By Michael Katz
This is the time of year when Monterey Jazz Festival diehards pour over the newly released lineup, plotting strategy for seeing as many of the 500 + artists spread over six venues as humanly possible. This year’s 54th Monterey Jazz Festival, September 16-18, promises to be one of the best.
To begin with, the Main Arena schedule is loaded.
Friday night’s show opens with the sublime Japanese pianist Hiromi and her trio, followed by Radio Deluxe guitarist John Pizzarelli’s quartet featuring his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey and his dad Bucky. Anchoring the show will be Poncho Sanchez with special guest, Monterey favorite Terence Blanchard, doing a tribute to Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. The Grounds venues include Richard Bona and Raul Midon in the first of two appearances, featured artist Robert Glaspar in a piano trio setting, young pianist Helen Sung and Portuguese singer Carmen Souza.
Saturday afternoon is the blues/funk/roots program. Last year Trombone Shorty took over the festival and this year the main stage features “An Afternoon in Treme” with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Kermit Ruffins, and others, followed by Huey Lewis and the News. If the place is still standing it’ll be back to jazz at night, with a promising slate that begins with pianist Geri Allen and Timeline featuring tap dancer Maurice Chestnut in the commissioned piece, a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr.
Artist –in– Residence Joshua Redman is next with his James Farm group, and Herbie Hancock closes out the show. Meanwhile, on the Grounds stages, you can check out sax greats Donnie McCaslin and Chris Potter, who is playing with bassist Scott Colley, as well as singer Pamela Rose and many others.
Sunday afternoon is devoted to the Next Generation, and a special shout out to local L.A. schools. The L.A. County School for the Arts won the big band competition for the third year in a row and will be performing on the main stage, and also has a vocal ensemble performing on the grounds; Hamilton High has a combo group, Cal State Long Beach and USC both have big bands performing. The more pop oriented Sunday afternoon stage show features India.Arie and Israeli Idan Raichel on their Open Door Tour.
One of the festival highlights is always the late afternoon ensembles at the Garden Stage, which this year feature sax player Tia Fuller and guitarist Bruce Forman with Cow Bop, a country/jazz/swing group. Singer/pianist Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman on sax perform throughout the festival on the small Yamaha stage.
Sunday night on the main arena begins with a Miles Davis/Gil Evans retrospective, featuring music from Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Miles Ahead, featuring Terence Blanchard, Peter Erskine and Miles Evans.
Many of us in SoCal saw this performance at the Hollywood Bowl two years ago, so our eyes will shift to the Night Club on the grounds, where pianist Benny Green and his trio will team with saxophonist Donald Harrison for a program of Monk Music. The annual B-3 blowout is also taking place in Dizzy’s Den, with Wil Blades opening, followed by Joey DeFrancesco with special guest Bobby Hutcherson. Pianist Eldar is at the more intimate Coffee House. The one and only Sonny Rollins closes things out on the main stage.
Exhaustion follows, but at that point, who cares?
Joshua Redman photo by Tony Gieske.