America's major jazz festival season came to a dramatic close last month with the 46th edition of the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California. Among the highlights were the world premier of the Clint Eastwood film, Piano Blues; the debut of the Festival's commissioned work, Monterey Suite; and performances by California's top high school jazz bands.
Each year the Monterey Jazz Festival selects an artist to create and perform a new composition for the Festival's second-night audience. This year, it was guitarist Ralph Towner, who appeared with his group Oregon, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and the Monterey Symphony Orchestra.
"I really enjoyed writing this piece," he said. "It's quite an honor and great fun to be reunited with Gary [Burton]. We haven't played together for years. And of course, thanks to my wonderful group Oregon and the fine orchestra. I really appreciate all their work and we're quite excited to play this piece."
Ralph Towner's Monterey Suite, featuring vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Monterey Symphony Orchestra.
Under the direction of General Manager Tim Jackson, the Monterey Jazz Festival has become one of the year's most eclectic musical events. Six stages and an outdoor arena hosted everything from Latin, funk and soul to traditional jazz, world music and Louisiana rhythm and blues.
Making his debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival, accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco says more and more people are interested in the sound of the accordion as a lead instrument.
"Not just the older generation but the younger generation too. That's why at a venue or in a concert you have all ages of people listening to my music," he said. "Because at one time people thought the accordion was meant to be played only for the older generation, which is not so. You can hear it today. So, I don't see why it should be for one generation or another. I think it should be shared among all generations."
Buckwheat Zydeco, The Neville Brothers, and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band were featured in an afternoon program titled "New Orleans in Monterey."
Call it "Dirty Harry in Monterey." Film icon and longtime jazz and blues fan Clint Eastwood premiered his 90-minute documentary, Piano Blues. It's one of seven films in the new public television series, The Blues, produced by filmmaker Martin Scorcese. Eastwood himself appears in Piano Blues as an interviewer, piano player and narrator, along with keyboard greats Ray Charles, Doctor John, Jay McShann, Marcia [MAR-shuh] Ball and Dave Brubeck.
At 82, Brubeck encourages any aspiring jazz or blues musician to first learn where the music comes from.
"The further back you go into the history, the more prepared you are to take a step forward that will be a lasting step forward," he said.
There were two special tributes, including a tribute to Bay Area guitarists Eddie Duran, Calvin Keys and Bruce Forman, and a concert honoring the late bandleader, cornet player and Monterey Jazz Festival regular Bill Berry.
On the Jimmy Lyons stage were the Herbie Hancock Quartet with vibes master Bobby Hutcherson; The Dave Douglas New Quintet; The Crusaders featuring original members Joe Sample and Wilton Felder; The Four Brothers vocal quartet; pianist Michael Camilo; guitarist John McLaughlin and Shakti; and jazz singer Nneena Freelon.
"You have been such a beautiful audience and I would like to meet every single one of you after the show. I will sign [autographs] until my hand falls off the rest of my body," she joked. "Can I just thank you for supporting live music and live musicians ?"
One of the Monterey Jazz Festival's Artists in Residence and perhaps the weekend's busiest musician was bassist John Clayton. Not only did John perform with his brother, saxophonist Jeff Clayton, but he also appeared with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra and the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All Star Big Band.
John Clayton says he always looks forward to working with jazz students who sometimes teach him a thing or two about the music.
"That's what keeps it full of verve and exciting and alive and youthful. It's a really wonderful mix and exciting for us," he said.
In keeping with tradition, the Monterey Jazz Festival announced the winner of the National High School Jazz Competition. Taking this year's top prize was the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble from Berkeley, California.
Warm weather drew a record crowd to the Monterey Fairgrounds. Fans taking a break from the music could visit any of the more than 100 vendor booths offering local delicacies, souvenirs, handmade artwork, or CDs by their favorite performer.
A festival first was the release of a CD by the 2003 Monterey County Honor Band, featuring twenty of the county's finest high school musicians.