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.