Holly Penfield Joins World-Class Lineup at Orinda Jazz Festival

(Ian Ritchie, Photographer)
Well-known in London for her eccentric cabaret shows, singer and Orinda native Holly Penfield returns home for the Sept. 8 jazz festival.

    Jazz lovers normally would have to travel to the Monterey Jazz Festival (Sept. 27-29) or to San Francisco to hear world-class artists. Locals, however, can stay close to home and enjoy a myriad of musical treats at Orinda’s Ninth Annual Jazz Festival, thanks to Orinda musician and festival founder Carol Alban.
    Local phenom Holly Penfield headlines this year’s festival, which takes place Sept. 8. The Orinda native currently lives in London where she is completing her latest album, “Tree Woman.”  Penfield notes that she could never have made this record, several years in the making, when younger and credits her diverse life experiences with giving her the vision to make it happen now.
    Penfield grew up in Orinda in a redwood house designed and built by her parents in 1961. “It was on an acre of land with seven giant oak trees that I climbed all through my childhood,” she recalls. Currently rented out, the home still calls to Penfield, who hopes to return there someday.
    Penfield has gone from folk singer to rock musician to jazz artist with a little bit of everything in between. Her deeply personal songs have resulted in a cult-like fan base throughout Europe. She has performed with Michael Jackson at the Britt Awards and in San Francisco with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal.
    Known for her elaborate costumes and wigs, Penfield captivates audiences with her various personalities. “My evil twin, as I like to refer to her, is very one dimensional but she can sing jazz and cabaret quite well,” laughs Penfield. “I learn a lot about my entertainer abilities and hidden desires when I put on her black wig.”
    Penfield says she learned the most, however, from her dad.
    “My dad was truly a great singer, but he was of that generation when America was at war with Germany. When he returned from four years of fighting in Europe, he just wanted to get a good job and have his family,” she says. “He had much more natural talent than me, but he didn’t have that driving desire. I used to accompany him on ukulele at my residency at The Savoy in London, and he would get standing ovations. We traveled all over Europe, and he would always sing at my gigs and blow people away.”
    According to Penfield, her father had such a great spirit that at the age of 98 he sang to his doctors and nurses at John Muir. “We did two shows a day as word spread throughout the hospital that my dad was defying all the rules about what he could and couldn’t do,” she says.
    Although Penfield is still putting together her playlist for the Orinda Jazz Festival, she plans on doing a bit of jazz and a little bit of her original music, “hopefully, with a lot of heart,” she adds.
    Eve Marie Shahoian joins Penfield at the festival. A child vocal prodigy with a mature set of pipes at an early age, Shahoian performed two operatic arias on the Johnny Carson Show by the age of 9. She has gone on to play a wide variety of music and venues and developed as a songwriter as well as vocalist. She covers obscure jazz, classic Otis Redding, a little Gershwin and much more.
    Others bringing their talents to the festival include vocalist Kay Kostopoulos, guitarist Pato Milo, accordionist Patricia Henning, Ed Ivey’s North Beach Brass Band, harpist Jack Pantaleo, flutist/vocalist Carol Alban and others including a special Grammy Award-winning surprise guest.
    The jazz band Caldecats will close out the festival. The group plays jazz from the ‘60s and ‘70s composed by such greats as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie and others.
    Comprised of three musicians from Contra Costa County, three from Alameda County, and one from the Peninsula, half the group finds itself going through the Caldecott Tunnel whenever they play –hence the name. 
    The relatively new group consists of long-time musicians with a plethora of top-notch experience between them, including trumpeter Ted Parker and pianist Gary Wohl from Orinda, bassist Jim Hoadley, guitarist Marco Fortier, jazz alto sax player Paul Fogel, drummer Rich Reffner and guitarist, singer, songwriter Melne Murphy.
    The festival takes place 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Garden Courtyard of the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way. Although admission is free, donations benefiting the Contra Costa Crisis Center are encouraged. For more information, email Alban at carolalban@aol.com.

(Clark Supynowicz, Photographer)
The Caldecats will close out the festival with a set list of jazz favorites from the 60s and 70s. Front row (L-R): Mark Fortier, Paul Fogel and Melne Murphy. Back row (L-R): Ted Parker, Gary Wohl, Sam Bucher and Jim Hoadley.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.