Live Jazz: Mike Katz’s Monterey Jazz Festival Top Ten
By Mike Katz
Every year the Monterey Jazz Festival program features a Top Ten list from Artistic Director Tim Jackson, and I always think that’s interesting, but what does he tell everybody else? And how can he not mention (your favorite here). So I figured I’d take a stab at my own Top Ten, but with a slightly different angle, for this year’s Festival, which begins Fri. Sept. 21. Here in LA we get to see a good deal of the major touring names (Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Palmieri) as well as others who live or have lived here (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Tierney Sutton, Gerald Clayton, among others.)
I always look forward to new configurations of talent, and introductions to new players, as well as a few familiar names that we don’t see too often on the Left Coast. So here’s my list, in order of appearance, with a special effort to highlight most of the festival’s venues.
1. Mulgrew Miller, Coffee House. 8, 9:30, 11, Friday night. Every year I promise myself I will get to see at least one set in the cozy Coffee House, which features small groups playing before appreciatively quiet audiences. What better way to start off the festival than with Mulgrew Miller, whose bright, swinging touch belies his impressively large physique.
2. Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy’s Den. 8:30 Friday night; Arena w/ Pat Metheny and Christian McBride, 9:20 Sat. night; Dizzy’s Den, Sunday night, 7:30 with Bill Frisell. The Festival’s Showcase artist, DeJohnette’s multi-faceted talents are reflected in these three different settings. I don’t know yet who the personnel will be in the Friday night group but it is bound to be interesting; the Metheny trio can’t help but be great and I hope to catch at least part of the duet with guitarist Frisell on Sunday.
3. Gregoire Maret Quartet, Night Club, 9:30 Friday night. When you think about the harmonica in jazz, Toots Thielemans comes to mind, and then there is a long pause. Maret, from Geneva, Switzerland, has been getting some attention as Toots’ heir apparent, so here’s a chance to check him out.
4. Ali Ryerson-Mimi Fox Duo, Night Club, 2:30 Saturday Afternoon. Take a break from the raucous atmosphere at the Arena and check out flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox, both of them notable for exquisite phrasing. You’ll still have time to get back for most of Trombone Shorty’s set.
5. Tribute To Cal Tjader, Dizzy’s Den, 8 Saturday night. Pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader in the ‘70s, has assembled an all-star group that features Warren Wolf on vibes, along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Robb Fisher and Vince Lateano.
6. Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet, Arena, 8 Saturday night. Night Club, 10:30 p.m. I know, you can’t be two places at once. Frisell’s commissioned piece promises to be a highlight. Visit the special Cloning Tent right next to the funnel cake stand.
7. Pat Metheny, Arena, 9:20 Saturday night (See above) and 7 Sunday night. Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams. Two arena appearances for Metheny. The trio appeals to me the most, but you can’t lose with either one.
8. Tony Bennett, Arena, 10:50 Saturday night. Need we say more?
9. Next Generation Band, Arena, 1:10 Sunday Afternoon. Yes, you have tickets for Esperanza Spalding. Don’t think it’s cool to skip the opening student groups. Last year’s NGB knocked everybody out. Artist-in-Residence trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits in.
10. Mads Tolling Quartet. Garden Stage, 4 Sunday afternoon. The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always great fun. Turtle Island Quartet violinist Tolling fronts his own group.
11. MJF ALL-STARS w/ Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter. Bennie Green, Christian McBride, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash, Arena, 9 Sunday night and Dizzy’s Den, 11 Saturday Night. This super group closes out the festival at the Arena, but you might have just as much fun seeing them Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.
Okay, that’s 11. And I didn’t even mention Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage throughout the Festival.
But…but…what about…Melody Gardot, Christian Scott, Robert Randolph?….excuse me, I’ve got to run. See ya next week.
The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival announced its complete schedule today, adding Tony Bennett and Michael Wolff’s Cal Tjader tribute band to a program already rich with stars that include Pat Metheny, Showcase Artist Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Bill Frisell and Artist-in-residence Ambrose Akinmusire.
More on all that later. If you really want to know how loaded this festival is, set your watch for 9:30 Saturday night, September 22. Here’s what you can hear: Metheny, DeJohnette and Christian McBride in a trio performance on the Lyons Stage; Wolff and his Tjader band with Warren Wolf on vibes along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Vince Lateano and Robb Fisher at Dizzy’s Den; The Tierney Sutton Band at the Night Club; Gerald Clayton at the Coffee House. Yikes. Fortunately, Sutton gets a head start at 9 and Metheny plays another set with his Unity Band featuring Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams on Sunday night. Still, if that cloning research gets perfected by September, you know where to find me.
Here’s a few of the other highlights. The Friday night Arena show opens with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band making its MJF debut, and we LA folk know they will get the festival off to a rollicking start. I confess to having heard little of Melody Gardot, who follows, other than sampling the bluesy jazz offerings on her website, but that’s the beauty of MJF. There’s always some fresh faces, including harmonica player Gregoire Maret at the Night Club and vocalist Gregory Porter, who has been creating a big ripple lately, with the Night Club’s late set. DeJohnette and Akinmusire perform at Dizzy’s Den and the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra caps off the Arena Show. Finally, pianist Mulgrew Miller, who I would rate along with Michael Wolff among the finest of his (and my) generation, will lead his trio in three performances at the Coffee House.
Saturday is blues/roots/funk day in the afternoon. Robert Randolph and the Family Band open the show at the Arena and end the afternoon at the Garden Stage, always a great place to hang out. As mentioned, Trombone Shorty headlines at the Arena and his performance, on the heels of his 2010 tour de force, will be one of the most anticipated of the festival. If you are looking for something a little quieter, two of my favorite musicians, flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox will be performing a matinee duet at the Night Club.
Saturday night, in addition to the aforementioned logjam at 9:30, begins at the Arena with guitarist Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers band performing the commissioned piece and ends with Tony Bennett. Whether the moon will show up on cue during the opening notes of “Fly Me To The Moon,” as it did in Bennett’s memorable 2005 concert has yet to be determined, but don’t bet against it.
Sunday afternoon features the award-winning high school and college groups, highlighted by the all-star Next Generation Band at the Arena, with alumnus Ambrose Akinmusire sitting in. The NGB was one of the highlights of the festival last year, so don’t wander in late. Esperanza Spalding, with a hot new album and lots of national exposure, anchors the afternoon show. The late afternoon Sunday shows at the Garden Stage often provide some of the most relaxed and enjoyable moments of the weekend. This year vocalist Jose James gets the 4pm slot and Kyle Eastwood’s band is sure to be a crowd pleaser at 5:30.
Sunday night at the Arena begins with Pat Metheny’s band and finishes up with the MJF 55th Anniversary All Star group, featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, trumpeter Akinmusire, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Chris Potter and drummer Lewis Nash. (They also perform Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.) There’s plenty happening on the grounds, including vibist Stefon Harris’ Cuban themed Ninety Miles Band with David Sanchez on sax and Nicholas Payton filling the trumpet chair; DeJohnette and Frisell in duets; and the annual Hammond B3 organ blowout featuring John Abercrombie, Larry Goldings and Chester Thompson. Tiger Hamasyan takes the piano spot at the Coffee House.
The 55th Annual MJF runs September 21-23. Details at: www.montereyjazzfestival.org/2012/