While waiting for my Monterey flight in the Los Angeles Airport, I noticed a familiar person sitting quietly to my left. It was astonishing that the multitalented Quincy Jones was not being harassed by those
sitting near him or walking by.
I went right over and introduced myself. We had a nice chat about the festival and his being honored at the 59th annual Monterey Jazz Festival (Sept. 16-18), “Celebrating Quincy Jones the A&M Years.”
At that point, it was apparent that my first visit to the MJF was going to be one of those walking in space moments.
The following evening, the MJF board of directors hosted their 10th annual Jazz Legends Gala fundraiser at The Inn at Spanish Bay (the only thing missing was the red
carpet and paparazzi).
The filmmaker, actor and jazz man Clint Eastwood presented the Jazz Legends Award to Jones, the 27-time Grammy award winner. He stated, “Quincy’s music is God’s voice.”
Jones humbly accepted the award, noting, “Jazz ain’t going nowhere, and at 83 I feel like I’m just getting started.” He also praised young talented musicians such as Joey Alexander and the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, “who assure us the music will move forward.”
Alexander’s performance with his trio, bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., received a rousing standing ovation. His being only 13 years old was a factor, but his playing of a Thelonious Monk tune and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” impressed the audience.
He has grown since last year and now stands on occasion when the music gets good to him, like Monk. He stated, “Thanks for supporting this music, which is not very easy to play.” Although he
makes it seem effortless.
Sept. 16 was the beginning of the mad jazz festival rush. My mission on the Monterey Fairgrounds was attempt to see more than 115 performances in six venues that included a variety of music from tributes, big bands to piano trios, fusion, straight-ahead jazz, blues and world music along with a string of conversations, films and exhibits.
Seeing all those acts didn’t happen, so here are some highlights. The Jimmy Lyons stage (the largest stage) was filled to capacity on that cold Friday evening with many folks wearing down jackets and others covered with blankets.
They were enthralled by the versatile vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant and Trio, featuring pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers.
Salvant is a daring jazz vocalist, who can engage in a blues and shout song such as “John Henry” and easily move into show tunes such as “Wives and Lovers” and “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty.”
The international bassist Richard Bona took the stage with Mandekan Cubano. The vibes were hot and the horn section was steaming with Cuban reflections.
The evening concluded with the tribute to Quincy Jones, featuring the MJF Orchestra with guest musical director Christian McBride and conductor John Clayton. Their repertoire featured music from Quincy’s three legendary albums “Walking in Space,” “Gula Matari” and “Smackwater Jack.”
They ignited on “Walking in Space,” with the trumpeter Shawn Jones, crazy solos by the saxophonist James Carter, drummer Lewis Nash, pianist Dave Grusin and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., and the amazing harmonica flow on “Brown Ballad” by Gregoire Maret, the outrageous flute of Hubert Laws and lead vocalist Valerie Simpson.
Laws, Simpson and Grusin contributed to these milestone albums, and this time around they displayed that same explosive energy. When Jones closed the show by conducting “Killer Joe” the audience was hysterical, transcended to a higher power that swung their socks off.
As I left the fairgrounds in my summer sweater, it was the music that kept me warm. I had just witnessed one of the best jazz performances ever.
The next day it was 85 degrees and everyone was baking as the dynamite Maceo Parker paid tribute to Ray Charles, featuring the Ray Charles Orchestra and The Raelettes.
The band was hittin’ hard and Maceo, like Charles, had that soul and blues thing down to a science. Parker ran through favorites such as “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “What’d I Say.” If you closed your eyes, it would be easy to
think Charles was singing.
The Garden stage featured the young organist and vocalist Cory Henry with his band, The Funk Apostles. They are a roaring version of Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton and Jimmy Smith. His arrangement of “The Way You Make Me Feel” was highly explosive. His Hammond B-3 swings with
deliberate gospel influences.
The vocalist Somi performed to a standing-room-only crowd in Dizzy’s Den, offering a few originals such as “My Lost Song” and her version of “Four Women,” her story of four African women. Standing ovations were in order for this Harlem resident.
Even the lawn was filled with listeners, who couldn’t get anywhere near the outdoor Garden stage for pianist/composer Joey Alexander. His repertoire ran from John Coltrane’s “Count Down” the title of his latest album (Motema), to Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
Terrie Lyn Carrington’s “The Mosaic Project: Love & Soul” was all-star configuration formed by the noted
drummer/composer. The ensemble featured the pianist Helen Sung and vocalist Lizz Wright, who crafts a touching story similar to Roberta Flack. She later joined Valerie Simpson for the heartfelt spiritual “Walk with Me.” Elena Pinderhughes played flute, Ingrid Jensen played trumpet and Tia Fuller played alto saxophone.
Branford Marsalis the solid bandleader and tenor saxophonist went straight-ahead with some dips and turns along with his longtime quartet and special guest vocalist Kurt Elling, whose deep bass settled like thick honey.
The Manhattan School of Music senior Elena Pinderhughes is blossoming into her own as a flutist and vocalist, as she demonstrated on the Garden stage with her quintet.
The saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his quartet, with keyboardist Jason Linder, played on the outer edge of jazz reality to a packed room of afternoon believers.
Walking the fairgrounds was like being in a cozy town of jazz inhabitants where everyone was into the music, and running into Quincy Jones and Clint Eastwood, who were just as enthusiastic as us mortals about checking out the various venues, made it more special.
The conversation with Jones and Eastwood covered a ton of jazz and film history, with inside tidbits only revealed among friends. The seasoned pianist/composer Stanley Cowell played the Coffee House with his trio, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Billy Drummond. His daughter, a full-time attorney, also sang.
Wayne Shorter, the festival’s “commissioned artist,” and his fearless quartet, with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brain Blade, were joined by the Monterey Jazz Festival Wind Ensemble to premiere his commissioned work “The Unfolding.” It was another journey with Shorter that proved to be a newfound experience in his ever-winding musical enclave.
The saxophonist Kamashi Washington, a native Californian, was in his element as his blazing tenor seemed to have smoke coming from the keys. He has that bold hearty tone similar to Pharoah Sanders.
His large ensemble included the dancer and vocalist Patrese Quinn, trombonist Ronnie Parker, keyboardist and bassist Miles Mosley and two drummers steered straight to the “West Coast Get Down.” Washington featured his father Sonny on flute and sax.
Gregory Porter, the spirited preacher, blended spirituals with jazz and blues into originals such as “No Love Dying Here” or “Poppa Was a Rolling Stone.”
While guitarist Pat Metheny was playing in Lyons Arena, the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio, with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake, were in prophet mode at the nightclub venue.
It was the Rev. Dr. Smith preaching from his Hammond B3 organ from Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” to his soul version of “Wine and Roses.” The doctor received two extended standing ovations, and for an encore he played on his cane.
And just that fast, the Monterey Jazz Festival came to an end. So intoxicating, it is a must for next year.