A couple hours south of Berkeley by car, the West Coast’s longest-running jazz festival—at 49, the longest-running in the same location in the world—is gearing up to swing the weekend of Sept. 15-17, on the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
The county fair aspect of the Monterey Jazz Festival is often a surprise to first-time attendees, especially those used to the auditorium or coliseum setting for music festivals. It’s enhanced by the more than half dozen clubs and open-air stages outside the Arena, where the succesion of headliners are featured, as well as simulcasting of the shows from the Arena stage.
And the Grounds Pass, for as little as $30 a day—all afternoon and evening on Saturday and Sunday—is a remarkable deal for those who’d prefer to stroll from venue to venue and dig the mix of the scene and the range of music in an atmosphere more festive than the more traditional (and expensive) Arena, and the site for appearances by names and talents as big as those headlined within.
But the Arena shows often prove to be one time only events, like this year’s Sunday night show promises to be. Dave Brubeck, 85, who went from growing up on a Central Valley ranch to becoming one of the most popular jazz artists ever (and that due in great part to the response of university students to his hit album, Take Five), will preside at the ivories as his Quartet premieres his “Cannery Row Suite,” commissioned by the Jazz Festival.
Besides being a role model to countless jazz pianists and composers, Brubeck’s literally a patriarch of the music: his sons frequently accompany him, and one of them—Chris Brubeck—will bring his own group, Triple Play, to the Garden Stage on the Grounds Sunday afternoon.
Following the Dave Brubeck Quartet to wrap up the Arena program will be the great Oscar Peterson, who many consider the most accomplished jazz pianist after Art Tatum. His set will cap a weekend that will also see John Coltrane’s pianist, McCoy Tyner, lead a trio with stellar Bobby Hutcherson (a Bay Area resident) on vibes and trumpeter Roy Hargrove—a ubiquitous presence in the Arena and n the Grounds all weekend; the 40th anniversary of saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” performance (and smash hit recording) on this very stage.
Also appearing are singer Dianne Reeves, popular scat and straight-ahead singer Kurt Elling, with a variety of orchestral complements; acclaimed choir Shout Gospel From Harlem, and smooth jazz-turned-straight-ahead star Chris Botti. Bonnie Raitt shares the stage with Keb’ Mo on Saturday afternoon.
The stages on the grounds spill over with a wide range of talent, including Hank Jones (of the Jones brothers, Elvin and Thad), one of the greatest living jazz pianists at 86, who has played with Bird and just about everybody else, holding forth Sunday night (after Dave Brubeck’s simulcast) in Dizzy’s Den. Hubert Sumlin, the 75-year-old master Chicago Blues guitar stylist from the great Chess Howlin’ Wolf sessions playing with Duke Robillard, co-founder of Roomful of Blues, and Duke’s band, also plays, followed by a set by Shout Gospel From Harlem, the masterful drumming of Babatunde Lea and his Quartet, popular vocalist Hiromi, various appearances by Jeff Hamilton, Robben Ford and Dan Ouellette, The Open World Octet from Russia, and a Hammond B-3 blow-out, featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith.
Peter Apfelbaum, an early alumnus of the Berkeley schools jazz programs and long a Bay Area favorite, will bring his New York edition of The Hieroglyphics to the Garden Stage Saturday night, joined by very special guest Abdoulaye Diabate from Benin. The next afternnon, Dizzy’s Den features the winning bands from the Next Generation Festival, including the Jazz School Student All-Stars and the Berkeley High School Sextet play out the shape of jazz to come.
Just blocks from Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf and the historic districts of California’s original capital, not far from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and the famous Aquarium, and a few miles from the gorgeous sunset viewing from the beach at Asilomar, the 17-Mile Drive, Mission Carmel and the natural splendors of Point Lobos and Big Sur, where ocean, cliff, redwood forest and mountain meld together in a unique synaesthesia, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a profusion of great musical talent in a setting of great natural and man-made wonder.