By Michael Katz
The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival announced its complete schedule yesterday, adding Tony Bennett and Michael Wolff (leading his Cal Tjader tribute band) to a program already rich with stars that include Pat Metheny, Showcase Artist Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Bill Frisell and Artist-in-residence Ambrose Akinmusire.
More on all that later. If you really want to know how loaded this festival is, set your watch for 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, September 22. Here’s what you can hear: Metheny, DeJohnette and Christian McBride in a trio performance on the Lyons Stage; Wolff and his Tjader band with Warren Wolf on vibes along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Vince Lateano and Robb Fisher at Dizzy’s Den; The Tierney Sutton Band at the Night Club; Gerald Clayton at the Coffee House. Yikes. Almost all at the same time. Fortunately, Sutton gets a head start at 9 and Metheny plays another set with his Unity Band featuring Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams on Sunday night. Still, if that cloning research gets perfected by September, you know where to find me.
Here’s a few of the other highlights. The Friday night arena show opens with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band making its MJF debut, and we LA folk know they will get the festival off to a rollicking start. I confess to having heard little of Melody Gardot, who follows, other than sampling the bluesy jazz offerings on her website, but that’s the beauty of MJF.
There’s always some fresh faces, including harmonica player Gregoire Maret at the Night Club and vocalist Gregory Porter, who has been creating a big ripple lately, with Night Club’s late set. DeJohnette and Akinmusire perform at Dizzy’s Den and the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra caps off the Arena Show. Finally, pianist Mulgrew Miller, who I would rate along with Michael Wolff among the finest of his (and my) generation, will lead his trio in three performances at the Coffee House.
Saturday is blues/roots/funk day in the afternoon. Robert Randolph and the Family Band open the show at the Arena and end the afternoon at the Garden Stage, always a great place to hang out. As mentioned, Trombone Shorty headlines at the Arena and his performance, on the heels of his 2010 tour de force, will be one of the most anticipated of the festival. If you are looking for something a little quieter, two of my favorite musicians, flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox will be performing a matinee duet at the Night Club.
Saturday night, in addition to the aforementioned logjam at 9:30, begins at the Arena with guitarist Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers band performing the Festival’s commissioned piece and ends with Tony Bennett. Whether the moon will show up on cue as it did during the opening notes of “Fly Me To The Moon,” as it did in Bennett’s memorable 2005 concert has yet to be determined, but don’t bet against it.
Sunday afternoon features the award-winning high school and college groups, highlighted by the all-star Next Generation Band at the Arena, with alumnus Ambrose Akinmusire sitting in. The NGB was one of the highlights of the festival last year, so don’t wander in late. Esperanza Spalding, with a hot new album and lots of national exposure, anchors the afternoon show. The late afternoon Sunday shows at the Garden Stage often provide some of the most relaxed and enjoyable moments of the weekend. This year vocalist Jose James gets the 4pm slot and Kyle Eastwood and his band are sure to be crowd pleasers at 5:30.
Sunday night at the Arena begins with Pat Metheny’s band and finishes up with the MJF 55th Anniversary All Star group, featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, trumpeter Akinmusire, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Chris Potter and drummer Lewis Nash. (They also perform Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.) There’s plenty happening on the grounds, including vibist Stefon Harris’ Cuban themed 90 Miles Band with David Sanchez on sax and Nicholas Payton filling the trumpet chair; DeJohnette and Frisell in duets; and the annual Hammond B3 organ blowout featuring John Abercrombie, Larry Goldings and Chester Thompson. Tiger Hamasyan takes the piano spot at the Coffee House.
The 55th Annual MJF runs September 21-23. Details at: www.montereyjazzfestival.org/2012.
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