By Michael Katz
For those of us in love with the Monterey Jazz Festival, the longest six months of the year are the time between the final note of the last Sunday night show at the fairgrounds and the April 1 announcement of artists for the next MJF. That wait ended Monday morning with the lineup for MJF 56, on September 20-22. Putting together a festival of this repute is no small task for Artistic Director Tim Jackson. He’s got to book enough legitimate headliners to satisfy a sometimes prickly Arena ticket base, while maintaining the diversity and inventiveness that makes MJF such a treasure.
My immediate reaction: good news for Arena season ticket holders, with jazz virtuosos at every stop; good news for Grounds attendees, with the usual mix of big names and intriguing new performers visiting the four smaller venues, and challenging news for those of us who like to float between stages. There are just too many shows that you wouldn’t want to miss.
The three evening Arena lineups are especially loaded. For those of us who caught part of vocalist Gregory Porter’s rousing set at the Night Club last fall and wished we had seen more, wish granted. Porter will be opening the show Friday night. Next up is the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, playing a specially commissioned tribute to the late Dave Brubeck. Filling out the usual Latin jazz spot capping the Friday night program is Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club. That is quite an opening night slate.
Saturday evening promises to be one of the most creative in recent memory. Leading off is Artist-In-Residence saxophonist Joe Lovano, teaming with trumpeter Dave Douglas, performing Sound Prints, music inspired or composed by Wayne Shorter. The middle slot is led by bassist Dave Holland, an MJF favorite. He brings his quartet, Prism, featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist Craig Taborn and superb drummer Eric Harland. Closing out the show is Bobby McFerrin, touring with his Spirityouall release.
The Sunday show is opened by Wayne Shorter, celebrating his 80th birthday, with his all-star quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blades. Closing the festival is Diana Krall. There’s little need to embellish; you clearly wouldn’t want to miss any of these shows. And yet…
And yet, check out a few of the artists performing at the Grounds venues: Friday night has pianist Uri Caine playing three sets at the Coffee House and vocalist Carmen Lundy at the Night Club, as well as a reprise performance by Gregory Porter, and separate ensemble appearances by Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas. Saturday night has the Brubeck Brothers quartet with a tribute to their dad; Ravi Coltrane, the Charlie Hunter-Scott Amendola duo, pianists Marc Cary and Craig Taborn, the Douglas-Lovano Sound Prints band, and classic vocalist Mary Stallings.
Sunday features perhaps the festival’s greatest dilemma. You wouldn’t dare miss Wayne Shorter or Diana Krall, but the annual B-3 organ blowout at Dizzy’s Den opens with guitarist Anthony Wilson’s trio featuring Larry Goldings and Jim Keltner, and closes with the great Dr. Lonnie Smith. Meanwhile, over in the Night Club, alto player Lou Donaldson opens, and pianist Cedar Walton brings his latest Eastern Rebellion to close the show. Usually music fans are too exhausted to be running between venues by Sunday night, but MJF 56 may prove to be the exception.
The two afternoon schedules offer their own pleasures: an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, kids, world music and a few things that defy description. The Saturday line-up has morphed over the years from blues to roots music, to none-of-the-above. This year The Relatives, a gospel-funk group, leads off the Arena show and also gets the 5:30 slot at the Garden Stage. If you haven’t heard them before the festival, don’t worry, you will — along with the hundreds of fans hanging from tree limbs and lined up behind the bleachers.
George Benson has the headline billing at the Arena. Benson was on the short list of great post-Wes Montgomery guitarists in the seventies before changing his orientation to R and B type vocals, but he can still “play this-here guitar,” as evidenced by his recent Guitar Man CD. Out on the grounds, the Saturday Garden Stage show is always a blast from start to finish, even if you aren’t familiar with any of the acts. And if you are looking for some straight ahead jazz amidst all the blues-funk-whatever, bari sax and flutist Claire Daly has a Monk-influenced program at 4 pm in the Night Club. And, as per the last several years, one of our favorite vocalists, Judy Roberts, will be performing with sax man Greg Fishman throughout the festival on the Yamaha AvantGrand stage.
Sunday afternoon features college and high school bands, highlighted by the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, which will feature a guest appearance by the ubiquitous Mr. Lovano. As usual, I warn all of you not to miss this band – these kids will amaze you. Bob James and David Sanborn are the headliners for the Sunday afternoon show. I’ve always loved Sanborn’s blues and funky rock-tinged tenor sax, and James has done some great work as a composer and keyboardist. They have sometimes tailed off into the Ooze of Smooth, but their band, featuring drummer Steve Gadd, is hitting the major jazz festival circuit this summer, including the Playboy Jazz Festival in LA and the Blue Note Festival in New York, so here’s hoping for some classic jazz riffs from these guys.
I know I’ve left out a few highlights. There are always acts I haven’t heard of that turn out to be knockouts, and new combinations that enthrall. Add that in with the usual mix of festival food, lovely Monterey weather and the camaraderie of new and old friends, and you’ve got an unforgettable experience.
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