It was an embarrassment of riches at the recent 53rd edition of Monterey Jazz Festival.
From the first strains of Roy Hargrove’s big band on Friday night to the legendary Ahmad Jamal’s finale on Sunday, it was an eclectic mix of contemporary, traditional and mainstream with artists running the gamut from young lions — Ben Flocks, Jazz Mafia — to elder statesmen Roy Haynes and George Wein.
Wein, who turns 85 next month, is the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, which began on the East Coast in 1954. He performed on Monterey’s Garden Stage with veterans Ken Peplowski, Steve Huffstetter, Howard Alden and Gary Foster, adding Bay Area rhythm men, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Vince Lateano. Wein displayed a tasteful dexterity on the keyboard and proved to be an amiable MC as well.
Haynes, another octogenarian, was billed as “Showcase Artist,” which meant he could show up in any number of settings, and he did, playing with his own Fountain of Youth Band, interviewing with Yoshi Kato and providing the foundation for Chick Corea’s Freedom Band.
If there is a drawback to the myriad artists available on the seven stages, it’s a jazz fan’s inability to see and hear everything he or she would like. At the beginning of the Saturday evening performance in the main arena, people were raving about that afternoon’s session with Troy Andrews, known as “Trombone Shorty.” I missed that in lieu of the jazz conversations going on in Dizzy’s Den with Fred Hersch and George Wein.
The evening brought Billy Childs and a piece commissioned for this year’s festival, “Music for Two Quartets.” Childs was joined by saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. The other foursome was the Kronos Quartet, who put on a stellar performance.
The sound mix for Harry Connick, Jr., in the arena was mushy and the “show” trumped the music. The audio crispness returned when Ahmad Jamal took the stage with James Cammack on bass, Herlin Riley, drums and percussionist Manolo Badrena. Jamal’s signature “Poinciana” was inserted in the middle of the lengthy set.
As always, young musicians were featured on the Sunday afternoon program with the festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra providing a tight performance.
Attendance appeared to stay down a bit this year, although there were lines and full houses to be had. There were fewer artisans and craftspeople peddling their wares, but there remained a good variety of ethnic and jazz-compatible cuisine.
A little-touted display in the gallery was the Jazz Loft Project, W. Eugene Smith’s amazing collection of photos and sounds from 1950s New York City. It is worthy of further exploration.
As always, there was a contingent of Napans on hand, and you can bet they’ve already marked their calendars for Sept. 16-18, 2011.