Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival - Sunday

When you purchase your tickets for any jazz or music festival with multiple stages, you accept the painful reality that you just can't see everything. You are forced to make some tradeoffs, and those are frequently tough choices. Sunday's lineup at the Monterey Jazz Festival presented more than a few of those moments.

Sundays always start the day by featuring the future stars of the music. The fairgrounds stages are filled with high school and college bands, some of whom competed compete festival's annual Next Generation Festival. A showcase for the finest youth jazz combos, ensembles, and orchestras in the country, the Next Generation Festival puts the fruits of the organization's many music programs labor on display. The individual stars of the festival are awarded a seat in the Next Generation Orchestra, and get to participate in a year-long series of workshops, and clinics with the Monterey Jazz Festival's artist-in-residence. Their stint with the NGO concludes with a multi-city tour that gives them the chance to perform before national and international audiences.

Performing with this year's artist-in-resident, Joshua Redman, the NGO's traditional Sunday Afternoon set took on some challenging arrangements. Each year we discover some new stars, many of which return to the main stage years later as featured artists. The band really stretched out on a fine arrangement of The Yellowjackets high energy piece, "Downtown". On that piece alone, the audience was introduced to three shining new stars; Patrick Bartley from Ft. Lauderdale on alto sax, Rane Roatta from Miami on tenor sax, and Anthony Fung from Toronto on drums. The set ended with the orchestra jammin' and trading solos with Redman, Benny Green, and Donny McCaslin.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival - Saturday

Saturday Afternoon's lineup took a departure for the almost traditional "Blues Saturday Afternoon" of recent years. Tradition was served, but it was the traditions of the music of New Orleans, the swinging bop styles of the 40's, and the Soulsville sound of Stax/Volt Records.

Starting the afternoon on the Jimmy Lyons Stage was "An Afternoon in Treme", celebrating the music that was born out of the rhythms and sounds of Congo Square in New Orleans. Featuring Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, the Soul Rebels, Kermit Ruffins, and Glen David Andrews, the arena crowd was rockin'. Special guest Wendell Pierce from the HBO series Treme, provided the narrative to fill in the historical details behind the sound.

On the grounds, Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88's brought the spirit and sounds of the jump boogie and small big bands. This was the sound that gave way to rock n' roll. In a convenient segue, the main stage welcomed Huey Lewis & The News who delivered their own soulful set. When the Soul Rebels, Ivan Neville's group, took over the Garden Stage, it was an all out party. How they ended up in a medley of Sly Stone tunes, it turned into an all-out party.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival - Opening Night Recap

Friday night’s performances were nothing short of extraordinary. The high points came from two young pianists whose debut festival appearance was in the festival grounds Coffee House venue several years ago.

In recent years, a “local” artist opened the festival on the Garden Stage. This year, the festival’s featured artist, Robert Glasper” opened with his trio. As featured artist, Glasper will appear in several band configurations throughout the weekend. On the Jimmy Lyons Stage in the arena, Hiromi started off the main venue’s activities. Hiromi first appeared in 2006, Glasper in 2007. Since then, a lot has changed for both artists. Both have risen to critical acclaim worldwide, yet, they were unknown to many of the patrons. Both artists are reasonably well known to Bay Area jazz fans, having made multiple appearances at Yoshi’s in San Francisco and Oakland.

Those that opted to pass on either Glasper or Hiromi’s performances because they’ve “seen them before” missed truly spectacular performances. I’m in the “seen them before” category. However, this is Monterey. What you’ve seen before doesn’t count. All artists, from the “young lions” to the well-established legends bring something special to this venue. The veterans must live up to the performances of the past, and somehow, outdo them. The up and coming are motivated to create their own defining “Monterey Moments”.

54th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival - Friday Evening

The air is always electric as the festival grounds open for the first time each year. The vendors are all ready, you can hear the last of the sound checks being done on the Jimmy Lyons Stage, and the opening night crowds start to stake out their preferred venues on the grounds.

Strategy is key. Newcomers always wonder why popular venues like The Night Club, and Dizzy’s Den are always nearly full when they show up 15 minutes before an artist is supposed to start. The veterans have already studied the lineup and the program for the evening and staked out their spots before sending someone else in the party off to get the food and drink. Those in the arena can take their time. They have assigned seating, and their first concert doesn’t start until 8:30PM. They have plenty of time to shop, eat, and check out the other stages.

Some mistakenly look at the opening artists on the grounds stages as the “warm-ups” for the serious music. This year, that will be a mistake. The first sounds of the festival will come from this year’s Featured Artist, Robert Glasper and his trio. Glasper is one of those exciting and not-so-new artists that is flying just under the radar of many jazz fans. He’s an extremely accomplished pianist with an energetic and imaginative style blending classical elements with contemporary jazz elements, while occasionally venturing into the land of hip-hop and neo-soul. He will quickly draw attention to the Garden Stage as he kicks things off.

In the Arena, the night’s concert will start off with another exciting, young pianist, Hiromi. The fiery and powerful style of this former child prodigy has been exciting audiences around the world. On a recent piano duo release with Chick Corea, their two styles meshed together so well, it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell who was playing at any given point in time.

As happens frequently throughout the 3-day span, a set of competing interest kicks off at the opposite end of the fairgrounds, at the same time. Bassist Richard Bona and vocalist Raul Midon are on tap for one of the more intriguing concerts of the weekend. By now, things are happening all over the place. Those in the arena tend to stay put for the evening, venturing out on the breaks between performances. Meanwhile, those on the grounds juggle their priorities between a set of difficult choices. There are perennial favorites like John Santos and Juan-Carlos Formell, and those relatively unknowns that Director Tim Jackson likes to bring in to surprise, and most times blow the audience away.

Berklee Flamenco, Helen Sung Trio, Carmen Souza, the Erik Telford Collective, and the Pizzarelli Family are just a few of the choices. In some respects, it’s a lot to take in all at once; and this is only the first night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September in Monterey - Festival Time

For many Jazz fans from around the world, the third weekend in September is the most anticipated time of the year. That weekend belongs to the Monterey Jazz Festival. This weekend marks the 54th annual of this Monterey Peninsula tradition.

The Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world. Cofounded in 1958 by Jimmy Lyons and Ralph J. Gleason, the Festival has presented nearly every major artist in the world - from Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, to contemporary masters Kurt Elling, Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard.

As a nonprofit, the Festival is devoted to education by presenting year-round local, regional, national, and international programs. Schools in Monterey County and thousands of students have been the benefactors of MJF’s educational efforts through the Traveling Clinicians Program, Summer Jazz Camp and Monterey County All-Star Bands, which embark on an annual performance trips each summer.

The Festival now spends over $750,000 annually on its programs, including the Next Generation Jazz Festival, with the best student bands from across the nation each spring. From that festival, the country’s best young musicians are selected to be members of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. Those honored musicians participate in a summer tour each year, and the Artist-In-Residence program, which brings a renowned artist to work with the young musicians in performances and clinics at the Next Generation Jazz Festival, Summer
Jazz Camp, and at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Monterey Jazz Festival is just 3 weeks away. Do you have your tickets yet?

You still have time to get seats for the longest continuously running jazz festival in the world. The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival presented by Verizon has tickets available for Festival Grounds, Single Concerts on the Arena stage, and full subscription (all five arena concerts). 

Single day grounds tickets are just $40 for Friday, and $50 for Saturday and Sunday. With 7stages on the festival ground, you can see a tremendous amount of music in a single day.Full weekend tickets for the arena concerts start at $225. This provides access to the 5 concerts in the festival Arena that feature all the headliners. The arena subscription is as close to an all-access pass as you're going to be able to get. Not only do you have the 5 main stage concerts, you have access to all the grounds stages as well. With your subscription, your seats are reserved for you next year, and you have the option to upgrade them.

This is a full weekend immersion in this great art form. Over 500 artists will perform over the course of the weekend. Herbie Hancock, Terrance Blanchard, Joshua Redman, and Poncho Sanchez are just a few of the artists to be featured on the main stage. Lest you think the grounds stages feature a lesser level of talent, that list includes Hiromi, Robert Glasper, Richard Bona & Raul Midón, Benny Green, Tia Fuller, Joey DeFrancesco, and Bobby Hutcherson. Several of the artists headlining in the arena will also make appearances on the grounds stages.

If you've heard the stories of great performances from legendary artists at the major jazz festivals around the world, you have an outstanding opportunity to experience them first-hand. Start your own collection of "Monterey moments". Act quickly, while good seats are still available.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

SFJAZZ Announces Line-up for San Francisco Jazz Festival

The nice thing about the major jazz festivals is, they give you plenty of time to plan ahead for tickets and travel. SFJAZZ, the San Francisco Bay Area's premiere presenting organization recently announced the line-up for the 29th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival. This year's fall classic will extend all the way into the holiday season, starting September 15th, continuing through December 18, 2011.

As usual, the line-up is spectacular. Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline has once again assembled a program that stretches across a wide range of legends and new artists, contemporary jazz and world music, local, national, and international artists. Headliners include Wayne Shorter, SFJAZZ Collective, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, Ahmad Jamal, Benny Green, and many more.

Tickets are on sale now for all events. Movenfast, because many of these will sell out. Go to for details, the full schedule, and to purchase tickets.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

54th Monterey Jazz Festival Lineup

We’re just starting to see the weather turn Spring-like, and the jazz world is already buzzing about the event that closes the summer season. The full artist lineup for the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival (September 16-18, 2011, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds) has been announced, and tickets are already on sale. You would be wise to move quickly as this year’s roster of artists is nothing short of incredible.

The festival is a three-time winner of the Jazz Times Readers poll for the “World’s Best Jazz Festival”. No wonder as it is also the longest, continuous running festival in the world. At the top of the list for this year’s headliners are
Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Huey Lewis & The News, Poncho Sanchez & His Latin Jazz Band featuring Terence Blanchard; Joshua Redman; India.Arie & Idan Raichel; the John Pizzarelli Quartet, An Afternoon in Treme with Dumpstaphunk, Soul Rebels, Kermit Ruffins & Glen David Andrews, Hosted by Wendell Pierce; Hiromi: The Trio Project featuring Anthony Jackson & Steve Smith; Miles Davis/Gil Evans: Still Ahead Orchestra featuring Music from Miles Ahead, Porgy & Bess and Sketches of Spain; and many more. Over 500 artists will grace the festivals 8 stages with 90 performances.

The festival’s 2011 Artist-In-Residence is two-time GRAMMY-nominee, saxophonist Joshua Redman. Redman will be performing with his band James Farm, featuring Aaron Parks, Matt Penman & Eric Harland and will also appear as a soloist with the Festival’s All-Star student band, the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. This is a special honor for Redman who was a member of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra in the 1980s.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Playboy Jazz Festival Lineup Announced

Dianne Reeves will headline Saturday's lineup for this summer classic. Joining Dianne will be The Roots w/Terrance Blanchard, Fourplay, Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra, SF Jazz Collective, A Night in Treme: The Musical Majesty of New Orleans, The Cosby All Stars, Ambrose Akinmusire, and the LAUSD All City HS Big Band.

Sunday's headliner is blues legend Buddy Guy. Completing the lineup is: the Pullum HS Jazz Big Band, Carlos Varela, Bull Cunliffe and the Resonance Big Band, Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown, Geri Allen and her Timeline Band, Harmony 3 (Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley, and Stanley Jordan), Naturally 7, John Scofield and Robben Ford, and Lee Konitz New Quartet. Emcee for both days is Bill Cosby.

Ticket priority goes to those that purchase for both days, and range from $40 - $100 for both days. Download the form to send in your ticket order.

This is my idea of fun in the sun!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

33rd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival Tickets on Sale Now!!!

The comment I get most often about the Playboy Jazz Festival comes in late May or early June. Most often it comes from friends that hear us talking about it and our plans to go. On hearing about those plans, we always hear "I wish I heard about it sooner". What they don't realize is, we start our planning for this festival in January, which is when the tickets go on sale. The date of this year's festival is June 11-12. Tickets went on sale to the public on January 25th. So far the list of artists scheduled to appear (subject to change) includes: Buddy Guy, Dianne Reeves, Fourplay, Naturally 7, Eddie Palmieri, and Lee Konitz. That's just the beginning, but more on that later.

This is one of those "must go to" festivals. It's so deep with us, we hold all plans for the mid June weekends until we find out exactly when the festival will be held. Then we plan everything else around that. That's considerable given that we're also photographers and we're talking about the height of the wedding season.

What's so special about this festival? That's a fair question if you haven't been. To start with, it's at the Hollywood Bowl. We're talking early summer, perfect weather (normally), and two days of outdoor concerts. Make no mistake, this is a huge, two-day party. There are relatively few restrictions on what you can bring in terms of food and drink. Over the years we've seen some seriously elaborate spreads, complete with fine wines and champagne.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

5 Albums For a New Jazz Listener - My picks

The more I think about it, I realize just how difficult it is to come up with five introductory jazz albums. The scope of the music is so vast, and as been throguh so many changes in style, five albums isn't enough to represent that. Which period do you choose? Which artists should be included, or must be included. The style of music the prospective listener prefers would also influence the choices.

Under normal circumstances, most of us would find out those preferences of the listener and choose to compliment or contrast their normal listening pleasures. Without the benefit of that information, how would you approach the selections? Knowing if the listener was just curious about the music, wanted to understand more of the history of the music, or just start in with what is current, has a significant impact on the choices.

Since most modern styles never really seem to go away, my approach would be to stick with some of the classic releases, while trying to cover a reasonable time period, and a variety of lead instruments. Jazz has never been one dimensional, so this selection shouldn't be either. My selections cover the classic big band era, the cool period, the post-cool-pre-fusion to the early 70's, fusion, and post bop. Enough of the background, here goes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

5 Albums For a New Jazz Listener

A blog post recently caught my eye. The interest evolved into an intriguing question. It was Wynton Marsalis' "top 5" must listen albums for a new jazz listener. At least, that was the way it was presented. I immediately clicked on the link, getting ready to debate the choices. Once I got there I found it was actually Wynton's picks from his own discography, to acquaint a new listener to his music. You can check it out yourself here.

My first thought was it would be very interesting to hear any of the current jazz legend's view of how a new listener should approach their music. That would have to be fascinating. The challenge would have to be picking releasing that were not necessarily the best, but those that were most reflective of their artistry. Poll a group of die-hard fans of any artist and there is likely to be strong debate over those five album titles. When the list comes from the artist, where's your grounds for debate?

The question quickly came to mind, what 5 releases would I choose for a new listener? An automatic impulse is to pick my favorite 5 albums. Even that is a major challenge, but then, if I truly want to enlighten a new listener to this music, the selection will have to be much broader than the favorites that come to mind on that particular day. Remember, this is for a new listener, not someone that wants to find out what I like in jazz.

So, I open Jazz Currents for 2011 with a question to the collective. What 5 would you pick? Feel free to post a comment/response to this posting. I'll post my choices in my next update. I want to have some fun thinking about this for a minute. First, some additional context. Assume the person asking knows nothing about jazz, and nothing about your personal taste, but they know you are a serious fan of the music. They would like to learn more about the music in general, and would like your recommendations. What would you pick, and why? I'll post the updates as they come in. Only one ground rule: no attacking someone else's suggestions.

Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 - Endings and Beginnings

For almost 15 years, I've had the pleasure and honor to cover the San Francisco Bay Area jazz community for CityFlight. CityFlight is a non-profit, community based media entity that began as CityFlight NewsMagazine based in the Silicon Valley. In that role, I've covered quite a few of the major venues and festivals in the area. My objective has always been to expose our audience to the latest happenings and trends in the world of jazz through interviews, photographs, and reviews of CDs and live performances. If this is starting to sound like a farewell, it is. At least, partially.

CityFlight has always been staffed by a small, virtual, dedicated staff of volunteers. Many current and former staff contributors, like me, owe our journalistic start to CityFlight. At its peak, the print circulation topped 40,000 copies. The publication successfully transitioned to an online "eZine" format almost two years ago, as print costs became unsustainable.  After 16 years of serving San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and the greater Bay Area, CityFlight has ceased publication. The last post to was made in mid-December.

While other remaining staff members ponder their next journey in journalism, I will simply concentrate my reporting efforts here at Jazz Currents. Look for more frequent updates of news and reviews of artists and performances from the SF Bay Area Jazz scene. For me, it's a matter of following my passion for this art form, and making sure it stays alive and vibrant.

Say hello to 2011, and welcome to Jazz Currents. I hope you find the content interesting, and visit often. This is a dialog. I fully expect to see your comments as well.

BTW, I also wrote the Wine Sense column for CityFlight, focusing on wine education and the wine culture. You can follow that now as well at