Following a year in which the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF) was sadly compelled to break its 63-year run as the world’s longest continuously running jazz festival, this most cherished Monterey Peninsula event is making a triumphant return. On the weekend of September 24th-26th, the oak-studded grounds of the Monterey County Fair and Event Center will once again come alive with performances from some of the greatest purveyors of the art of jazz music the world has to offer.
The decision to cancel the 2020 festival was a difficult one. After all, it is known as “the oldest continuously-running jazz festival in the world,” having been launched by founder Jimmy Lyons in 1958. “It took us a long time to decide to take the year off,” says MJF Executive Director Colleen Bailey. “It was a fluid situation, a moving target; the rules kept changing. We planned parallel events. In the eventuality that we would have to cancel the physical festival, we also worked on designing a virtual event, which is what we ended up doing. We’ve done the same kind of thinking this year, but it looks like we’re going to be able to present the physical festival.”
“Health and safety were our primary considerations when planning the 2021 MJF,” Bailey says. “We want to err on the side of being cautious. Everyone’s health — artists, vendors, volunteers as well as attendees — is our highest priority. We consulted with an infectious disease expert at every stage of the planning process.” To that end, performances will be limited to two venues: the iconic Jimmy Lyons Stage and the smaller Courtyard Stage, situated near the main fairgrounds entrance. The arena normally accommodates 5,000, but this year the available seats are limited to half that number. The other venues used in a typical year — Dizzy’s Den, the Garden Stage, Night Club and Pacific Jazz Café — will be dark this year. “It’s easier to control seating to maintain distancing for Jimmy Lyons Stage at Pattee Arena,” Bailey explains.
Although the music is always the main attraction at MJF, the colorful array of merchandise vendors and the diverse food and beverage offerings have always been a vital part of the experience. “There will be plenty of favorite vendors around the grounds,” Bailey assures. “All the permanent food booths will be open, along with food trucks and other vendors.” The Midway behind the main stage will come alive as always, full of arts and crafts, clothing and art for sale. Something new for 2021 is a collection of merchandise, including headphones, clothing and other items curated and branded by this year’s Artist-in-Residence Christian Sands and Gerald Clayton, Director of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.
When tickets for the 2021 MJF were offered for sale, they sold out in an unprecedented 48 hours. “We offered a presale to subscribers as a way to honor long time attendees,” says Bailey. “But super high demand combined with very limited numbers resulted in a very fast sellout. That was fantastic to see. People are so hungry for live music.”
Although MJF is a respected and highly entertaining event, it has always had at its core a higher calling, evinced by its mission statement, which reads in part: “Our mission is to inspire the discovery and celebration of jazz, anchored by an iconic festival.” And it does so in a local as well as global fashion. “We are about serving our community,” Bailey avers. “That’s our purpose.”
For more information about the Monterey Jazz Festival, please visit montereyjazzfestival.org.