continued to deliver with performances by Chance the Rapper, Gary Clark Jr., PJ Morton, yasiin bey, Rakim and DJ Jazzy Jeff, and NxWorries, the duo of Anderson .Paak and Knwledge, Cory Henry, Taylor and Bobby McFerrin, and Derrick Hodge.

Robert Glasper’s Sunday set, hosted by Dave Chappelle, featured Bilal. During Bilal’s rendition of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Reasons,” EWF member Phillip Bailey graced the stage, making a surprise appearance and exercising his enviable vocal range and distinctive falsetto.
The show took on a whole stunning twist when, at the urging of Glasper and Chappelle, Chance the Rapper came out before his headlining set to witness Rakim’s impromptu performance of “Paid in Full.” Afterwards, Chance joined Kweli, Chappelle, and Glasper, freestyling over A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” while Rakim ad-libs after his verse. Derrick Hodge on bass and DJ Jahi Sundance joined the rare and multigenerational moment between artists, which was complemented by the highest caliber of musicianship with Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Chris Dave on drums, Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, and Frédéric Yonnet on harmonica. Yonnet had the final word with a passionate solo that one guest described as “the voice of God radiating through the air.” While it was a perfect moment to drop the mic, Yonnet politely handed it back to Chappelle.

Kelvin Mercer aka Posdnuos and Vincent Mason aka Maseo, members of hip-hop group De La Soul, joined by Talib Kweli (right) performed on the first night of the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023. (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival) (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival and Mattieu Bitton)
Kelvin Mercer aka Posdnuos and Vincent Mason aka Maseo, members of hip-hop group De La Soul, joined by Talib Kweli (right) performed on the first night of the Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa 2023. (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival) (Photo courtesy of Blue Note Jazz Festival and Mattieu Bitton)

Festival goers that ventured to the Blue Note Stage area caught an even more intimate vibe as the stage anchored the Wine Garden and “Backyard” experiences. NBA champion and wine entrepreneur Dwyane Wade served as the festival’s Director of Culture and Vibes and helped elevate the guests’ experience by hosting two pop-up Wade Cellars’ “When We Gather” events with Chef Darryl Bell of Stateline Road Smokehouse.

In addition to Wade Cellars, Black and Black-women-owned businesses were represented in the wine space by Robinand Andréa McBride, of McBride Sisters Wine Company; Carissa and Kenneth Stephens, of Pur Noire Urban Wineries; and Theodora Lee, owner of Theopolis Vineyards and local vineyard Duckhorn Portfolio. All were in the Wine Garden, pouring from their stock and educating guests about wine and wine culture, while Philip Ashley Chocolates offered samples of their delectables. Along with the wine pours and chocolates, a selection of top local restaurateurs provided a delightful fusion of music with Napa Valley’s culinary scene.

The food options, stationed throughout the festival grounds, ranged from vegan to barbecue and included local favorites Stateline Road Smokehouse and the popular Chef D By The Bay, serving fish and oysters. Bars offered cocktails featuring wine and spirits from Mary J. Blige’s Sun Goddess wine, Highway Vodka, Tres Generaciones, D’ussé Cognac, Tanduay Rum, and Monster Energy. Open-air roadsters Slingshot and Defender were on hand, offering demo rides and selfie backdrops, while Tesla vehicles transported guests between the parking grounds.

Other additions to this year’s festival included BNJF Live! A Media Stage that provided artists and journalists the chance to interview their favorite musicians and influencers from the culture. Rapper and podcaster Talib Kweli engaged in insightful conversations with De La Soul, George Clinton, Robert Glasper, and Ari Melber for his popular podcast, “The People’s Party with Talib Kweli.” Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, harmonicist FrédéricYonnet, and trumpeter Keyon Harold took to the couch for a conversation on the influence of jazz on hip hop while Ari Melber interviewed Robert Glasper and, later, Chance the Rapper.

Additionally, D-Nice, who created Club Quarantine, shared the impact of lending Yonnet his Instagram platform during the pandemic, thus creating Jazz Club Quarantine and influencing how high-quality live music could be successfully transmitted via popular social apps. Later in the day, MSNBC host Ari Melber sat down for conversations with Robert Glasper and, later, Chance the Rapper.

Notable personalities spotted among the crowd included Gabrielle Union, Chris Paul, Bert Kreischer, Phillip Bailey, yasiin bey, Andra Day, DJ D-Nice, Craig Robinson, Spice Adams, Lynn Whitfield, Sway Calloway, Amanda Seales, Hannibal Buress, Tisha Campbell, Dead Prez, Michelle Wolfe, Andrew Yang, Ari Melber, Jennifer Freema, and Tichina Arnold.
A Resounding SuccessThe Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa concluded without a hitch and exceeded expectations, delivering an unparalleled celebration of music and culture and cementing its reputation as a must-attend event for music, food, and wine enthusiasts. The festival’s fusion of jazz, soul, and hip hop brought together a diverse audience and demonstrated the unifying power of music.
“My God, how do you close a show this great? My God, what did we all see here today?” said Chappelle. “Shout out to Blue Note. Thank you for gathering with me with some of my closest friends and greatest artists of all time.”

For more information click Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa.

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