Saturday, September 17, 2011

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.

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