Nine-time Grammy winner Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to the Monterey Jazz Festival on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Despite its standing as the longest continuously running jazz festival on Earth, the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF) will never be accused of resting on its laurels. Under the masterful booking hand of General Manager Tim Jackson, new ground is broken every year while still offering up a plethora of classic jazz performances from the most accomplished masters of the genre.The 52nd festival, on tap September 18-20, is no exception.
“A festival should be an amalgamation of great styles and genres,” Jackson says.”A melting pot is more fun.”
As always, this year’s slate includes some big names: Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Joe Lovano, George Duke and Pete Seeger, to name a few. There are also several exciting up-and-comers, including pianist Jason Moran and bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding. This is Concord, Calif., native Brubeck’s 15th visit to the MJF. He played his first in 1958.
“From the beginning, Monterey was intended to be a different kind of festival,” Brubeck says. “[Founder] Jimmy Lyons and I talked about the possibilities. Jimmy had wild ideas—he even wanted to do a ballet at the festival.” This was the year before the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s breakthrough album “Time Out” was released, turning the jazz world on its ear with its unusual time signatures and—unheard of for a jazz record—hit single, “Take Five.”
That tune, written in 5/4 time, is arguably the most famous jazz piece of all time. To this day, no Brubeck performance is complete without it. “You’ve gotta play it,” he says. About the influence of that record on generations of musicians, he says, “I know that we opened a lot of doors.”
At 88, Brubeck maintains a busy concert schedule. Despite his great success and global fame, he is a remarkably approachable and affable man. He’s pleased with the public’s ongoing response.”We’re playing all these big jazz festivals,” he quips,”and the last thing they say to us is,’Please come back next year.’ ”
Believe it or not, he is still sometimes amazed by the accolades. “I was telling my wife the other day, ‘Can you imagine that this is the same kid who used to play the Cool Corner [a humble jazz club] in Stockton? Now look what’s happened.” His quartet performs Sunday evening, September 20, as part of “Three Generations of Pianists” with Chick Corea and Jason Moran.
Esperanza Spalding has exploded onto the scene, and you can hear her on Friday night, September 18. This 23-year-old from Portland, Oregon, is impressing the jazz world with her sultry vocals and virtuoso bass playing. David Letterman called her the coolest guest he’s ever had, and she wowed a gathering of top musicians— just an arm’s length from Barack and Michelle Obama—when she performed Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” during aWonder tribute concert in the White House East Room. A prodigy—at age 4 she saw cellist Yo Yo Ma on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and was inspired to teach herself the violin—she is possessed of a musical sense way beyond her years. Most who hear her agree: she is going to be wildly popular. And even though she is booked to play at Sunset Center in May 2010, this is a rare chance to be able to say, “I saw her when.”
Among the thousands of jazz albums released since the birth of the recording industry, three stand heads and shoulders above the rest: Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Brubeck’s “Time Out.” All three were groundbreakingly original and resonate to this day with both audiences and musicians.
And all were recorded or released in the same year, 1959.
“The 50th anniversary of those three records is kind of a sub-theme this year,” says Jackson. Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side All-Star Band will pay homage to Coltrane’s classic, and Brubeck will no doubt dazzle the audience with some of the masterpieces from his breakout record, including “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and of course,”Take Five.”
The younger performers at MJF will be listening keenly to what the masters are saying, both onstage and off. Brubeck, for instance, at nearly nine decades, is still thrilled with the opportunity to sit at a piano and create. “I can’t wait ’til the next job so we can play,” he says. “In my current group, none of us consider playing as work. Work is getting to the job.”
For tickets and a complete schedule of the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival please go online to www.montereyjazzfestival.org. Tickets are also available by phone at 925/275-9255.