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Bluesman Buddy, Diz’s Heir Jon, Matriarch Marian Dominate Monterey

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By Taylor Jordan

The only thing cold about the 47th annual Monterey Jazz Festival presented by MCI Sept. 17, 18 and 19 was the weather.

There were a few lukewarm moments - boring Bobby McFerrin, tap-dancing Savion Glover, at-the-wrong-festival-country-and-western-twang-singing Jackie Greene, still strange Don Byron and a lackluster Hammond B-3 organ show.

But the five-concert weekend of the world’s oldest continuously running jazz fest again fortified its status as the third best in the world and No. 1 in the western hemisphere. If you want anything better than Monterey, you got to go to Montreux or North Seas.

Monterey’s reputation revolves around more than the fact it has been staged every year since 1958, without interruption, not even when a few folks were too afraid to come after Sept. 11, 2001. It rests in its consistent presentation of real jazz, not smooth pretenders picked by industry executives with little or no knowledge of music and more interest in sales and profits than quality. It is strengthened by its organizers’ ability to offer a full spectrum of styles within the jazz genre and the best artists to express those distinctive styles. It is enlivened by fans dedicated to the music, humane in their views of the world and its people and appreciative of the atmosphere that includes all cultures, ethnicities and world citizens in a microcosm of what the world should be.

Riding ridiculously high on the musical excellence scale this year were bluesman Buddy Guy who steam heated the packed main arena crowd in a seductive, sizzling set that left the stage and spilled into a joyful audience of gyrating dancers simultaneously shaking hips, clapping hands, snapping fingers and taking photographs; Jon Faddis, trumpet virtuoso and Dizzy Gillespie heir who wowed everyone with high Cs that could pierce a dog’s ears and warmed hearts with his patient interactions with teen players; and Marian McPartland, the queen of jazz piano whose wonderful humor accented peerless performances with her own trio and in dual-piano sets with piano masters Lynne Arriale, Bill Charlap and Jason Moran.

“I came back because I love the music, the people who attend the Monterey Jazz Festival are from all walks of life and we share one thing in common if nothing else,” said Margot Wilson of Phoenix, Ariz. “We’re passionate about jazz. Monterey is very uplifting. Everything's positive. No one complains. It’s like going to a music camp, a great music camp filled with great experiences. It’s also very educational and features kids who are incredibly talented.”

The masters, legends, pioneers and young lions are always prevalent at Monterey. This year was no different.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard presented the commissioned commemorative “A Mood For Dizzy” and with his sextet saxophonist Brice Winston delighted everyone’s ears with the magical additions of Faddis, saxophonist James Moody and trombonist Slide Hampton for a quintessential salute to Monterey favorite son Dizzy Gillespie.

After a bewildering start Saturday afternoon with the misplaced country/western sounds of Jackie Greene, the blues got back on track with Betty Lavette’s rollicking rhythms and vocally dexterous delivery. It was a mystery why Charlie Musselwhite, considered by many to be the best White bluesman for several decades, was on the garden stage and country’s cousin Jackie Greene was on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Bit mistake. Folks rushed out of the main arena to escape Greene and join frolickers having a grand ole time with Musselwhite.

Buddy Guy, living king of Chicago blues, tore up every rail on the blues tracks. His performance is never a surprise - it’s always great. His amazing abilities on guitar, his infectious smile, gravelly and kinda nasty but always playful vocals and the helluva good time he has with an audience and concert comrades made him the main man of the weekend.

No one can escape the blues net he throws out if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Guy’s voice or face. And in case you even considered it, he came off the stage and stomped through a thrilled audience stirring up excitement until it boiled over and burned your heart. If you’ve got blood still flowing in your veins, you cannot escape Guy’s mojo because it’s always working.

“My, my, my,” one woman sighed. “Oh, my,” a man echoed. Guy orchestrates a mutual love society. He loves the audience and it loves him.

Equally endearing, in a quieter, gentler way, was the legendary Marian McPartland, the 86-year-old queen of jazz piano who inherited the title from her best friend, Mary Lou Williams. Her performance was a visual picture of the delightful syndicated radio show she hosts for National Public Radio. Her humor and tasteful manners are as much a part of her act as her incredible piano playing is.

“That tune was brought to you by the Arthritis Foundation,” she quipped after finishing her first number.

Arthritis or not, McPartland plays a melody like no other. Someone whistled to salute her and when she answered with “I love that whistle,” a chorus of whistles joined the single one, bombarding her with a volume of love and drawing a beautiful smile from the queen. Bill Charlap and Jason Moran, who had already won favor for a respective set leading a trio and serving with drum legend Jack DeJohnette as a sizzling sideman better than leader Don Byron Saturday night, and Lynne Arriale individually joined McPartland for exchanging, riveting, melodic, dynamic dueling piano interplay. The matriarch and the tremendous three played everything from ballads to boogie-woogie. It was all good.

Faddis, who was mentored by Dizzy Gillespie from age 15, knows the value of passing on the music. And besides his own impeccable style on Blanchard’s set, he spent the weekend sharing knowledge and helping young musicians.

Faddis and saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman joined violin virtuoso Regina Carter in duties as artists-in-residence when legendary trumpeter Clark Terry and saxophonist Frank Wess fell ill and were hospitalized. His nurturing didn’t end on the stage and in rehearsals with Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Jazz Band. He gave teen musicians his email address to communicate with him, took the entire al-star trumpet section to his hotel room for three hours of extra help and even stopped in spots all over the Monterey County fairgrounds to teach technique, answer questions, sign autographs and just listen to the talented teens.

His willingness to share his experiences gave these young musicians an experience they’ll never forget.

The only sour note of the festival came from Chaka Khan who obviously believes her own press releases a bit too much. No one was allowed to photograph her, broadcast her set or even be in the backstage area where she was. her antics on stage - slurred speech, incomplete sentences, bizarre behavior and even departure for several minutes - left folks on the fairgrounds repeatedly asking the question “What’s up with Chaka?” Who knows. Or cares.

There were too many monster musicians performing among the more than 500 featured to mention them all. Those most notable included Regina Carter, the sweetheart of jazz violin; unbelievably talented pianist Milton Fletcher Jr.; guitarist/vocalist Joyce Cooling; guitarist Charlie Hunter; the Berklee-Monterey Quartet; Clifford Brown-Stan Getz Fellows; and the “ladies of the bay,” San Francisco-based vocalists Paula West, Kitty Margolis and Claudia Villela.

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0 # Guest 2011-09-08 12:09
I found an old flyer from Borders Books & Music in Sand City, CA where i had scheduled an event for Millton Fletcher Jr. to perform before he headed off to the Berklee School of Music. How wonderful that he's graduated and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I hope he comes to Portland to perform at Jimmy Maks sometime. We love jazz here!
(I was Dorothy Gander then, the Community Relations Coordinator at Borders Books & Music.)

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