The brief showers didn’t dampen spirits here. Those wanting shelter came into one the several inside venues, including the large Jazz Theater where the concert was televised, joining those who didn't have tickets for the outside Jimmy Lyons Stage.
On the stellar program were stars who participated in the first-ever festival in 1958. As well, there were groups and players who had appeared many times before during the five decades, plus outstanding newcomers.
All together it was a banquet for fans, leading to a tendency to gorge, with so many acts appearing in the six locations scattered throughout the fairgrounds. For example: Who to see Terrence Blanchard or Dave Holland or Cyrus Chestnut with their groups, all playing at 8 p.m., Saturday? Fortunately, most performers, besides appearing on the large Lyons Stage, also played at one of the smaller inside halls during the three days.
Special anniversary items on the program included legendary band leader/composer Gerald Wilson’s commissioned piece, "Monterey Moods." Saturday night. Wilson has also written special pieces for the 20th and 40th anniversaries. Another notable orchestral composition played was Terrence Blanchard’s recently completed, touching and powerful, "A Tale of God’s Will (Requiem for Katrina)," with his quintet backed by a chamber orchestra.
To mark its 50 years, the festival brought back a handful of the players who were here in '58--Sonny Rollins, Ernestine Anderson, Jim Hall, and Dave Brubeck, along with Ornette Coleman who appeared in ‘59. Now all in their mid seventies and eighties, the artists showed that they have retained their drive and skill after five decades. All performed impressive sets.
Of particular interest was Coleman’s turn. Over 50 years have passed since he introduced his controversial free-form type of jazz to the world, this year he received a Pulitzer. His innovations now are now recognized officially. Still a few still walked out Saturday afternoon, finding his unique sound hard to take. But most stayed and gave him a rousing ovation at the finish. His current group is now made up of three bassists, two upright and an electric, along with a drummer, his son Denardo. The muscular massed bass sound formed a solid foundation on which he built his creative improvisations.
Returning first-timer Rollins’ rousing set with his sextet closed the festival with one of his inevitable calypso-based tunes that had the audience up, dancing and shouting. Ernestine Anderson, on the occasion of her return after 50 years, now has to sit while singing. She still showed, however, that she had her blues chops, drawing a lot of "yahs" from unseated fans.
Also on the final evening Dave Brubeck (pictured above) with his quartet teamed up with Jim Hall to give a thoroughly satisfying set. What the two legends may have lacked in their bravado of old, they more than made up for in their taste and finesse. Again, the capacity crowd cheered long and hard.
Another nod to the beginning was the appearance of comedian Mort Sahl. He was emcee for the first event. In the ‘50s Sahl made his hip reputation as the opening act for numerous jazz bills, particularly Brubeck and Kenton, making close friends with many West Coast musicians.
On Saturday afternoon, he was guest at a question-and-answer session, recounting the old days with hilarious anecdotes about his jazz friends like the time Paul Desmond left his sax in the trunk of Mort’s car who was on hiss way from L.A. for Santa Barbara. Sahl hilariously recounted Paul’s ’s furtive efforts to get it back in time for that night’s gig.
A popular feature of all the festivals has been the blues afternoon. This year patrons wiped the rain off their seats in the outside stage, and joyously welcomed the Honeydripper All Stars, singer James Hunter and the Otis Taylor Band.
Sunday afternoon traditionally is dedicated to young musicians, with award-winning student bands performing on the Lyons Stage and throughout the grounds. In fact, overall the festival is dedicated to awarding student scholarships from festival proceeds, and a great many listeners look forward to hearing the talented young upcoming stars. This year’s MJF artist-in-residence was Terrence Blanchard who oversaw the concerts and played with winning bands.
The star billing of vocalist Diane Krall Saturday surely helped set the record this year. She was greeted with whistles by the audience. Smiling, she said this was very encouraging because she just recently gave birth to twins. She played for well over an hour, leaving the audience wanting more. It becomes apparent as she improves over the years that the fact that she is an excellent pianist contributes to her skill as a true jazz singer. She knows the music inside out, making for her flawless phrasing and timing.
Here are a few of the other numerous highlights:
* The Dave Holland Quartet. These innovative players raised the bar with their music bassist Dave Holland the hub around which dynamic tenor player Chris Potter and Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rublacaba revolved, with drummer Eric Harland driving the engine.
* Terrence Blanchard Quintet. In addition to leading his stellar orchestral piece, he and his group put on an impressive show in on the Bill Barry Stage Friday Night. "Raising the roof" is an apt cliche here as Blanchard strolled from player to player his trumpet urging them on the interplay truly exciting.
*Jazz Gallery pianists. Each evening in the intimate Gallery outstanding piano players played sets the entire evening. We took in Cyrus Chestnut, who dug down to his soulful gospel roots, while swinging with the fervor of an Oscar Peterson or Art Tatum. On Sunday, we heard Jackie Terrason whose percussive explorations were cutting-edge, while the lyricism of his ballads soft and subtle.
* Atsuko Hashimoto on the Hammond B3 organ. This delightful young organist from Japan and her cohorts, Jeff Hamilton, drums, and Houston Person, tenor sax, displayed the true essence of jazz, the oft quoted "sound of surprise," in their three-way musical conversations one playing a riff; the other picking it up and answering back and then some. After "Shiny Stockings," one walked out exhilarated knowing what made jazz so great.
And there are always serendipitous moments dropping by a stage, not knowing whose playing and then being delighted. For instance, we looked in on the Gallery and were stopped short by Smith Dobson, a new voice on vibes, with his group. We sat and were swept into a lush rhythm of a bossa nova. Another time, music coming from the Garden Stage sounded like guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli together again. We hurried and caught the end of the set. It was the Hot Club of San Francisco an incarnation of the Hot Club of France from over 50 years ago.
Always, one of the great pleasures is strolling the fairgrounds, looking over all the eclectic merchandise on display and checking out the mouth-watering food. We decided years ago not to leave the fairgrounds for dinner with such delicious items on hand barbecued ribs and turkey legs, in addition to Korean, Thai,Cajun specialties and so on. First day, we had Caribbean grilled salmon with plantains, spinach and rice; next afternoon, a large turkey leg with corn-on-the-cob. Stoking up for the music to come, of course
MJF presents jazz events throughout the year, including the New Generation Jazz Festival for student musicians. For infomation, call (831) 373-3366 or go to www.montereyjazzfestival.org.