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Monterey Jazz Festival Honors All-Time Greats

There they were, on stage Sunday night at the 49th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, three all-time great jazz pianists Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck and Hank Jones being honored before a sell-out crowd.

Besides celebrating established jazz giants, the three-day festival presented some of the world’s best young musicians, playing mainstream as well as smooth, blues and cutting-edge jazz in four venues on the Monterey fairgrounds. More good news this year--the MJF set an all-time record of 43,000, up 18% from last year.

Back to Sunday, another highlight scheduled on the outdoor Jimmy Lyons stage was the world premiere of a newly commissioned work by Brubeck, "Cannery Row Suite," based on the John Steinbeck novel which was set in Monterey. Joining Brubeck’s regular quartet were his son Chris Brubeck’s’s group, Triple Play, and a chorus from University of Pacific. Vocalists Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini sang the leads, and it was an all together spirited audience-pleasing presentation.

Peterson’s set followed with his group, Ulf Wakenius, guitar; David Young, bass; and Alvin Queen, drums. At age 80 and hampered by a recent stroke, Peterson (photo above) still showed he had one of the best right hands in jazz piano. When he finished his set, the 87-year-old Jones joined him, displaying his light touch and tasteful style as they played together.

Another coterie of jazz’s finest commanded Saturday night Charles Lloyd, on tenor and flute, succeeded by vocalist Diane Reeves and then pianist McCoy Tyner with their groups. Lloyd stood out in a set labeled "40th Anniversary of Forest Flower." The occasion commemorated the fact that Lloyd first played this hit song in 1966 at Monterey.

Tall and gangly, his body bobbing and weaving as he masterfully played his sax, he sounded at age 68 as good as ever. Buoyed by top musicians, Geri Allen on piano, Reuben Rogers, bass, and Eric Harland, drums, Lloyd really let go improvising on the "Forest Flower" finale

Among the younger musicians, trumpet player Roy Hargrove’s Quintet showed it is among the world’s best. At the intimate indoor Dizzy’s Den on Sunday, Hargrove was joined by alto player Justin Robinson, their contrapuntal exchanges creating a blaze of excitement. Contrastingly, Hargrove’s tender rendering of "Fools Rush In" had the audience enraptured. Rare in the tightly scheduled festival context, the group was called back by the cheers for two encores.

Young 19-year-old piano phenomenon, Eldar, made a big impression, as well, playing Friday on the outdoor Garden Stage. From Kyrgyzstan, his playing combines the hard-edged percussive style of many young classically-trained pianists with a traditional hard swinging disposition.

Fans into smooth jazz and fusion were well taken care of by the Yellowjackets on Friday, with guest stars Hargrove, Elling and blues guitarist Robben Ford. On Sunday afternoon, trumpet player Chris Botti showed that his type of smooth is heavily influenced by Miles Davis. He played a lovely Davis-tinged version of "My Funny Valentine," followed by "Flamenco Sketches" from Miles’ famous "Kind of Blue"album.

Botti was accompanied by two fine back-up men pianist Billy Child and guitarist Mark Whitfield-who, along with bassist Tim Lefevbre and drummer Billy Kilson, created fireworks with their back and forth trades. They kept the group firmly entrenched in a deep jazz groove.

Saturday afternoon is always time for the blues at Monterey. Keb Mo and Bonnie Raitt were the featured performers, but proceedings got off to a fervid start by McCollough Sons of Thunder, a gospel group from Harlem. Featuring five trombones and a tuba, along with the joyous shouting of leader Edward Babb, the ensemble’s wall of sound had the audience singing responses and clapping with abandon. Raitt, finishing off the afternoon, had them dancing in the aisles.

Worth mentioning also was the precision music-making of the Clayton-Hamilton Band, Friday night. It was a sight to see long-limbed conductor John Clayton, arms outstretched like a condor’s wings, lifting every nuance of his arrangements from 18 musicians. And then there was the MJF debut of young Irish singer Christine Tobin Sunday who weaved her spell with innovative takes on Dylan’s "Shelter in the Storm" and Leonard Cohen’s "Everybody Knows."

As always, one of the big "problems" at Monterey is what to see and when, and this was particularly true this year. For example, the impeccable drummer Jeff Hamilton and his trio were playing on the Bill Berry Stage Saturday, while Lloyd was on the Lyons Stage at the same time. Even more frustrating at 9 p.m. Sunday the highly touted vocal stylist Gambarini was in Dizzy’s Den, while organ favorite Dr. Lonnie Smith played on the Berry Stage both up against the formidable Peterson. Oh my, what’s a jazz fan to do.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Peterson, Brubeck, Jones Tyner, Lloyd Perform
  • Concert Date: Sept/ 15, 16, 17
  • Subtitle: Three-Day Event Presents Best of Old and New
  • Venue: Monterey Fairgrounds
  • City State Country: Monterey, CA
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