All that jazz and more
The Monterey Jazz Festival is the West Coast equivalent of a jazz Stonehenge—a touchstone that has consistently provided the world with phenomenal acts since its inception in 1958 (featuring Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and others). Now in its 53rd year, nuzzled within the 22 oak-studded acres of the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the MJF has created a heavy weekend that defies and expands the notion of a jazz festival with a musical smorgasbord of auditory delights. For this year’s incarnation of the fest, 500 artists will share eight stages starting Friday night, Sept. 17 through Sunday night, Sept. 19.
There will be documentaries, art exhibits, insightful daises and discourse to mull over, but the bevy of big headliners will be hard to miss. Sunday night serves up Harry Connick Jr. crooning the smoothest jazz vocals since Sinatra laid down tracks, and with an expected 43,000 fans attending, listeners will want to secure a spot early in order to be close to the heartthrob.
For the purists in attendance, American jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove brings his 19-piece band to the outdoor stage—reigniting the 21st century era of Big Band jazz. Belting out the classics alongside Hargrove will be Italian diva, Roberta Gambarini—virtuosic, unwavering and known for following in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald.
Not all headliners arrive with a steady backing band. International act Angelique Kidjo from the West Coast of Africa will be sharing her bill with an array of jazz greats put together just for the MJF. This spontaneous combining of talent is what makes the MJF so unique and has been applauded by devotees for more than half a century. Bringing the art of improvisation to the apex, legendary jazz icon Chick Corea debuts his most recent avant-garde conglomeration of musically like-minded souls.
Since its birth, the MJF has showcased a spectrum of musical expressions—and this year the rainbow adds a few new colors. The predecessors of the Buena Vista Social Club—Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro—bring the music of Cuba to the Central Coast. Les Nubians, a mixture of Vogue magazine funneled through an increasingly tight mixture of African sounds with hip-hop sensibility, will get the groove simmering. Texan Delbert McClinton, on the other hand, manifests the real roots American twang to the festivities to prove that even jazz fans like to shuffle their boots.
Another brave and unique MJF staple is its history of commissioning jazz musicians to compose a piece exclusively for the festival—starting back in the late ’50s when Dave Brubeck, one of the festival’s first acts, was asked to commission a piece. This year, the new work, entitled “Music for Two Quartets,” will be performed by The Kronos Quartet (which stole the show at the recent Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, so expect a lively reception) and the Billy Childs Quartet.
MJF is an educational nonprofit and the annual giving arm contributes heavily to the music programs of local schools, inviting young musicians to play alongside legends and creating scholarships for young protégés to attend the Berklee School of Music. A big part of the message for the MJF is bringing the youth of today in touch with established jazz performers—having the spark of inspiration passed from generation to generation. And for those with children, Sunday is Family Day with a chance to let the kids into the Instrument Petting Zoo and catch Santa Cruz’s own Banana Slug Band bring it all home with environmentally friendly musical songs and comic hijinks.
The 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival is from 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Monterey Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey. Tickets are $35-225. For more info, call (925) 275-9255 or go to montereyjazzfestival.org.