Monday, November 19, 2007

San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival


This annual Thanksgiving festival has served as the flagship event for the America's Finest Dixieland Jazz Society since 1980, giving birth to monthly concerts, workshops, and an adult jazz camp, among other programs. This year, there are over 30 bands, which won't just be playing traditional jazz, but rockabilly and blues, among other styles. Tickets for this collection of nationwide talent range from $75 for a three-day badge to $85 for a five-day badge.


Headliners: Climax Jazz Band, Grand Dominion Jazz Band, Night Blooming Jazzmen, Lowdown Jazz Band, Buck Creek Jazz Band

The Titanic Jazz Band Performing At Last Year's Festival

Video by tdub1941

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nevilles returning to Jazz Fest

The Neville Brothers will return for their traditional festival closing role at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. The festival will also return to its prior format of presenting seven days of music over two long weekends, April 25-27 and May 1-4, 2008. The two post-Katrina festivals had been cut back to six days.

In an announcement of the 2008 festival highlights, producer Quint Davis said, "The return of Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril Neville to New Orleans and to Jazz Fest is as powerful a statement as possible about the return of our culture to the city. They're back, which means we're back."

The full artist lineup will be announced in January. Today the festival announced only a few names. In addition to the Neville Brothers, country music star and Louisiana native Tim McGraw and New Orleans soul group Maze featuring Frankie Beverly were named as 2008 performers.

The festival also announced its ticket pricing, including introducing a new category of VIP ticket called a Grand Marshall VIP Pass. Individual day passes are $35 per day if purchased before January 23, $40 after that, and with the gate price to be announced. Admission for the added seventh day of the event, Thursday, May 1, is less—$25 early bird and $30 thereafter.

The festival has been offering a special Big Chief VIP package in recent years. It includes access to raised and covered private viewing areas at the two main stages, semiprivate viewing areas at three other stages and a VIP hospitality lounge with beverage service. This year, Big Chief passes are priced at $750 for the first weekend and $800 for the second weekend, or $50 per day more for each with daily reserved parking.

For VIPs who want to get as close to the stagefront as possible, a new ticket option this year is the Grand Marshall VIP Pass, which allows exclusive access to standing room only areas directly in front of the three main stages. Grand Marshall pricing is $450 for the first weekend and $500 for the second weekend, or $50 per day more with reserved parking.

All tickets went on sale today and can be purchased online at www.nojazzfest.com and Ticketmaster, or at the Jazz Fest ticket office at the Louisiana Superdome.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Video: FP reports from Monterey Jazz

Festival Preview's Dan Ruby reports from the grounds of the Monterey Jazz Festival. After the rain let up Saturday morning, MJF musicians and attendees had clear skies for the rest of the 50th anniversary weekend. Among those featured: Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Terence Blanchard, Nnenna Freelon and more.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Jason Moran

There's definitely a method to Jason Moran's ivory-jumping madness, but it's hard to figure out exactly what it is. The pianist, hailed by the New York Times as "one of jazz's greatest new artists," and his ensemble, the Bandwagon, jump from bluesy-numbers to ballads, all marching to some abstract beat, but they keep that secret shrouded under skippy chords and ambushing rhythms, which makes for less boredom, and therefore more listening. Thus, Moran's strategy makes him even more suitable for his exploration of a 1959 concert given the master of planned unexpectedness, Thelonious Monk, at this year's SF Jazz Festival.

Personnel (w/the Bandwagon): Jason Moran (pianist), Nasheet Waits (drums), Tarus Mateen (bass), Marvin Sewell (guitar)

Upcoming: San Francisco Jazz Festival October 17-November 30, Earshot Jazz Festival October 19- November 4

Some Advice From Jason About What It's Like To Be Jazz Musician

Video by SESAC1

Earshot Jazz Festival

October 19- November 4, Seattle WA
Various Venues

The Earshot Jazz Festival has been described as "Seattle's most important annual jazz event," and this year's edition will no doubt add tons of critical weight to that assessment. There will be over 50 performances spread throughout Seattle during the festival's run this year, in addition to films, master classes, panel discussions, and other goodies to go along with the music. It's fine if none of these features seems to be a novel idea considering the fact that we're talking about a jazz festival-- Earshot simply does things bigger and better than about 95% of jazz festivals in the U.S. today.

Headliners: Ahmad Jamal, John Zorn, Cedar Walton, Toots Thielemans, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jean-Michel Pilc

Jay Thomas & The East/West Jazz Alliance Performing At The 2006 Festival

Video by PonyBoyRecords

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Monterey honors its roots in 50th anniversary festival

In the hip bebop jazz world of the 1950s, a new cool jazz culture was forming in California. Musicians like Dave Brubeck and Stan Kenton led bands that embodied the new style out of San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it was somewhere in between--Monterey, Calif.--that became the place most closely identified with that school of jazz.

Opening October 3, 1958, the first Monterey Jazz Festival brought together luminaries from New York like Louis Armstrong and Billy Holiday with Brubeck and others from the West coast. Last week, the festival celebrated 50 years in the same location in a blowout festival that broke attendance records and brought back many old favorites.

Among those who had been at both the first and the fiftiest Monterey festivals were Brubeck, the epitome of West coast jazz, saxophone legend Sonny Rollins, vocalist Ernestine Anderson and comedian Mort Sahl.

For the first time ever, the festival sold out of all arena and grounds tickets before the opening night. The festival reported that 45,000 people attended the three-day event at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, in the same location since the beginning.

The weekend got off to a soggy start, when a rare September rainstorm doused the grounds. Umbrellas went up in the fairgrounds arena, while John McLaughlin and Isaac Delgado carried on. Many fans made for the two main covered venues, The Nightclub, where artists like Jim Hall, Terence Blanchard and Anthony Wilson were playing their first of several festival sets, and Dizzy's Den, where New Orleans night was underway with the great brass band Bonerama and Ivan Nevelle's group Dumpstaphunk.

The excursion to New Orleans was one of several subthemes in the program meant to expand the festival's appeal beyond pure jazz. Saturday afternoon was blues day, with British blues rocker James Hunter, the Otis Taylor Band, and Latin rockers Los Lobos taking over the arena. Sunday had a family day theme with an emphasis on young talent.

On the main stage, the theme was ensemble playing and special collaborations. Guitarist Jim Hall was the featured soloist with the Brubeck Quartet. Kenny Burrell was special guest with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra. Opening the Sunday night program, the MJF All-Stars featured vocalist Nnenna Freelon.

Overshadowed in all the festival highlights was an exuberant set by another jazz legend, Ornette Coleman, playing in an unusual three bass ensemble. That left all the highs for Coleman's saxophone and violin. With the violin, it was an electric swing band, not unlike a Bela Fleck and perfectly accessible.

The two big headliners were Diana Krall on Saturday and Sonny Rollins on Sunday. This was this first time back for Krall in seven years, and one of her first performances since recently having twins. She pleased the crowd with her stylish piano and vocal chops, and with a mini three-song Nat King Cole tribute.

Sonny Rollins closed the festival on Sunday night and he did not disappoint. He's still a hip cat with his shades and beard, and he still delivered that richly lyrical tone from his saxophone that makes him instantly recognizable.

Two special compositions were showcased. The festival's commissioned work was Gerald Wilson's song suite "Monterey Moods," which he performed in the arena Saturday night with his orchestra and special guest Kenny Burrell.

The second, by 2007 MJF artist-in-residence Terence Blanchard, was a moving "Requiem for Katrina," his search for the soul of his home city, performed with his quintet and a jazz chamber orchestra. After the solemn tone of the Katrina suite, I was glad Blanchard ended with an upbeat "Congo Square," celebrating the birth of jazz in New Orleans.

The festival introduced several innovations in its layout this year. A new dance tent dubbed Lyons Lounge became the ninth program venue, with DJ Logic and Vinnie Esparza working the turntables. Another new feature named for the festival founder was Lyons Lane with informational displays about the history of the festival.

In addition to lots of great music, the festival included a focus on jazz films and on panel discussions with figures associated with the festival. Comedian Mort Sahl, who emceed in 1957, was featured as in a staged interview format. Filmmakers Clint Eastwood and John Sayles sat on a panel to discuss jazz in movies. Eastwood, who has been associated with MJF for many years, was also honored with the presentation of an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Comedian Mort Sahl returns to Monterey

Mort Sahl was a young comic just breaking through when he emceed part of the first Monterey Jazz Fest in 1957. Over the next years he was a fill-in host on The Tonight Show, a presidential speechwriter in the Kennedy administration, and the host of frequent comedy specials on NBC.

Living in Los Angeles, Sahl was closely associated with the West Coast jazz scene and with jazz greats like Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Paul Desmond, Maynard Ferguson and others.

Sahl, now 80, was back in Monterey last week for the anniversary festival. He emceed the Sunday night program, dropping a few political one-liners but mainly introducing performers including Brubeck and Sonny Rollins. He had more to say Saturday afternoon at a staged Q&A, where he reminisced about musicians and the festival.

He said the real birthplace for the fusion of jazz and comedy was not the festival but a concert two years earlier at the Sunset Auditorium in nearby Carmel CA. When Jimmy Lyons and Ralph Gleason pulled off the first festival, Sahl flew in overnight from Chicago. He recalled that Billy Holiday was there but was "juicing" and was pretty far gone.

"Only Lester Young could talk to her. Lester was so hip, even we couldn't understand him," Sahl said. He also said that he didn't get paid for his 1957 appearance.

Sahl first hooked up with the Kenton band in San Francisco, where he would be playing at the Hungry i and Kenton was on the bandstand at the Blackhawk. Sahl said Stan Kenton was a father to him and that Paul Desmond was his best friend.

"I'm a big band guy. I like construction, with holes for solos," he said.

He had great stories to tell about many of the jazz greats. Artie Shaw advising him never to marry an actress or start a big band. Buddy Rich dropping Lana Turner on the side of the road. He talked about his contemporaries--Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, George Carlin.

He doesn't have much use for most of today's comedians. "They are vulgar because they are not clever," he said.

He also touched on the social and political issues of the day--the blacklists, racial segregation, Vietnam, Nixon. He feels that most people who run for president do not allow themselves to dream, as Kennedy did.

"Listening to jazz reminds you of a time you felt better about your future," he said.

Among other pursuits, Sahl teaches a course about critical thinking at Claremont College and believes that the way to reverse the decline in the culture is to expose young people to honest music. They need to know the difference between jazz and jive, he said.

Observations from Monterey

The 50th Monterey Jazz Festival provided more than great music and a historic vibe, Here are some random observations:

After the week before in Telluride for a virtually all-white blues festival, Monterey served up as integrated an audience as I've seen at any music festival. Jazz is one of the few places in our culture where whites, blacks, Asians and others interact naturally. For that reason alone, let have more jazz festivals.

The festival broke records for attendance, selling out of arena and grounds tickets before the festival started--for a total attendance of 45,000 for the three days of the festival. A lively resale market took place out on Fairgrounds Ave. away from the entry gate. Supply and demand were fairly equal and it seemed like arena tickets could have been had for face value.

Terence Blanchard was everywhere as the artist in residence--with his quintet, the MJF chamber orchestra, the MJF "next generation" orchestra, and the MJF 50th anniversary all-stars. Most moving was his suite of Katrina compositions, "In Time of Need," "The Water" and "Dear Mom."

It's a conundrum. If jazz music is so wonderful, why is it not more recognized by music consumers? In separate panel discussions, Clint Eastwood and Mort Sahl gave the same answer--the decline of the culture, the dumbing down by the media, jazz not getting heard by young audiences.

Maybe it was the anniversary thing, but you came away with the distinct feeling that a generation of great jazzmen is near to dying off and the worry that there will not be players of the same stature to replace them. I pondered this more as I read some of the press clips on display by decade in Lyons Lane. An 1968 article SF Examiner article by jazz writer Philip Elwood expressed that same concern about the relevance of jazz to youth culture. Does the Chronicle even employ a jazz critic today? I doubt it.

As the festival progressed, I heard the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and I took in some of the high school bands being showcased in the Nightclub, which gave some reassurance about young talent coming into the genre. Plus, there were plenty of younger sidemen playing alongside the aging greats in the arena.

Newport wasn't pure and neither was Monterey. To broaden the appeal, Saturday afternoon is blues day. This year, British blues rocker James Hunter, the Otis Taylor Band and Los Lobos played the arena at the Monterey Jazz Festival. That's a lineup that would have made perfect sense a week earlier at Telluride Blues. To me, it didn't really fit on the hallowed stage at Monterey.

It turns out that blues day is one of the innovations by the current festival director, Tim Jackson, who has been in charge since 1992. One insider I talked with said Jackson gets the credit for expanding the audience for the festival. Years ago, there was a battle between "the hard-bop crowd" and those that wanted a more crowd-pleasing lineup. Jackson seems to have accomplished both. You certainly can't fault the jazz bonafides of a lineup with people like Jim Hall, Kenny Barron, Kenny Burrell, Dave Holland, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins. Diana Krall was the perfect Saturday night closer--absolutely accessible but still with solid jazz chops as a pianist and singer.

In the Jazz Theater, a film by Ralph Gleason about the 10th Monterey Jazz Festival was showing. In the film, festival founder Jimmy Lyons talked about the biggest bane for the festival. "We've tried everything but anti-aircraft guns about the airplanes," he said. The approach for landing planes to Monterey Airport is directly overhead the fairgrounds. Festival veterans don't notice it anymore.

After 50 years, you would expect a festival to have developed a full program of services, and Monterey did not disappoint. Almost any festival amenity that you can think of is offered here. Everything runs smoothly, even when thrown a curve like a rain-drenched opening night. The one thing I would ding them on is the need for a better portable schedule.

Because the day and night sessions are sold separately, the program pretty much shuts down for a few hours between 6 and 8 pm. For people staying all day, that makes for a relaxed dinner hour (with lots of food choices) or for checking out the crafts and other booths in the midway. It was too relaxed for me. I would have liked live music on at least one stage at 6 pm.

Festival presenting sponsor Verizon, which has been associated with MJF for many years, was said to have invested $3 million in the event. Overall its marketing was perfectly tasteful. Other brands that sponsored some part of the festival included Bose, Jet Blue, Yamaha, Korbel, Macy's and Borders. For example, Borders sponsored the artist signing booth, as it also did last month at Newport. Bose got substantial tent real estate for a showcase of its products, so it must have really shelled out for that. CNN was broadcasting live reports from an elaborate stage set in its booth. iTunes distributed cards with a download code for a 15-song sampling of festival artists.

50 years in America

Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of weeks early. The first festival opened on October 3, 1957 and featured Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry James and many more. Three musicians who were featured at the first festival--Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, and Ernestine Anderson--were also on hand this year for the big anniversary.

The next day, the Soviet Union shocked the world by launching Sputnik, the first manmade satellite in Earth orbit. It had been the week before, September 25, when Eisenhower sent federal troops to desegregate a school in Little Rock. A week before that, the New York Times had reviewed Kerouac's On the Road and called it a great work of art. A week following the festival, Dodger owner Walter O'Malley would break hearts in Brooklyn in announcing the team's move to Los Angeles.

In some ways, 50 years is a long time. In others, just yesterday.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monterey Jazz Festival, Day 1-- Extravagant Expectations Not Met

(Credit: Fast Atmosphere)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which is probably the foremost jazz performance event in the U.S. Black and white video clips of a young Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker playing to a packed Monterey County Fairgrounds Arena are right up there with those clips of Louis Armstrong in Paris Blues and the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show as one of the classic motion picture artifacts in the history of American music.

There’s a catch to all the hype, though: Monterey’s reputation has been built up so much over the years that one can lose track of the fact that a trip to the festival, like any other festival experience, will also have its share of drawbacks.

First of all, the venue just doesn’t scream “You’re walking on sacred ground, here!” like one might think it would. It might just be an attempt toward modesty on the part of the Monterey County Fair (owners of the property), but it looks like the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which has played host to not just the Monterey Jazz Festival but also the equally renowned Monterey Pop Festival, has not been renovated since it was first established in 1937. The archaic design of the grounds shoves the Arena (the main venue) off to the left of the main entrance and squeezes the rest of the eight venues, as well as vending booths and other facilities, to the point of a breathing-room-only situation for the huge mass of fans that came for the 50th anniversary festival.

Second, there was a factor that was beyond any human control-- the rain. With the first occurrence of rain at the festival since 1994, there wasn’t only a constant distraction from the enjoyment of the acts playing in the outdoor Gardent Stage and Arena, but also from the acts playing inside halls such as Dizzy's Den and the Night Club, as more and more people scrambled in to simply get inside and avoid having to face the elements any longer.

Third, the music, at least on Friday, just didn’t have the magnificent quality that might be expected by those who would decide to journey to Monterey. Sure, it’s not as if the Festival planned a night full of outfits fresh from their first few open-mic night gigs, but at the same time, there weren’t any “Gee-Whiz!!” moments. The brass extravaganza outfit Bonerama came the closest out of anybody to providing such moments, with their funky interpretation of “Crosstown Traffic” and a section in which frontman Mark Mullins filtered his trombone through a wah-wah pedal, but it wasn’t something likely to be remembered for the rest of one's life.

Likewise, the Berklee-Monterey Quartet, composed of a group of students from the Berklee College of Music, had top-notch musicianship going for them, but there just wasn’t anything noteworthy about their set besides that. Same went for John McLaughlin and his Fourth Dimension band. McLaughlin spent the whole time he was on stage playing what seemed to be bits and pieces from some “Flight Of The Bumblebee”-esque melody template, and not doing much else. No one needs to be reminded that McLaughlin has phenomenal technique, and there wasn’t nearly as much excitement, interest or awe inspired from watching his set on Friday as there would be from witnessing revisiting of his material from the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Guitar Trio (w/ Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola) days.

While the type of audience that the Festival caters to might have an inclination towards musicianship a bit more than other musical demographics, there was nevertheless a complete lack of events on Friday night that would really go on to stick in the mind. Overall, the result from Monterey's 50th first night was a net positive, but it just did not equate to the near-religious experience that one might think it would.

-- By Ross Moody

Monday, September 24, 2007

Berklee makes Eastwood’s day at MJF

By Jessica Bailiff

This year not only marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, but it also marked an important event for a longtime member of the festival board. Serving as an active board member since 1992, Clint Eastwood was awarded an honorary doctorate of music by the Berklee College of Music.

Although known for his exquisite acting and directing skills, Eastwood, also a pianist, has been involved in the jazz music scene for years. He has worked to bring jazz to the forefront of contemporary films by inserting jazz tunes and some of his own compositions into the soundtracks of his movies.

Roger Brown, president of Berklee College of Music, along with Diana Krall, who would perform later that night, presented Eastwood with the award on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Other artists who have received the honorary doctorate of music from Berklee include Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Marian McPartland, and Sonny Rollins. Eastwood graciously accepted the award stating, “It’s one of the great honors I’ll cherish in this lifetime.”

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

50th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival- Yes, It's Been That Long

About three weeks from this article's publication, the 2007 edition of what is now the longest running jazz festival in the world will commence on the same famed Monterey Fairgrounds site that has been played by so many important, creative, maverick               [Photo Credit: CNN]

artists in the worlds of jazz and popular music. That the Monterey Jazz Festival is a major fest is no grand revelation, of course, but it's fairly shocking to realize that the festival has gone through a half-century without stopping.                                                                                                                                                                                                  

It also seems sensible to note that there's never been any ringleader swiping away the cash from merchandise and ticket sales, either. The festival's been a non-profit since Day One, donating its proceeds to musical education around the Monterey and Salinas Valley areas and hosting local, as well as international jazz education programs for some time as well. 

So there are some of the constants of Monterey's existence.  It should also be noted, while we're on the subject of consistency, that what makes the 50th annual event something to look forward to isn't one particular headliner, set, or any other specific detail. Rather, what really makes it rip this year is the fact that the festival is just doing what it does best, which would be taking top-tier performers from the Swing, free jazz, bebop, and West Coast cool pantheons and making them available for an audience of both connoisseurs and novices over three days, for a price that could be paid by more than just the Gentry. 

And just to clear things up, the list of styles mentioned above have not dictated the programming of this year's festival with an iron fist, with fusion maestro John McGlaughlin and rockers Los Lobos are headlining, but Monterey is also still an actual jazz festival this year, with fans being able to see veritable Monterey mascot Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Diana Krall, among others during the four-day event.

Tickets for the festival, which runs from September 21-23, can range from $35 for a one-day "Grounds" ticket, which gets you all the performers except those in the festival's main Arena stage, to a $210 three-day package to the Arena and all other stages, though the latter is sold out.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Newport Jazz dizzy with tributes in satisfying Sunday program

By kindofblue

How much longer can the jazz festival business stay viable if
festival bills remain dominated by tributes to dead musicians, and
by blues and R&B acts whose connection to jazz is tenuous at best?

That was the big-picture question that kept floating in and out of
my mind on Sunday, the second and last day of this year’s Newport
Jazz Festival. (Technically it was the third day, but I’ve always
thought of the two full days at Fort Adams State Park as the actual
festival, and the Friday-night concert that begins the festivities
as a kind of extra added attraction.) Happily, the music was for the
most part so good that I was not tempted to waste a lot of time
contemplating the answer.

Re-imagining Dizzy
So while there may or may not have been any deep significance to the
fact that Sunday’s program opened with tribute concerts on all three
stages at the same time — to Dizzy Gillespie on the main stage,
Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the Pavilion Stage, and Stan Getz and Antonio
Carlos Jobim on the Waterside Stage — ultimately what mattered most to me was the music, period. And while I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed any of the other two sets, I know my Significant Other and I were wise to head straight for the main stage (we arrived early this time) and settle in to dig the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, conducted by Slide Hampton, for a full hour.

It isn’t entirely accurate to call the Gillespie ensemble a tribute
band. Most of the arrangements they played were not the original
ones from the Gillespie big-band book but entirely new ones, most of
them written by their excellent drummer, Dennis Mackrel. In other
words, they were not re-creating Gillespie’s music; they were
re-imagining it, and brilliantly.

[Photo: Roy Hargrove. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


The band was stocked with great soloists — so many that it was
almost an embarrassment of riches. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut had only
one solo, the great tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath only two; the
immortal James Moody had one tenor solo and one scat-singing
feature. Appropriately, the only soloist who was given a substantial
amount of space was a trumpet player, Roy Hargrove, and he did
Gillespie’s memory proud without in any way aping his style. Has
anyone else noticed that Hargrove has slowly emerged as perhaps the
most inventive and exciting trumpeter in jazz today?

A special guest on one number (his own “I Remember Dizzy”) was the
Cuban-born saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who
displayed his customary impeccable chops and irrepressible humor —
speaking of Gillespie’s love for Latin American music, he praised
him for championing of “the music of illegal immigrants.”

D’Rivera’s own ensemble followed the Gillespie band on
the main stage, although I caught only a brief snatch of his set
before rushing over to the Pavilion Stage to hear the superb bassist
Ron Carter, with Russell Malone on guitar and Mulgrew Miller on
piano. D’Rivera’s set, which ended just before 2 P.M., was the last
bona fide jazz to be heard on the main stage all day (more on that
in a minute).

The Carter trio, which I had also heard at Carnegie Hall in June,
was, as expected, polished, lyrical, and maybe just a shade too
quiet for my taste. It’s not coincidental that the centerpiece of
their set was “The Golden Striker,” a John Lewis composition that
was also a mainstay of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s repertoire:
Carter’s trio (one of at least two working groups he leads at the
moment) is very much in the genteel, understated tradition of the
MJQ. That’s a mixed blessing as far as I’m concerned — a little bit
of genteel and understated goes a long way — but there’s no denying
that Carter, Malone, and Miller are remarkable musicians, that they
work remarkably well together, and that they cast a most pleasant
spell on this sunny Rhode Island afternoon.

After that, I shuttled back and forth between the Pavilion Stage,
where Luciana Souza, backed by a first-rate band, sang a somewhat
bizarre blend of Brazilian tunes and Brazilianized versions of James
Taylor and Joni Mitchell compositions; the Waterside Stage, where
bassist Ben Allison led a somewhat frantic quartet through a program
of mostly original music; and the press tent, where I grabbed some
much-needed shade and watched Ron Carter hold court and for some
reason field as many questions about politics as about music. (Why,
he wondered, is John Conyers of Michigan the only member of the
Congressional Black Caucus who has ever been seen at a jazz
nightclub or concert?) In the process I missed Susan Tedeschi’s set
on the main stage, which didn’t break my heart — I’m not a fan — but
my S.O. and I were sure to get back to our lawn chairs in time to
see Al Green.

R&B closers
Are we hard-core jazz fans? Absolutely. Are we bothered by the fact
that, of the five acts on the main stage on Sunday, the last three —
Tedeschi (a last-minute replacement for Etta James, who was ill),
Green, and B.B. King — were not jazz artists? Not really. I mean,
who doesn’t love Al Green? And if booking him is what it takes to
sell enough tickets to keep the Newport festival profitable — well,
why not? He may not be jazz, but he’s awesome.

[Photo: Al Green. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


Of course, he’s also well past his prime, and he can’t quite hit all
those gorgeous high notes anymore. But he’s still charming, still
sexy, his band was tight, and his old hits sounded as exquisite as
ever. A notoriously erratic performer, Green bitched a little bit
about the stage being too far away from the audience, with no
stairway or ramp to allow him to walk down and mingle with the fans. But for the most part he stayed focused and gave the ecstatic crowd— announced at 7,600, one of the highest Newport jazz turnouts in some time — exactly what they came for.

The same can be said for B.B. King, the festival headliner, as long
as you allow for the fact that he’s 81 years old (as he reminded the
audience, over and over) and just not physically capable of
delivering the kind of show he once did. He stayed seated; his
guitar solos, while characteristically stinging, were never longer
than a chorus or two; and he spent more time telling jokes and
stories (all of them delightful) than singing. But so what? He’s
B.B. King, for God’s sake; if he hasn’t earned the right to take it
easy, no one has. His set wasn’t a particularly explosive way to end
a very satisfying Newport Jazz Festival, but it left the two of us
(and, as far as I could tell, everyone else) with big smiles on our
faces.

[Photo: BB King. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


Oh, and one more thing: As you may have heard, Chevy Chase, former
funnyman and alleged amateur jazz pianist, was the master of
ceremonies on the main stage all day Saturday and Sunday. I have no
idea why.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Monk is the theme on Saturday at Newport Jazz

By kindofblue

My Significant Other and I have been going to the Newport Jazz
Festival for almost a decade now, and while some years have been
better than others, we have never been disappointed — especially
when the weather cooperates, which it did this year, magnificently.
The sun shone brightly throughout the weekend, with the temperatures hovering around the mid-eighties. And for the most part, the music shone brightly, too.

Actually, our Newport experience this year did begin with a small
dose of disappointment: caught in traffic, we arrived on Saturday
afternoon too late to catch even the tail end of Joshua Redman’s
set, which we had been looking forward to. (I don’t understand why
an artist of Redman’s stature was stuck in the 11:30 A.M. slot — but
hey, I guess SOMEBODY’S gotta do it.)

On Friday night we had congratulated ourselves for having had the
good sense not to drive up for the opening concert, by Dianne Reeves
and the Count Basie Orchestra with Nnenna Frelon — not that we were
happy about missing the music, but the entire concert, outdoors at
the International Tennis Hall of Fame, took place in a drenching
rainstorm. By Saturday morning the rain was gone, which may help
explain the traffic on the way to Newport and the surprisingly large
crowd once we got there.

By my unofficial estimate, this was the best Newport Jazz Festival
turnout since the star-studded 50th anniversary three years ago, and
the 2004 crowd was the biggest since we started going at the turn of
the millennium. Is jazz making yet another comeback? We anticipated
a big crowd for Sunday, with B.B. King and Al Green on the bill, but
Sunday’s lineup was pretty much all “pure” jazz, and the people
turned out in droves. Were they drawn by the music, the weather, or
both?

Maybe a substantial portion of the crowd was there to see Bruce
Hornsby — yes, Bruce Hornsby — who, while he hasn’t been on the
charts in two decades or so, is no doubt fondly remembered by some
(though not by me) for his string of middle-of-the-road pop hits. He
wasn’t at Newport to sing his hits, though, but to demonstrate his
chops as a jazz pianist. And while anyone with a modicum of
knowledge and skill could probably sound good with the rhythm
section Hornsby recruited — Christian McBride on bass and Jack
DeJohnette on drums — it turns out that he isn’t half bad as a jazz
pianist. He played some interesting harmonies, he displayed a
playful sense of rhythm, and his technique is solid. The only
trouble is that he’s nothing special.

[Photo: De Johnette, McBride and Hornsby in the press tent. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


At a press conference after the set, Hornsby explained somewhat
defensively that he had been a jazz major in college (whatever that
means), and DeJohnette claimed that when he played tracks by the
trio for other musicians and asked them to guess who the pianist
was, they tossed out first-tier names like Cedar Walton and Kenny
Barron. If that’s true, I don’t know what those people were
thinking; Hornsby is pretty good, but he’s not THAT good.

After listening to a few numbers by Hornsby and company, we hurried
over to the Waterside Stage to see a true original, the great South
African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. His hour-long solo set, with nary
a pause between numbers — in effect an impromptu suite — was
absolutely mesmerizing, easily the highlight of the festival for me.
The chance to hear a master like Ibrahim up close, weaving his spell
in the open air, on the water, surrounded by rapt listeners, is what
jazz festivals are all about.

[Photo: Abdullah Ibrahim. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


Only after the fact did something funny occur to me. Ibrahim, as he
always does, included a few snatches of Thelonious Monk’s music in
his set. (And in a sense anything Ibrahim plays, given his
percussive approach and his borderline-dissonant harmonies, is in
part a tribute to Monk, as well as to Duke Ellington.) Hornsby had
played a Monk tune as well: “Straight, No Chaser,” rendered with a nice New Orleans R&B groove. And directly competing with Hornsby and Ibrahim, over on the Pavilion Stage, was a septet led by Monk’s former drummer Ben Riley playing an entire set of Monk’s music (which, unfortunately, we missed). In other words, Monk was present in one form or another on all three Newport stages simultaneously.

In fact, as the weekend wore on, I began to notice that a lot of the
performers were playing Monk’s music. Monk may be displacing
Ellington as the jazz composer whose stuff everyone feels obligated
to play, whether as a tribute or a badge of hipness or just because
they’re great tunes.

Chico Hamilton, though, was old-school enough to include an
Ellington medley in his set (although, oddly, he prefaced it by
saying something like “Now we’re going to play a little Ellington —
DUKE Ellington,” as though he was afraid we weren’t going to know
which Ellington he meant). At 85, Hamilton has lost a step or two
behind the drums, but he knows how to pace himself, he can still
swing, and as always he surrounded himself with talented young
musicians who kept things lively.

[Photo: Chico Hamilton. ©2007 Irene Trudel]


Interestingly, Hamilton was on the Pavilion Stage at the same time
that Dave Brubeck, who is 86, was on the main stage. And Hamilton’s
group was directly followed by an ensemble conducted by Gunther
Schuller, who is 81, playing the music of Charles Mingus, who is
dead.

It was a little unsettling to realize how much of the music
presented at Newport this year was played either in tribute to a
dead master (in addition to Monk and Mingus on Saturday there was
Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos
Jobim, and Bill Evans on Sunday) or by musicians who, realistically
speaking, we can’t expect to hang around all that much longer. I’d
rather not think about what that might mean for the future of the
music.

On a more cheerful note — and I say this even though their
repertoire included a piece called “The Chill of Death” — the
so-called Mingus Orchestra (not really an orchestra at all but a
10-piece jazz band with some unusual instrumentation, including
French horn and bassoon) was extraordinary, performing a program of
some of Mingus’s most difficult music and making it sound easy.
Schuller’s introductions tended to be a bit long-winded, but he did
help put the music in historical perspective. Mingus’s music is of
course perfectly capable of standing on its own. But it is worth
knowing, for example, that he wrote the damnably complex “Half-Mast Inhibition” when he was all of 17 years old.

On this glorious Saturday we also managed to catch a most impressive
set by the pianist and composer Kenny Werner, finally coming into
his own after three decades in the business, with a magnificent
quintet including Chris Potter on tenor saxophone and Randy Brecker
on trumpet. And we finished the day with a somewhat less impressive
set by Branford Marsalis on the main stage. Workmanlike but noisy,
Marsalis’s performance was notable mostly for one very beautiful
ballad on which he played soprano sax — and for the fact that he,
too, played a Monk tune, in this case “Rhythm-a-ning.”

We missed a few people we would have loved to see, chief among them the great trombonist Roswell Rudd. But when there’s good music on three stages all day long, you have to make choices. We ended up pretty happy with the ones we made, and eager to come back for more on Sunday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Scenes From The San Jose Jazz Festival

FP took a trip down to downtown San Jose to catch the 18th edition of the San Jose Jazz Festival. Much like the previous years, the festival was sponsored by moneybags galore (one stage being brought to you by Adobe), and an orgy of kettle corn stands, bead shops, and kabob booths littered the 13 square downtown blocks dedicated to the festival.

This all helped pay for a bill of more than 50 acts over the festival's 3 days for only $15. And there weren't any slouches performing either. Whether it was the rhythmic agility of Conjunto Karabali, the visceral lead lines of bluesman J.C. Smith, or the chromatic freakouts of trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos under the cool grooves of Larry Vukovich and Chuck McPherson, what you got was tight, good grooves that either made you dance, or think. Even the Folsom High School Big Band was in top form.

Here are some shots taken from FP's time at the festival:
Two dancers enjoying the beat of Karabali.

J.C. Smith searches for the perfrect note.

Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers gets into the groove.

Trumpeter Gilbert Castellano, in the middle of a marathon solo.

The Realistic Orchestra kicks off their set.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Susan Tedeschi replaces Etta James at JVC Jazz Festival- Newport


The JVC Jazz Festival-Newport, running August 10-12, has just added blues singer/ guitarist Susan Tedeschi to the lineup of the final day of the festival, replacing Etta James. James, who just canceled her entire East coast tour due to sickness, will be missed among many fans. However, Tedeschi's eclectic and expressive songwriting and vocal and instrumental talent will make for a more-than-descent replacement. The festival will be held at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Coffee-table book celebrates Monterey Jazz

As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the Monterey Jazz Festival has released a coffee-table book of posters, programs and photographs dating back to the first festival in 1958. The Art of Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival/50 Years features reproductions of posters by such artists and designers as Earl Newman, Eldon Dedini, Batista Moon Studios, Judy Anderson, Ron Grauer, Harry Briggs, Jeeun Lee and the book’s designer, Jerry Takigawa.

The book includes a foreword by noted festival supporter and filmmaker Clint Eastwood, plus essays on the history of the festival by music and culture writers Keith and Kent Zimmerman. It also includes historical and contemporary photographs of the many jazz greats who have played the festival.

The 142-page book is available for pre-order at the MJF website and will be available at bookstores across the country beginning July 31. This year's festival, which will include various events commerating the 50-year milestone, takes place September 21-23 at the Monterey Fairgrounds in Monterey CA.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ron Carter celebrates 70th with all-star ensembles

Photo: Ron Carter in 2005.

By kindofblue

It’s a little unfair to compare Ron Carter’s 70th-birthday JVC Jazz Festival concert, June 27 at Carnegie Hall, to Lee Konitz’s 80th-birthday fete two nights earlier. (And by the way, why did the festival people have such a fetish this year about birthdays — or, more accurately, birth years, since none of the people being so honored were born in June?) Carter and Konitz are very different musicians with different styles and different career arcs. And conceptually the two concerts were apples and oranges, Konitz’s as elaborate and ambitious as Carter’s was simple.

But over the course of the Carter concert, I found it hard to keep myself from thinking, “This is the way to do it.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of personal taste. (Surely it is, since many of the critics disagreed with me.) But for me, Carter’s choice of ensembles to perform with — a trio, a duo and two quartets — made for a much more accessible and enjoyable concert than Konitz’s mélange of small group, string quartet, nonet and big band. And although Carter is a sideman by nature and Konitz a soloist, the economical size of the ensembles allowed Carter to shine more brightly, and more clearly, throughout his concert than Konitz had during his.

Indeed, although Carter is an exemplary bass soloist — surely one of the best in jazz — and not exactly shy about showing it, I appreciated the restraint he showed in not giving himself a solo on every number. His reputation is due at least as much to his sensitivity in a supporting role, and that was always evident at Carnegie.

The concert was not perfect. It could have easily been 20 minutes shorter. The second segment, in which Carter played duets with the great guitarist Jim Hall, had some lovely moments (especially an exquisite “Body and Soul”) but never quite caught fire. And the third segment, which held by far the most promise — it reunited Carter, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, the three surviving members of the great mid-sixties Miles Davis Quintet — was disappointing.

The all-star quartet never quite jelled; Shorter seemed strangely diffident, his solos ending almost as soon as they began; and while Billy Cobham on drums was appropriately (and surprisingly) restrained, he didn’t always give the proceedings the kick they needed. Only when Carter and Hancock played “Stella by Starlight” as an impressionistic duet did things really click.

But the first segment, with Mulgrew Miller on piano and Russell Malone on guitar, was exemplary small-group jazz. And the final set was a most impressive showcase for Carter’s current quartet (Stephen Scott on piano, Payton Crossley on drums and Rolando Morales-Matos on percussion). The mood was so low-key as to border on the sleepy at times, but the music was expertly played and quietly moving. This is definitely a group to watch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Spotlight wanders at Lee Konitz celebration

By kindofblue

My main problem with the JVC Jazz Festival’s 80th-birthday concert for Lee Konitz, June 25 at Zankel Hall (or “Lee Konitz’s Beautiful 80th Birthday Party,” as it was billed — presumably to distinguish it from “Eartha Kitt’s Fabulous 80th Birthday Party,” being held next door at Carnegie), can be expressed succinctly: Not enough Lee Konitz.

Konitz has a sound on alto saxophone like nobody else’s — they used to call it “cool,” but it sure sounds warm to me, and endlessly captivating if a little bit sardonic or quizzical at times. He also has an approach that would be considered daring in a musician half his age: every time he improvises, he really does try to play something he’s never played before. And even though the strain of thinking too hard sometimes manifests itself in solos too abstract to be enjoyable, far more often than not he comes up with truly remarkable musical statements.

[Photo: Konitz at JVC Newport, 2004. © Michael Kurgansky]



So as long as the emphasis was on his playing — as it was in the first of the concert’s four segments, when he performed with just Steve Swallow on bass, Paul Motian on drums, and either Ted Brown or Joe Lovano on tenor sax (his interplay with Lovano was remarkable) — all was right with the world. Things were pretty sublime in the second segment, too, when Konitz was accompanied by a string quartet: in particular, he played the shit out of a jazzed-up version of Debussy, the strings complementing his golden sound sweetly.

Things broke down for me in the second half, when the evening suddenly became more about Ohad Talmor than about Lee Konitz. Mr. Talmor, an adequate saxophonist and clarinetist and an exceptionally creative composer and arranger, has been working with Konitz for years, and he was all over this concert.

After intermission, two ensembles — first a nonet, then an airtight big band imported from Portugal for the occasion — were brought in to play Talmor’s arrangements. (He wrote the arrangements for the string quartet as well.) And though Konitz remained the featured soloist, he kept getting lost in the mix. He is a musician who thrives on simplicity; too often at Zankel, things kept getting too complicated for his (or at least my) comfort.

It’s clear that Lee Konitz admires Ohad Talmor’s work. And to be sure, some of his writing is very clever (and the big band played flawlessly). But for my taste, it was mostly too busy, and often seemed to be getting in Lee’s way.

Lee Konitz is not a musician who courts the spotlight; at his so-called birthday party (his actual 80th birthday isn’t until
October), it would have been nice if more effort had been put into keeping the spotlight on the guest of honor.

Surprises are consistent with Keith Jarrett trio

By kindofblue

Quietly, Keith Jarrett’s so-called Standards Trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, has become one of the longest-lived small groups in jazz history, right up there with the Modern Jazz Quartet: they’ve been together for 24 years. They have some similarities to the MJQ, too, like a tendency to keep the volume low and a fondness for ballads.

But with the MJQ, you pretty much knew what you were going to get every time you went to see them — what the repertoire would be, what the solos would sound like. (I say that with all due respect; sorry if it sounds harsh, but it is a fact.) With Jarrett’s trio, it’s always a surprise. Which, paradoxical as it may sound, is one of the things that make this group so consistent.

I’ve seen this trio many times — including pretty much every one of its appearances at the JVC Jazz Festival — and there have always been at least a few moments in every concert where Jarrett, his sidemen, and/or the trio as a unit played something I had just plain never heard before. Their June 21 JVC concert at Carnegie Hall was full of such moments.


[Photo: Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette take a bow, Perugia, Italy, 2000. © Giancarlo Belfiore]

As many times as I’ve seen them, I had never thought of it quite this way before, but what’s most impressive about Jarrett’s playing in this context is that he places himself totally in the service of the songs (which, this night, included “Yesterdays,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” a few beautiful tunes I didn’t recognize, and a few happy surprises, like the Dave Brubeck novelty “It’s a Raggy Waltz”). He looks deep inside the songs to find what they’re all about, rather than using them as a vehicle for flaunting his technique or hauling out his patented Keith Jarrett Licks.

Sure, he fired off plenty of those million-note runs he’s famous for, but he chose his spots well. And he was just as likely to play a single long, sustained note or chord, or even to play nothing at all and let the silences speak for themselves.

Gary Peacock is a rock. And Jack DeJohnette communicates more power through the discreet use of brushes and mallets than many a bashing drummer does by playing all over the kit. Put the three musicians together, it’s perfection. Or close enough for me, anyway.

Dwelling in the past? Not a problem at Ruby Braff tribute

By kindofblue

Ever since the Newport Jazz Festival moved to New York City in 1972 and became what is now the JVC New York Jazz Festival, detractors have been accusing it of dwelling in the past. They’ve always had a point, and they still do. But considering how much great jazz was produced in the past, dwelling on it is not necessarily a bad thing.

Whether focusing on the past causes the music of the present to get short shrift is an important question, but I’m not going to attempt to answer it now. I come not to get deep but simply to praise the “Salute to Ruby Braff” at the Kaye Playhouse on June 20, one of the first concerts of this year’s festival. It was hot.

Well, not hot in the burn-the-roof-off-this-dump sense. Maybe “warm” is a better word: I didn’t notice anyone breaking a sweat, but they sure did play with a lot of heart. Anyway, it cooked.

Ruby Braff, a trumpeter and cornet player known for his remarkable lyricism and laid-back swing, passed away in 2003. He was himself often accused of dwelling in the past. A contemporary of Parker and Gillespie — actually he was seven years younger than Bird and 10 years younger than Dizzy — he bypassed the beboppers and looked all the way back to Louis Armstrong as a role model. That stance was far less fashionable in the late forties and early fifties, when Braff was first on the scene, than it is now; these days the arguments about which school or style of jazz is “better” have largely subsided, and time has proved that Ruby wasn’t as square as he seemed at the time. He just
happened to love a good melody, written or improvised, more than anything else.


[Photo: Ruby Braff and George Wein, Berlin 1969. © Karlheinz Klüter]

Appropriately, the Kaye Playhouse stage was overflowing with neo-traditionalists equally fond of melody, from Braff’s
contemporaries (including the festival honcho himself, George Wein, who played some decent piano and even sang a little) to former Young Lions, now middle-aged but still leonine, like guitarist Howard Alden (who co-produced the concert), tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton (who became famous in the seventies for being a young guy who supposedly played like Lester Young and Ben Webster, but who these days clearly plays like Scott Hamilton), and especially Warren Vaché, a cornetist solidly in the Braff tradition (which is to say the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and all the other great pre-bebop trumpeters and cornetists).

They all played their asses off, even if they didn’t look to be breaking a sweat. If the evening had few electrifying high points,
it also had few dull spots. I’ll settle for that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Newport Jazz to revisit storied 1957 festival

Fifty years ago this August, the Newport Jazz Festival had one of its most memorable years with performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Count Basie when each was at the heights of their greatness.

This year, the opening evening of the 2007 festival will be given to a unique program, "Newport '57 Revisited: The Legacy of Ella, Billie & Basie," featuring performances by the present day Count Basie Orchestra and two of today's leading jazz vocalists, Dianne Reeves and Nnenna Freelon.

The special concert will kick off a strong program of contemporary jazz, including performances by jazz notables Branford Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Joshua Redmond, Abdullah Ibrahim, Ron Carter and many more.

The festival will also feature big-time talent from blues and R&B with performances by BB King, Al Green, and Etta James.

Continuing the '57 tribute, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band with Slide Hampton, Roberta Gambarini, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Roy Hargrove and others will explore the legacy of the trumpet great.

Other special events include a celebration of Thelonious Monk's 90th birthday and tributes to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, and the bossa nova collaboration of Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The festival runs on four stages August 10-12 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Fort Adams State Park in Newport RI.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Louisiana's culinary heritage also on display at Jazzfest


By Beth Swindle

Jazz is only half the story at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. To me, "Heritage" means FOOD! So as you prep for a trip to N'awlins, plan your weekend menu using the Jazzfest food list. Then, pack up your twelve-pack soft cooler with unopened liters of water — both being allowed on festival grounds — and grab a case of antacid. Louisiana cuisine is notoriously spicy and rich!

Hidden among the po-boys and seafood I found the Holy Grail: spicy Natchitoches meat pies from Mrs. Wheat's Foods. My favorite Louisiana fare. Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714 – a standard tourist attraction. In junior high, I went on a school trip to see antebellum homes and the downtown National Historic Landmark District. For lunch each child received a fried pastry, my first meat pie. It looks like a calzone, but it's not cheesy. It's savory, almost like a fried taco. Full of beef and pork, onions, bell peppers and cayenne. So rich that it's a delicacy I only indulge once a year.

Actually, meat pies are traditionally served in Louisiana at Christmas, much like Texas tamales, because both are time- — and care- — intensive. I learned that when I moved to Austin and wanted to share them with my friends. That first pie I had was fried, and I'm betting Mrs. Wheat's will be too, but I found a way to bake them and reduce some of the ill effects without loosing the flavor. As you prep for Jazzfest, check out Chef John's take on the recipe for meat pies and many other southern standards available at Jazzfest. And make sure that as you laissez les bon temps rouler in the Crescent City, you also amuse your bouche!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Texas Connections at JazzFest

Austin-based blogger Beth Swindle will be covering the New Orleans Heritage & Jazz Festival for Festival Preview. In this post, she previews two JazzFest performers with Texas roots.

According to the pre-festival schedule, a number of Texans (and some folks we've adopted) will make appearances at the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, including two terrific lady piano players with styles as vast as the Texas plains. If you're not yet acquainted with her A-Town (a.k.a. Austin) sound, check out boogie woogie maven Marcia Ball. She plays at 2:10 pm Sunday 29 April at the Acura Stage, just ahead of the godfather of the genre, Jerry Lee Lewis. Her hysterical lyrics and jumpin' keyboards more than offset Marcia's no-frills vocals.

If sultry siren is more your style, a headliner Saturday 28 April is 2004 Record of the Year winner Norah Jones(Gentilly Stage 5:30pm). Though now based in NYC, Norah grew up in Dallas and attended the prestigious music school at the University of North Texas. Jones' delicate demeanor and breathy tone pull you in for a intimate listening experience and a great contrast to the other performers in her timeslot: Ludacris and Rod Stewart. Together these ladies are sure to represent fine specimens of Texas entertainment.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Monterey gears up to celebrate the big 5-0

Staking its claim for the honors of the music festival event of the 2007 season, the Monterey Jazz Festival announced an expansive program to celebrate its 50th anniversary this September.

Besides a stellar lineup of jazz legends, the program features three musicians in special rolls, a grounds expansion including a new historical exhibit and performance venue, publication of a coffee table history book, and launch of a new record label.

The world-renowned event takes place September 21-23, 2007, on the familiar oak-studded grounds of the Monterey (CA) Fairgrounds, the location of the festival since 1958. Tickets went on sale last week at the festival website and by phone at (925) 275-9255.

Headline artists include Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, the Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring guitarist Jim Hall, John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Los Lobos, bluesmen Otis Taylor and James Hunter, Cuban vocalist Issac Delgado and the supergroup of Dave Holland, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chris Potter and Eric Harland.

Three musicians will be featured in special roles and play in multiple configurations. Artist-In-Residence, Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, this year's artist in residence, will appear with the MJF Chamber Orchestra, his own quintet, the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and a group of festival all-stars. Legendary jazz guitarist Jim Hall will be the "showcase artist" and will appear with his own quartet, in duo with pianist Geoff Keezer, and with Dave Brubeck's Quartet. Commission artist Gerald Wilson will premiere "Monterey Moods," his third milestone composition for MJF.

The grounds additions are meant to mark the anniversary and establish a future legacy. A new strolling lane adjacent to the main stage entrance and named for festival founder Jimmy Lyons will feature displays about the festival's history and an autograph booth. At the end of the lane, a new lounge will serve as a venue for DJs spinning jazz, hip-hop and dance music.

A new book, "The Art of Jazz," recapping the 50-year history of the festival will be available for sale on the website before the festival. The new record label, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, will issue historic and new festival recordings.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Riffing in the cathedral

From FP contributing blogger Bill Rehm. Thanks, Bill.

Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell helped get the 8th annual SF Jazz Spring Season off to a soaring start in his Friday night concert in Grace Cathedral atop of Russian Hill in downtown San Francisco. The festival, which takes place in nine different settings over a three month period, is known for its eclectic line-up, unusual concert venues, and wide-ranging jazz performances.

Audience members were advised in advance that there would be a seven-second delay in sound reverberation within the cathedral, and as Frisell walked out into the cavernous cathedral with its vaulted ceilings and an audience sitting on all four sides of the small center stage, he raised his eyes 200 feet upward and whispered, "This is far out."

Frisell said few other words during the 105-minute concert, letting his solo guitar performance to do all the talking. His distinctive sound showed an expansive range of styles, tone, and artistry — with long meandering riffs that had some of us remembering Jerry Garcia riffs from decades gone by. These longer improvisational meanderings were intermixed with a shorter acoustic stylings of songs from Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett.

It was one of the most unusual and memorable concerts I've ever attended, with Bill Frisell's acoustic guitar and Grace Cathedral's acoustic sound teaming up to leave us mesmerized, tantalized, and wanting more.

SF Jazz continues in April with upcoming concerts by Dianne Reeves, Anoushka Shankar, Ben Riley Monk Legacy Band, Freddie Cole and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

For 50th anniversary, Monterey to honor favorite son Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck was there at the beginning, and he'll be the guest of honor this fall as The Monterey Jazz Festival holds the 50th edition of its groundbreaking event.

To kick off the publicity for the Sept. 21-23 event, festival organization will host a Golden Gala Celebration April 7, 2007 at the Tehama Golf Club in Carmel, California. The mayor of Monterey, Chuck Della Salla, has proclaimed that the week of April 8, 2007 will be Dave Brubeck week. Proceeds from the gala will go to support the festival's youth education program.

“Dave Brubeck is one of the reasons that the Monterey Jazz Festival exists,” said MJF General Manager Tim Jackson. “In 1958, Dave’s participation in getting us established and his performance at the first Festival is well-documented. Here we are, 50 years later, and his music still epitomizes the sound of jazz to the world. He is literally one of the icons of the art form. I think [MJF Founder] Jimmy Lyons would be extremely happy and proud to see that Dave is still composing and recording at age 86—and performing to packed houses.” Jackson added, “This award acknowledges the gratitude that the Festival and jazz fans from around the world feel for a man who has transcended the boundaries of what we expect a musician to be.”

Brubeck’s use of polytonality and odd meters set him apart from the rest of the “West Coast Cool” scene, and has been a hallmark of his style since the beginning of his career. One of the most popular albums in jazz was Brubeck’s “Time Out” released in 1960, featuring the iconic songs “Blue Rondo A La Turk” and “Take Five,” one of the most recognized instrumental songs of the 20th century. Jimmy Lyons, as a DJ in San Francisco, became an early champion of Brubeck, regularly playing Dave’s music on his radio show on KNBC. Lyons then booked Dave into Oakland’s Burma Lounge in 1949, Dave’s first influential gig. Brubeck played the first--and last--Monterey Jazz Festivals that Jimmy Lyons booked in 1958 and 1992.

Brubeck has been a longtime favorite at Monterey. 2007 will mark the 14th appearance at the festival for the 86-year-old pianist.

At the gala event, he will receive the festival's first MJF Legends Award. Entertainment at the event will be provided by the Jamie Davis Group, featuring the Bay Area vocalist who also sings with the Count Basie Orchestra. Tickets for the gala are $250. Visit the MJF website for more information.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Monterey Jazz features artist-in-residence Terence Blanchard

The Monterey Jazz Festival, a leader in jazz education since 1958, announced that MJF's 2007 Artist-In-Residence, Terence Blanchard, will play a special concert with his Quintet at the historic Golden State Theatre in Downtown Monterey on Thursday, March 22 at 8:00 PM.

Tickets go on sale on February 20th and are available through the MJF website, www.montereyjazzfestival.org or by calling the MJF Ticket Office at 925-275-9255. Tickets are priced at $30 for General Admission, $45 for Premium General Admission and $75 for Gold Circle Admission, which includes an after-concert reception with the Grammy Award winning artist.

The concert kicks off the 3rd Annual Next Generation Festival, which is sponsored by MJF. The weekend-long event is an expansion of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Annual National High School Jazz Competition, now in its 37th year. Featuring more than forty groups from across the nation, the top big bands, combos and vocal ensembles will win cash awards and an invitation to perform at the 50th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival presented by Verizon, September 21-23, 2007. Auditions will also be held for chairs in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, which tours internationally and is a featured ensemble on the Festival's Sunday afternoon Arena/Lyons Stage.

Blanchard was named as the 2007 MJF Artist-In-Residence last fall, and has been a committed supporter of jazz education throughout his career. Terence was one of the fire-tempered “Young Lions” of the early 80s, and has been on the cutting edge of the resurgence of hard-bop and other modern jazz styles for his entire adult life. As one of his generation’s most artistically mature and innovative artists, Blanchard will be thoroughly engaged with the Monterey community in 2007. He will perform with his own group on the stage of the newly renovated and historic Golden State Theatre, act as a judge during the MJF's 37th Annual National High School Jazz Competition, mentor students at the MJF Summer Jazz Camp and perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival presented by Verizon, September 21-23, 2007.

"We are very excited to feature Terence this year as our Artist-In-Residence,” says Tim Jackson, MJF’s General Manager and Artistic Director. “His artistry, breadth of experience and ability to communicate will make this a residency worth remembering for our community and for our young students. We are also pleased to present our first concert at the beautiful Golden State Theatre in downtown Monterey and hope that this will be the first of many MJF musical moments at this historic facility."

Featured in Terence’s band will be some of the most talented new stars on the jazz scene: Brice Winston on saxophone; Fabian Almazan on piano; Derrick Hodge on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Winston’s work includes membership in Terence’s regular band, and he is a featured musician and soloist on numerous soundtracks by Terence as well. Fabian Almazan, a Cuban native and recent graduate from the Manhattan School of Music, is poised to be one of the leading pianists of his generation. Derrick Hodge and Kendrick Scott are both members of Terence’s Flow group, have contributed to Blanchard’s recent soundtracks, and have gigged or recorded with Donald Byrd, Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, Mulgrew Miller, Kanye West, Mos Def, David Sanborn, and many others.

The Golden State Theatre is located at 417 Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, California, and has been recently restored to its stately and opulent 1926 glory, with beautiful frescos, gilded details and stained glass lighting.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

FP comments on The Festival Network

The plans of the newly formed Festival Network to create a large portfolio of "best of breed" festivals that takes advantage of economies of scale marks a important milestone in the development of the music festival industry.

It also raises a possible cause for concern that a business that has been largely characterized by small operators motivated by their love of the music could be moving in the direction of corporate management that is in it for the money.

I don't think that's the case with The Festival Network. My interviews this week with CEO Chris Shields and George Wein, chairman of the company's Festival Productions division, revealed an seemingly sincere concern for preserving the joys of the festival-going experience (see related posts).

Shields spoke convincingly of his intention to keep commercial sponsorship to an "appropriate" level. For example, he said that new events produced by the company would be less likely to be named for a corporate sponsor, moving in the opposite direction from several of the company's existing events that are named for a Japanese electronics manufacturer and an all-American purveyor of deep-fried dough.

While some festival attendees might prefer an entirely corporate-free zone at their favorite events, I'm not in that camp. The income generated by corporate sponsorship is a major factor in improving the quality of production and keeping ticket prices affordable. Those are things that all festival-goers should appreciate.

On the other hand, I've definitely seen festivals that go too far in allowing the intrusion of corporate marketing to affect the culture of the festival. If we want to see commercial logos festooning every part of an event, we'd go to NASCAR.

And while there is good reason to hope that The Festival Network will tread lightly as it applies increased business discipline to the festival management business, it may help to open the door for other companies who would have fewer scruples about exploiting the community to make a buck.

Thankfully, mom and pop festivals run purely for the love of presenting great music to an appreciative audience are always going to be with us. But it seems inevitable that big companies producing multiple festivals is a trend that is going to accelerate, and especially at the highest profile events.

We'll keep an eye on this issue in the festival seasons ahead and continue advocating for an ethic of festival management where the commerce serves the art and not the other way around.

George Wein reflects on 50 years in the festival business

As George Wein, the father of the modern music festival, moves on to a new chapter in his storied career, he paused to reflect on his accomplishments in an interview with Festival Preview.

Wein said he started off as a jazz pianist in college playing with future jazzmen Max Kaminsky and Pee Wee Russell, and moved to the business side of the business as a young man. "I realized I had a better head for being a promoter than a producer, so I started a club, and then I had a chance to do a festival.

"I didn't know anything about festivals at the time. Other than county fairs, there was nothing like it at the time. I knew one thing--that i wanted to hear as much jazz as i could all the time."

He said he wanted to duplicate the experience of jazz listening one could get by wandering all night from club to club on 52nd Street in New York. "That's what I tried to do when I put Newport together for the first time, and all these years later, that is still what I am doing."

As festivals became established and proliferated, they began to have an important impact on tourism, on raising awareness for the music, and creating work for musicians. They also have had a great influence on music education, he said.

"I don't like to claim credit for [the impacts of festivals] except it all went on in relationship to what we were doing. On the other hand, these things would have happened anyway. If I hadn't created a festival, someone else would have. It is just that I happened to have the opportunity to do it the first time."

Jazz festivals were also a huge hit in Europe in the '50s and '60s. Wein recalled bringing jazz tours to Europe featuring greats like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Sarah Vaughan. "We would go from London to Amsterdam to Brussels to Copenhagen to Stockholm to Berlin, literally holding a festival in every major city in Europe. Those were incredible days," he said.

Wein's 2003 autobiography Myself Among Othersrecounts his many memories from his long career.

"I wrote the book to catalog some of these things and make them a part of the history, but it's what you are doing now that counts. And I hope to still be doing things for the next few years," he said.

Looking ahead
At 81, Wein has visions of expanding the business, creating new festivals and opening new markets. But he recognized that at his stage of life, he needed a partner with deep pockets.

He was impressed with the sincerity and vision of Chris Shields and Shoreline Media. "These people have money, they are very respectful of my legacy, and they want the legacy to grow. Also, I'm proud enough to feel that they need me and I can help them."

So he is looking forward to new challenges. "Absolutely, there is room for the company to grow. There are areas that need festivals and there are festival concepts that can be created.

"I have been a very blessed person, even surviving all the bad days I've had--and I had a lot. I had riots and I was in debt. As I said in the book, I have never been poor but I've been broke."

After concluding the deal for the sale of his company, that's one experience he probably won't have again.

The Festival Network sets course to open new markets

The new company that emerged from the acquisition by Shoreline Media of George Wein's Festival Productions Inc. intends to launch new festivals in the U.S. and overseas and is also on the lookout for existing festivals to acquire.

"The goal is to unite many best-of-breed festivals under one corporate whole," said Chris Shields, CEO of The Festival Network, in an interview with Festival Preview. "The key factor that we look for is a unique location. Sophisticated programming and the entire festival experience follows from that," he said.

Shields said that Wein began the "festival era" in 1954 with the first Newport Jazz Festival. "By locating the festival in a unique location, Newport, he had something intangible in the name even before he brought in the terrific music."

Festival Productions currently produces a sizable list of major festivals, including the JVC Jazz Festivals, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Essence Festival, and Newport Folk Festival, among others. Under the deal, these will continue to be managed as a division within the new company, headed by Wein and including his existing management team.

In a separate interview (see related item), Wein told Festival Preview that he is impressed with the sincerity and vision of Chris Shields and Shoreline Media. "These people have money, they are very respectful of my legacy, and they want the legacy to grow," he said.

Shields said that loyal patrons of Festival Productions events will see very few changes. "There will be a subtle enhancement of the overall production aesthetic and feel." Besides improving the live experience, such attention to sound, lighting, and stage production will be reflected in the quality of content that is offered for sale in the festival "aftermarket," he added.

Shoreline Media was formed in 2004 by Shields and Joseph Stanislaw, formerly the founder and chief executive of Cambridge Energy Research.

Shields, 36, studied jazz theory at Berklee and began his career as a musician. He has been involved in the festival production for 10 years, including a brief stint working for Wein at Festival Productions and later running his own Nectarfest in Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and directing Bell Atlantic Jazz Festivals in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Shoreline Media has produced musical events for the Olympic Games, and will do so for future Olympics at least until 2012. The Olympics deal is an indicator of the company's interest in tie-ins to sporting events and other entertainment forms. Shields said that the company's main focus would be on music festivals, but noted that sports programming captures more than 60 percent of overall sponsorship dollars.

Combining many festivals under one banner provides economies of scale in production, purchasing and programming and bring advantages in appealing to sponsors, Shields said. The audience for high-end festivals is an attractive demographic for advertisers, especially during a vacation experience when they are looking for new experiences, he added.

Finding a balance
However, the company is especially sensitive to the danger of over-commercializing festivals, "which are really all about the personal experience," Shields said. He said the aim is to keep a delicate balance of "helping corporate brands be appropriately affiliated" without letting branding run amok.

While Festival Productions sold naming rights to some of its events, such as the Dunkin' Donuts Newport Folk Festival, Shields said that new festivals the company would launch "are more likely to emphasize the location of the event in their names."

While giving nothing away as to possible new events, Shields said "there are locations in the U.S. that should have festivals and don't." He also said the company would be active in international markets. As for domestic acquisitions, he said "there are very few we would consider acquiring, but there are some. Talks with several of them have already begun, and we expect to have announcements to make in the coming months."

Such deals might take the form of an acquisition with the existing ownership retained for managing the event. In rare cases, the company might seek to affiliate with an events that don't fit the company's business model, because of their non-profit status, for example.

While Shields is most focused on resort destinations, he says the location model can apply to city festivals as well, especially by finding unusual locations for the concerts. Also, while While Festival Productions' greatest strength has been in jazz, Shields said all kinds of "sophisticated music" would be offered, especially "mergings of different styles. We really appreciate where artists are stretching their limits and playing into other genres."

The Festival Network deal come together in a series of discussions between Shields and Wein beginning in the spring of 2006. As the year went along and Wein became more comfortable that the company would respect his legacy, the talks intensified and were concluded in early January.

Shields said that he is thrilled to be working with Wein again. "George is the man who brought music out of the smoky clubs to these beautiful locations. if you look at the great festivals that have lasted thorught the ages, almost all of them follow the example of George Wein and Newport. We are excited to be his partner, to grow with him and learn from him."