Monday, November 5, 2007

The Monterey Jazz Festival - 50 years of Magical Moments

The third weekend in September is always a special time on the Monterey Peninsula. Jazz fans from around the world descend on the County Fairgrounds for the Monterey Jazz Festival, presented by Verizon. This year was particularly special as the festival celebrated the 50th edition of the longest, continuously running jazz festival in the world.

Festival General Manager Tim Jackson and the entire festival organization are keeping founder Jimmy Lyons dream alive for fans and musicians. Make no mistake, it's just as special to the musicians to be invited to play this event. Each one that plays here manages to bring a little something extra to their performance. The most memorable of these performances are forever remembered as "Monterey Moments".

The festival also continues Lyon's primary objective of the festival; to support jazz education in schools, and begin to develop the next generation of great jazz musicians. This year, the festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra played several concerts around the country. They also played a four-day run in Paris, showing international audiences the results of the investment in America's youth before coming home to the audience in Monterey.

More than a few of the long-time patrons have attended every festival since the 1958 inaugural. Irene Washington is one of those veterans who remembered the early days. "You could bring the whole family out here for just $7", she told me. "It was wonderful". Ms Irene is one of the festival's most recognizable fans. She strolls the aisles of the arena wearing a pair of giant sunglasses and carrying two "Texas Size" fly swatters she uses to clap with.

The crowds were record setting. Grounds tickets for Saturday sold out earlier than ever. That's considerable given a rumored additional 10,000 grounds tickets added for each of the three days. Festival logo merchandise booths were mobbed the entire weekend. The festival added two new venues and several exhibits chronicling the 50 year history of the event. The atmosphere was as electric as ever. There a feeling that comes over serious jazz fans the first time they step on the festival grounds. Visions of the performances of Miles, Billie, Dizzy, Duke, Sarah, and hundreds of other legends come to mind as this is the place many a historic live recording was made.

A special treat was announced a month before the festival as Monterey Jazz Festival Records was launched. Almost all the arena performances have been captured on tape. Thanks to a large grant, those tapes have been converted to digital media, and selected performances are being released on CD. The first releases include Miles Davis (1963), Dizzy Gellespie (1965), Louis Armstrong (1958), Sarah Vaughn (1971), and Thelonius Monk (1964). The quality of these early live recordings is excellent, and the recordings are a must have.

There's a lot more to talk about on this year's festival, but that can wait 'til next time. Each of the artists I covered deserve their own piece, and that's just what I'll give them. Stay tuned.

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