They’re still talking about that September Saturday. The day Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews strode out onto the Jimmy Lyons stage with his band Orleans Avenue and proceeded to permanently and deeply carve his name into the tree trunk of Monterey Jazz Festival lore. “He absolutely owned the 2010 festival,” says one longtime attendee.
Guess what? He’s gonna do it again. “I’ve been looking forward to coming back,” the New-Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist said recently. “We played two shows that day and I wish we could have played three or four. The audience exploded with us and gave us so much energy. It was a magical moment.” His band is jazzed as well. “To this day it’s one of the top three shows those guys talk about,” Andrews adds.
Andrews’ music is deeply steeped in New Orleans tradition (so deep, in fact, that he interrupted a phone interview to say hello to N’awlins legend and friend Allen Toussaint, who had tooled up next to him in his Rolls Royce). He started on trumpet at the age of 4, taught by his older brother James. “He’s the one responsible for me playing,” Andrews says. As he got older, he played and toured with his brother’s band. “He kept me by his side like Batman and Robin,” he jokes.
It’s not only the Monterey audience that these guys have gotten all worked up. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue have piqued the ears of music industry leaders. That’s why so many heavyweights have put in guest appearances on their latest release “For True,” including Lenny Kravitz, Ivan and Cyril Neville, Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes and even rock royalty Jeff Beck.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue’s press kit says that they “stir together old-school New Orleans jazz, funk and soul, laced with hard-rock power chords and hip-hop beats.” That’s a mighty fine gumbo. Wait…hard-rock power chords? Hip-hop beats? At the venerable, 55-yearold Monterey Jazz Festival?
Indeed. While this year’s festival presents plenty of more traditional jazz performances from names such as Jack DeJohnette, Melody Gardot, Tony Bennett and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, it feels like change is in the warm September air of the Monterey Peninsula summer.
Case in point: describing the music on his upcoming CD, Robert Randolph says, “It’s the funkiest brand of music anybody’s heard in a long time. The most joyous and upbeat. Like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Sly and Family Stone all went to church.” Randolph’s instrument is not typically seen on a jazz festival stage, either. He plays the pedal steel guitar, an axe more often heard in country music. And he learned how to play it in church.
“Steel guitar is a custom in the church I grew up in, the Pentecostal House of God,” the New Jersey native says. “Churches in the South couldn’t afford an organ or piano, so a lap steel guitar was used to provide chords for hymn singing.” The tradition has become known as “Sacred Steel.”
When asked how he might fit into a jazz festival vibe, Randolph counters, “We’re doing a lot of different things musically. We fit well in all sorts of categories. It’s been my experience that the people who come to jazz festivals these days are just hard-core music fans.”
That’s the key. Just because the festival has the name “jazz” in it doesn’t mean that it must program only traditional exemplars of that form. “People are more interested in hearing a strong variety of good music,” says Artistic Director Tim Jackson. “It’s important for me that I don’t get into a rut. I hope every year is like a breath of fresh air.”
The 2012 lineup is full of fresh air. Returning for her second appearance is the sublime bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, touring in support of her newest release, “Radio Music Society.” The 2011 Grammy Award winner (for Best New Artist) is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, yet still has managed to crossover to the ears and iPods of more contemporary music fans.
“I’ve tried to put together a program of music that speaks to the nonjazz listener,” Spalding says in a statement, “but still provide a viable foundation for jazz fans. Hopefully, people can enjoy all the elements of my music without being told which genres it is ‘supposedly’ a blend of.”
Also on the bill is the afore-mentioned Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. For Goodwin, playing the Lyons Stage is a homecoming of sorts. “I played on the main stage with my high school band in 1971,” the Los Angeles-native pianist says. “The following two years I was on the same stage as part of the All Star band and got to play with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Louie Bellson—it was life changing.” Indeed. “I already thought that I wanted to be a professional musician,” Goodwin recalls, “those experiences cemented it.”
But there’s that genre-twisting thing again: The 18-piece band leader’s bio reads, in part, “Goodwin’s ability to combine jazz excellence with any musical style makes his writing appealing to fans across the spectrum. That’s why both beboppers and headbangers dig Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.” Headbangers? “When people actually sit down and listen to our music, they usually say: ‘Wow…I like this.'” Gordon says. “We try to walk that line to make music acceptable to everyone without dumbing it down.”
Leading a big band is a labor of love—certainly not for someone who wants to get rich. “It’s financially neutral at best,” Goodwin quips.
“When you see a big band, the guy whose name is up there is usually the one paying the freight.” There’s nothing new about the blues, however. It’s jazz’s kissing cousin and the genre has always found a home at the Monterey Jazz Festival. This year is no exception, and there’s a real treat in store: The Blues Broads.
A collaboration of four big-voiced blues belters, Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli and Annie Sampson, this is a powerful, in-your-face extravaganza. “It’s hard to describe us because we all have special styles of our own,” Strehli explains. “So we all do individual songs, but get together in different combinations.” As an added bonus, triple-threat performer Deanna Bogart will join the Broads for their show, chiming in with her distinctive vocals, piano and saxophone chops. This festival truly has something for everyone.
For the Monterey Jazz Festival schedule, which takes place Sept. 21-23, and ticket information, visit www.montereyjazzfestival.org.