Jazz lovers look forward to the third weekend of September in much the same manner that Indy car race fans anticipate Memorial Day, lovers can’t wait for Valentine’s Day and children pine for Christmas Day. For them, the Monterey Jazz Festival is all those holidays…and more.
It’s a feast for the senses—not just the ears. The aromas and flavors from the exotic offerings of the food booths and the sights of the dressed-to-the-nines crowd comingle with the sounds of the distinctly American music called jazz played by the world’s finest practitioners of the art to create an unequalled sensory delight.
Even the venue is special: The Monterey County Fair and Event Center has played host to a Who’s Who of the musical world, from Jimi Hendrix to Dave Brubeck, from Bob Dylan to Ella Fitzgerald, from The Who to Herbie Hancock, from Gladys Knight to Dizzy Gillespie. This year marks the 59th outing of the world’s longest continuously running jazz festival and the lineup is, as always, stellar.
Two American musical legends will be honored with tributes on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. First up is a “Tribute to Quincy Jones: ‘The A&M Years.’” This all-star cast will be led by musical director, bassist, composer and bandleader Christian McBride and conductor John Clayton. Special guest performers include many who have recorded and performed with Jones: saxophonist James Carter, pianist/composer Dave Grusin, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., trumpeter Sean Jones, flutist Hubert Laws, harmonica man Gregoire Maret, vocalists Valerie Simpson and Richard Bona, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, and drummer Lewis Nash & The Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra. Jones’ tribute closes Friday evening’s show, starting at 10:10pm.
Ray Charles packed a lot of music into his 74 years. Blind from the age of 7, he carved a niche in the music world that was uniquely his and along the way, influenced a few generations of performers who followed him such as Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
“The hit records he made for Atlantic in the mid-1950s mapped out everything that would happen to rock ‘n’ roll and soul music in the years that followed,” said Rolling Stone music editor Joe Levy. One wouldn’t think of psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd owing a debt to Charles, but that band’s principal songwriter, vocalist and bassist Roger Waters once told a reporter: “I was about 15. In the middle of the night with friends, we were listening to jazz. It was “Georgia on My Mind”—Ray Charles’ version. Then I thought, ‘One day, if I make some people feel only one twentieth of what I am feeling now, it will be quite enough for me.’”
This tribute is led by saxophonist Maceo Parker, a legend in his own right. Indeed, Charles was one of his earliest influences. He joined the James Brown Band in 1964, contributing solos to all the iconic hits Brown churned out in that decade. In the 1970s, he kept up the funk, working with Parliament/Funkadelic, and on and off with Brown until 1988. He has enjoyed a successful solo career since the 1990s.
Providing those backup harmonies essential to the Ray Charles sound will be the Raelettes, the girl group—with a changing cast of singers—he first enlisted in the 1950s. The tribute also features the Ray Charles Orchestra. Downbeat is at 3:30pm Saturday on the Jimmy Lyons Stage.
Year in and year out, one of the best bargains in music is the Monterey Jazz Festival grounds admission ticket. For $47 on Friday, $57 for Saturday or Sunday or $137 for the full three days ($22/$52 for youths 3-18), ticketholders get continuous music on seven stages.
Although admission to the main arena is not included, many of the artists who perform on the Jimmy Lyons Stage also play on one of the grounds stages. These include drummer Brian Blade and bassists Christian McBride and John Patitucci. Of course, as regular festival attendees know, there are always lots of surprises—one never knows who might show up on a stage to sit in.
For a complete list of performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.montereyjazz.org.
On Bass with John Patitucci
Bassist par excellence John Patitucci is no stranger to the Monterey Jazz Festival—or the Monterey area itself, it turns out. “I spent some time in California in high school and college,” he says. “My brother lives in the Bay Area, as does one of my early mentors, Chris Toehler. I have a lot of roots in that area. I’d say it was my second home.” Though born and raised in Brooklyn, when he’s not touring the world with Wayne Shorter or his own ensembles, Patitucci hangs his hat in Westchester, New York.
He’s played the festival several times, with Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band (1991, 1995), Wayne Shorter (2000, 2008) and his own trio plus Joe Lovano and John Scofield (2009). He returns this year to play with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who is this year’s MJF Commission Artist. Also on stage to perform Shorter’s piece “The Unfolding” will be pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade and the Monterey Jazz Festival Wind Ensemble, conducted by Nicole Paiement. “That’s going to be exciting,” the bassist says. “I haven’t seen the piece yet, but this band is used to how Wayne works. We just read it, rehearse it and perform it. A lot of times with these big commission pieces, we craft our parts by looking at the score. We craft our parts around what’s written.”
The Wayne Shorter Quartet performs “The Unfolding” Sunday at 7pm on the Jimmy Lyons Stage.
Patitucci will also play Saturday at 7pm on the Night Club stage with his Electric Guitar Quartet, consisting of guitarists Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas and drummer Brian Blade.
Learn more at www.johnpatitucci.com.