Jazz musicians are an eclectic lot: highly individualistic and nonconformist— dancing to their own drummers, so to speak. They sing in chorus, however, when it comes to educating young people in the language of their chosen musical genre. From its inception 54 years ago, the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF) has funded programs designed to pass the torch onto the next generation of performers and composers.
A slate of educational opportunities has developed over the years including The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and its corresponding festival; the traveling Clinicians Program and Monterey County Honor Ensembles; Summer Jazz Camp; the Artist-in-Residence Program and the Latin Jazz Program. And they get results. Proof positive can be found in pianist/educator Eddie Mendenhall. A Monterey Peninsula native, 1990 Robert Louis Stevenson High School and Berklee College of Music graduate, alumni of several MJF programs and now Summer Jazz Camp instructor, Mendenhall has truly come full circle.
“I went to Jazz Camp the summer before 9th grade and every summer after,” Mendenhall says. He performed in the High School All Star Band (as the Next Generation Orchestra was then known) for two years. “I got to play with Dizzy Gillespie. A fantastic opportunity.” And there’s a new chapter to the Mendenhall story: Eddie’s 13-year-old daughter Kanoa is a bassist and has attended Jazz Camp for the past three years. “It’s cool seeing her go through the same stuff I did,” her proud father says.
New MJF Managing Director Chris Doss says that the educational component of the festival is key to its existence.
“We are here because we love music and we want to share it,” he says. “So that people can learn about it and weave it into their lives.” This Year’s Artist-in- Residence, acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman, who grew up in Berkeley, also benefitted from MJF educational opportunities. “I played in the Next Generation band and attended the festival many times,” Redman recalls. “Monterey was a big part of my life as a kid. Being Artist-in-Residence is a great honor.”
Redman maintains a busy performance schedule, and doesn’t have the opportunity to teach all that often. “As a teacher I honestly turn down more opportunities than I’m able to take,” he says. That’s not to say he doesn’t find jazz education to be important. “In jazz, the vocabulary keeps extending. Something might be explored and worked out by one generation and the next reaps the rewards without having to sow the fields.” And Redman truly enjoys the process. “I’m amazed at the abilities that I hear from these kids,” he says. Eddie Mendenhall gets great satisfaction from the process as well. “Leonard Bernstein said, ‘When I teach I learn, and when I learn I teach,'” the pianist says. “If we can keep our eyes on that, we’re doing our job.”
The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival presents some old favorites, some new faces and some tantalizing surprises. Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock have both appeared several times and always have a great time.
“It’s a family atmosphere at Monterey,” Hancock says. “The weather is great, it’s right by the ocean. It’s a very relaxing place.” As early-80s kings of the pop charts, Huey Lewis and the News may seem an odd selection to perform on the main stage of one of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals. But last year, the Bay-area band released “Soulsville,” their first album in nine years. Featuring 14 classic songs from the vaults of Memphis’ Stax Records including “Respect Yourself ” and “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” the band’s horn-inflected sound will definitely appeal to the ears of jazz fans.
Another pleasant surprise is in store with Geri Allen and Timeline’s “The Dazzler: A Jazz Tap Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.,” to be performed Saturday night. Allen, the Festival’s 2011 Commission artist, presents this original piece with her band and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut in homage to the Rat Packer.
“Maurice is completely integrated into the band,” Allen told a Jazz Festival interviewer. “The drum and dance are at the core of Timeline’s construction.”
Appearing before Allen is James Farm, featuring Joshua Redman. On Sunday, Redman will play with this year’s crop of talented up-andcomers in the Next Generation showcase.
Other standouts include the incendiary Pancho Sanchez, cool jazz with the John Pizzarelli Quartet, India Arie with Idan Raichel, and Sonny Rollins. The full schedule, along with ticket information, is available online at www.montereyjazzfestival.org.