By Michael Katz
Every year I head up to the Monterey Jazz Festival with a battle plan for seeing as much of the three days and over 500 artists as reasonably possible, and every year that plan gets shredded almost from the opening notes. Musicians whom I’d intended to sample (like Gregory Porter last year) keep me riveted for the duration of a set; a soft breeze and a bluesy band at the outdoor Garden Stage finds me hopelessly planted in my lawn chair; a piano trio at the Coffee House Gallery (Bill Carrothers, two years ago) holds me spellbound into the witching hour.
My initial take for MJF 56, coming up next weekend, was that the Arena line-up is so strong I’d be doing less wandering than usual. Certainly Friday night, with Gregory Porter opening the show, followed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck and then the Buena Vista Social Club is all too good to miss – unless I want to catch a little of pianist Uri Caine at the Coffee House or Carmen Lundy at the Night Club. Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano are playing separately on the grounds Friday night, but together Saturday night at the Arena.
Saturday presents lots of conundrums. There’s the traditional blues/roots program that leads off with the Relatives at the Arena, (with a late afternoon encore at the Garden Stage) and the usual collection of funky sounds all afternoon at the Garden. George Benson is the featured afternoon act at the Arena. But a young woman I haven’t heard, baritone player Claire Daly, is doing a Monk program at 2:30 in the Night Club, so I’m already figuring out how to catch most of that, and still see the last half of Benson’s show. Meanwhile, during the break between the Arena Shows, bassist Charnett Moffett will be holding forth, and by 8 PM a flood of talent hits the festival, with the Lovano/Douglas group, Marc Cary, Ravi Coltrane, Craig Taborn and Orrin Evans all performing in various venues at the same time.
Later on that night, after more potential bouncing between Dave Holland, Charlie Hunter, Mary Stallings and others, another dilemma is at hand. Bobby McFerrin is sui generis, and I surely won’t want to miss him. But the Brubeck Brothers, Chris, Daniel and their band, will be performing at the Night Club at about the same time. I saw Chris a few years ago at MJF with his funky blues band Triple Play, as well as with his Dad in the memorable Cannery Row Cantata. He’s a wonderful and spirited performer on bass and trombone, as is Daniel on the drums. Given their Dad’s lasting contributions to MJF, I get the sense that their show Saturday will be a heart stopper.
I issue my annual alert for Sunday: don’t miss the Next Generation Band. This group of all-star high school age kids opens the Arena Show Sunday, and they are a great reason to brave the midday Monterey sun. Joe Lovano will be joining them for a couple of guest solos. The Bob James-David Sanborn group will be anchoring the show, for what figures to be a fun session of funky, bluesy jazz. The “hammock” time between Arena shows is always a perfect occasion to hang out at the Garden Stage. This year Bay Area vocalist Tammy Hall performs between 4 and 5, while the Twin Cities’ Davina and the Vagabonds has the 5:30 – 7 slot. And if you haven’t caught Chicago’s own Judy Roberts with sax player Greg Fishman at one of their eight performances on the Courtyard Stage, check them out between 5 and 5:30.
Whew! We haven’t even talked about the food. About this time, if I haven’t had my ribs and peach cobbler, I’m loading up, to say nothing of a last Margarita. Meanwhile, the Festival will end with a blast. The annual Hammond B-3 showcase has guitarist Anthony Wilson’s Trio featuring Larry Goldings on the organ and drummer Jim Keltner at Dizzy’s Den, followed by MJF favorite Lonnie Smith. Over in the Night Club, altoist Lou Donaldson opens, and vibist Bobby Hutcherson follows with a tribute to the late, great Cedar Walton, who had been scheduled to appear in that slot.
With all that, it’s still hard to pass up the Arena’s final show, with Wayne Shorter celebrating his 80th birthday backed up by his superb quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. There are certain performers who always seem to save their best for Monterey. Diana Krall has had a love affair with MJF, dating back to her knockout debut at MJF 40, and her curtain-lowering show Sunday night promises to keep everyone in their seats until the end.
Sorry, I know I’ve left out more than a few of the MJF 500 +. Find your way up to the Monterey Peninsula and discover it all for yourself.