JazzAge Monterey: Let the Good Times Roll–Part Two

Preparing Part Two of this three part blog post on JazzAge Monterey (formerly Dixieland Monterey), I thought I’d count the names of bands and guest artists I found a list of, only to discover that over its thirty-four year history the number of bands that performed at the event came to 160, and the number of guest artists adds up to 58, not including “youth bands” that made appearances from 1987 on.

There’s no way I can do justice to such a substantial cast of musicians, so I am going to get personal (out of necessity) and “play favorites.” I’ll focus on the years from 1987 on, for my wife Betty and I were attending all three days and nights of the event by then, in the good company of our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell (the latter the artist who graced the first post on Dixieland Monterey with her sketches, and will do the same for Part Two), and, together, we acquired definite favorites over the years. We did reduce attendance to two days and nights as we “aged,” and then Betty and I attended sporadically after our best friends died (Sarah in 1997, Dick in 2001), and we ceased to attend the event for a time when the same fate (or Alzheimer’s) befell new friends we’d made and a few favorite musical artists.

That’s a “tough love” fact (or story) for which I do not feel a need to apologize, and I will offer some thoughts at the end of this post on how such loses (and the “aging” process itself) may effect the nature of long-standing events–and occasion a change in more than just “name,” such as that which came about in the year 2014 for this one.

For now, let me focus on what I feel I might be justified in calling a “Golden Age” of musical offerings at Dixieland Monterey—or the event’s “middle years.” One of our favorite groups from the start was the Fulton Street Band from Sacramento—made up of Bob Newman (clarinet), Dean Nelson (trumpet), Mike Starr (trombone—who turned out to be a relative, by marriage), Bob Hirsch (piano), Roger Krum (bass), and Vince Bartels (drums).

Here’s a drawing that Sarah Maxwell made on the spot, showing the band’s front line in action –Mike Starr, Dean Nelson, Bob Newman–with a glimpse of the rhythm section (drummer Bartels, bassist Krum, and pianist Hirsch) behind them:

Fulton Street Band2

Part of the fun of this weekend party—as I wrote in an article I did for The Herald Weekend Magazine—was locating the bands or band you wished to see and hear, charting your course on a complex “Schedule of Musical Sets,” making your way through a feast of folks with the same intent, people with their preferences or value systems vividly displayed on T-shirts (genuine contemporary folklore) or instrument cases: one lady wearing buttons from every band she could fit to person and purse; one gentleman sauntering by in a “God is a tuba player and her boyfriend is a vocalist” T-shirt, another woman strutting her stuff in a “flapper” era outfit that looked as if it were made of pasta (the ample flesh of her arms quivering like unused dough); another woman in a red-fringed dress, headband, black stockings and some sort of hopefully deceased animal slung over her shoulders. We make our way through this parade and find the two Bobbies (Newman and Hirsch) standing just outside the venue in which they’ll play, conversing like ministers (this happens to be Sunday noon, but they’re more than likely simply discussing chord changes or substitute chords).

Once we’re all–fans and band–settled inside, Fulton Street eases into “Sleepy Time Down South,” a slow easeful appropriate selection, although the audience seems surprisingly alert, active. “Anybody sober?” “Yes!” “Anybody hungover?” “Yes!” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” comes next, appropriate also: Hirsch’s ever-thinking fingers ever-agile; a sleepy boyish smirk on Mike Starr’s face; Newman taking a courtly bow after his solo; Dean Nelson, a large man, squaring his shoulders like a shy wrestler (is there such a thing as a “shy” wrestler–or trumpet player?); Roger Krum with his mustached grin; Bartels tapping out “Blue Turning Gray Over You” next (“Just to see if Dean can go it this early in the morning” – and he does), the band up for some good, light fun on this day: fine, straight ahead fellowship.

Sacramento radioman Jim Baxter is on hand to lend color. “Want to say hello to your many fans?” he asks Nelson. “Not yet” is the reply. “Let me tell you something about Mike Starr,” Baxter says next (Mike protesting, “No, no, no,” in the background), “He sells Peter-Built trucks for a living and his slogan is ‘Old truckers never die; they just get a Peter-Built.’” Then, appropriately once more: “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” Baxter adding, “Let’s see if we can get the other half of Dean’s face to sweat” (the trumpeter on the edge of apoplexy even this early in the day when he solos). The fans applaud each tune as announced : “Rosetta,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Mike Starr plays mellow on this Duke Ellington piece; he admires Tommy Dorsey, he will tell me later–his “smooth thing”), and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Bassist Krum gets fully into the groove on each offering, prompting a fan to comment, “Two speeds for Roger: off and on.”

The fine musicianship is laced with humor, or attempts at it. Bob Newman dismantles his clarinet to clean it, setting the bell of the horn atop his head: “My dad said you could get clarinet on the brain if you weren’t careful.” Another number features drummer Vince Bartels, the youngest member at 29: “The driving force behind the band; he drives motor homes and  motorcycles, anything to get us here,”

The Fulton Street·Jazz Band got started when former pianist Bob Ringwald set up a “musically good, no shlocky musicians” group; and while personnel has changed over the years, all involved “have kept the level up.” Starr says that the band’s goals are to maintain “etiquette” (“Don’t drown out soloists”) and “not to hurt the music too badly.” Clarinetist Newman, a retired aerospace engineer, played Dixieland in small groups that were part of a Big Band setting (in Seattle and Tacoma), but says he didn’t know “traditional numbers” until he joined Fulton Street some fifteen years ago. His influences are many: Benny Goodman, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Wilbur, Jerry Fuller, Johnny Mince, and Abe Most. Nelson owns a construction company currently building a new hospital in Sacramento (“Can tell by the way he’s acting that it’s going all right,” Starr says), played in Army bands, and spent time on the road.

Bob Hirsch is the newest member of the group, a Midwest transplant rumored to have once been dean of a college, now working for the state in the medical field, a man who “loves tangerine martinis … and plays it right, all the time,” echoes of Ralph Sutton in his fine stride (and Earl Hines, Waller, even Mel Powell and James P. Johnson to this ear, all the great ones). Vince Bartels is New Orleans-born, his father a former bass player with Pete Fountain and the Dukes of Dixieland, Vince’s own “rhythm impeccable, getting stronger and stronger,” I’m told, and Bartels has to be “to hold back the strong piano of Bob Hirsch.”

Roger Krum works for the California Rehabilitation Department and “flies all over the state.” He is the band’s manager, setting up rooms and equipment (“Hauling around amps is almost as bad as being a drummer, but everything runs smoothly, thanks to Roger”). He also handles the money. “Nobody is getting rich,” Starr says. “I wonder if he’s giving us all we have coming.” Roger sports bandages on his fingers, for he always plays hard. Dean Nelson shouts, after another rollicking Hirsch solo, “Here we go!”—Mike Starr sings, suitably irreverent, “Ain’t Gonna Give Anybody None of My Jelly Roll” (“You get that on tape?” he asks his wife, Linelle. “No,” she replies. ”Good,” says Mike.). The Fulton Street Band then offered a breakneck version of Benny Goodman’s “Air Mail Special.”

Here are Sarah Maxwell’s individual “portraits” of Fulton Street members: Bob Newman, Vince Bartels, Mike Starr, Bob Hirsch, Dean Nelson, and Roger Krum prodding the whole gang on:

Fulton Street3  Fulton Street4  Fulton Street6

Fulton Street5  Dixieland Monterey

Fulton Street Band 3

Renard Perry, from Custer’s Last Band, sat in on “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home” (“How come his trumpet’s cleaner than yours, Dean?” “He makes more money than I do!”), and the set ended with a rousing “Original Dixieland One Step” (“What key, Dean?” “Whis-key!”), with solos by everyone. Roger Krum’s son, who had been assisting him setting up all weekend, walked by while the bass reverberated on stage, pointing, saying, “That’s my dad.” Then it was over, the silence filled with salutations from parting friends and musicians.

The totally unique trio Bo Grumpus became a favorite the first time we heard Craig Ventresco, a man who’s been called a “guitar genius,” and rightly so. That appellation may, in fact, consist of understatement, for the orchestra-large sounds that emerged from his acoustic guitar seemed to have been produced by more than just one person. As a trio, the group (washboard-percussionist Pete Devine and bassist Marty Eggers) developed its highly individual “voice” or sound busking on the streets of San Francisco, where they daily met and enchanted a tough, demanding audience and went on to play at numerous ragtime festivals and would issue five much appreciated (I have ‘em all!) CDs.

San Francisco Examiner critic Phil Elwood cited Bo Grumpus in 1997 with a fine opening line: “To see the future, you only need to go back in time,” praising Ventresco as a musical historian as well as virtuoso performer—showing how he acquired material by digging deep into the roots of American popular music: all the way back to the turn-of-the-century recording era that featured the work of Fred Van Eps, Arthur Collins, Ada Jones and other “big record sellers,” at a time when Irving Berlin had yet to write “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

At Dixieland Monterey, the Bo Grumpus repertoire ranged from snappy numbers from the pre-World War I popular ragtime era to vintage classic ragtime and mainstream trad jazz, with some of Django Reinhardt (my man Django!) tossed in for good measure—all this, as I have suggested, a rich seamless blend or marriage that seemed to come about spontaneously. In an essay called “Dance and The Soul,” French poet Paul Valery describes a symposium setting that includes Socrates and his friends observing “a winged choir of famous dancers,’ one of whom begins to monopolize their attention—Socrates exclaiming, “She is wholly in her shut eyes, alone with her soul … She is feeling herself become an event.” Watching and hearing Bo Grumpus in action, and Craig Ventresco in particular, produced the same effect.

Bo Grumpus3  Bo Grumpus4  Bo Grumpus5

The guitarist/historian says he “grew up listening to old records at Bill Bryant’s big old home in Portland, Maine,” that musical artist having toured the backwoods of old New England and assembling “the biggest collection of antique-era records, cylinders, catalogues and stuff probably in the world.” Ventresco spent hours as a teenager learning about and absorbing “pre-jazz music”—and arrived in California with percussionist Pete Devine around 1987, when they hooked up with Berkeley bassist Marty Eggers.

“In Bo Grumpus, we’re not trying to prove anything, nor are we just screwing around,” Craig told Phil Elwood, “but we are discovering that the current ‘roots music’ trend in popular music is generating interest in our music among old and young listeners—and that’s all to the good.” I found myself attracted to Craig Ventresco’s music because of its solid roots in the past, but more so perhaps because, as someone who has flirted with playing tenor guitar (tuned like a mandolin) much of his life, I was in awe of the love that went into and was returned in the sound Craig elicits from an unadorned guitar: flatpicking, fingerpicking, engaging his fingers in a miraculous manner that has both intelligence and raw musical passion as its source: smiling-soft pianissimo mixed with puissant pride, front porch ease and grace linked to bedroom swing. And it’s a joy to watch Marty Eggers remove a ceiling panel so that he’ll have suitable, comfortable space for the neck and head of his standup bass; and it’s a delight to see Pete Devine “attack” all of the percussive items that surround him–from small splash cymbal to honking horn, as if he were a Hindu god with an abundance of arms, not just the customary two.

We never missed a single performance by Bo Grumpus. Whereas Craig Ventresco may not have possessed what you’d call a “trained” or “polished” voice, what he had was totally of a piece with his other considerable gifts, and he sang a song that became a favorite of ours–a song discounting the conventional love lyric (what folks commonly write about one another) and converting it to “I Love Me”: “I love me, I love me,/I love myself to death;/I love me, I love me/Till I’m all out of breath … I take myself straight home at night/And I sleep with me till broad daylight … I love me, I love me,/I’m wild about myself; I love me and only me;/My picture’s on my shelf … Day by day I love me more and more … I take me to a quiet place/And put my arms around my waist;/If he gets fresh,/I slap his face,” et cetera.

Bo Grumpus  Bo Grumpus2

Another group we thoroughly enjoyed and admired because of their musicianship allied with a unique “collective” personality was the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra, based (where else?) in Santa Cruz, California—an unusual ensemble made up of six different saxophones ranging from the “miniscule” Eb sopranino to the “monstrous” contrabass (203 centimetres tall with a 43-centimetre-diameter bell), the former tended by an attractive young woman, the latter by leader Don Stevens, an adroit athlete who danced and charged about the stage effortlessly (it seemed) carting this behemoth as if it were a piccolo. “In between,” a normal range of saxes–soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone—fleshed out the troupe, whose choreography was intricate, impeccable, exact (and they never stood still!), humor intact and tasty, and their repertoire outrageous: everything from a “Stars and Stripes Forever Also Spach Zarathustra Medley” to “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Darktown Strutters Ball,” “Autumn in New York,” and “Alabamy Bound.”

The Nuclear Whales3   The Nuclear Whales

Another musician we came to not just appreciate but revere was Jackie Coon. When I first arrived in Monterey in 1971 (to teach at the local college), I discovered that Jackie’s status as a musician (cornet, flugelhorn, vocals) was nearly legendary. “Next to genius,” Ray Frabrlzio, one of my colleagues and an excellent musician (flute, alto sax) himself said. When I asked Bill Jackson, a fine drummer, about the best local musicians, the first person he mentioned was Jackie, and added, “Top notch.”

”The Bear from Big Sur.” That’s the way a press release on “one of the premiere flugelhornists in jazz” begins. When I began to hear Jackie play at Dixieland Monterey and other local venues, people said he’d had plenty of opportunities to perform elsewhere, but “this is the only place be wants to be.” When I got to know Jackie, he admitted the truth of it. “I can’t say enough about Big Sur. I’ve got a nice place to live, three dogs, two cats and a lot of marvelous friends.”

He loved to tell the tale of how those friends put a new roof on his house (“It took 212 cans of Hamms beer”), and did so in exchange for the pleasure he provided them with his music. He also told the story of  how someone once “swung with my horn” (stole it); yet, through the intricate, admirable social control that operates in Big Sur, that person returned the horn in its “gig bag” – anonymously of course.

Jackie Coon was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, the second of three sons (brother Gene was one of the original creators of the “Star Trek” TV series; brother Skip is a novelist). Jackie grew up in L.A. and recalled a day in 1941 when he attended a live theater performance by Louis Armstrong’s Big Band. “I cut my teeth on the Hot Five and Hot Seven.” He was amazed by Armstrong’s double-time licks. “We were friends on the basis of he never did need another trumpet player,” Jackie says, yet he did work with Armstrong alumni Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines and Barney Bigard, making his first record with the latter In Los Angeles.

In both his instrumental and vocal style, Jackie Coon shared some traits with Teagarden: warmth, intimacy and downhome ease–a deceptive style because both were technical masters but didn’t flaunt it. Teagarden, Jackie said, was “the nicest man.” Before a performance be never warmed up. “He just did a little lick–zzupphh!–said, ‘Look out!’, and that meant it would be a good night … If you could play with that band, he’d just stand there and beam at you. Of course, you could never outplay him.”

Here’s a photo of Jackie Coon at work—and another taken on the single occasion in my life I had a chance to play with him and “Fast Eddie” Erickson:

Jackie Coon   Bill with Jackie Coon and Eddie Erickson

The flugelhornist worked with everyone from Dave McKenna, Pete Fountain, Red Nichols and Bob Crosby to Jack Sheldon, Stan Kenton and Bill Watrous, and he cited saxophonist Al Cohn as an influence. “I got to know Al through Buddy Jones [another local hero, a bassist who once roomed with Charlie Parker in NYC]. I got to play with Al twice out here. His is one of my favorite ideas of how to play–his way of playing a jazz chorus. It’s the placement, the melodic content of notes (Zoot Sims was like that, too); he tells a story. It’s not the note you hit, but the one afterwards. You continue the phrase.”

Jackie spent ten years playing at Disneyland before George Malone, who ran the River Inn in Big Sur, enticed him to come to this area. Jackie switched from cornet to flugethorn six years later. “I kept searching for that sound: the sound I ended up with. I kept looking. It’s easier to play, for me. It’s a soft instrument. Takes all the competition out of trying to play loud. That brassy sound–I swear I just don’t like it anymore.”

Jackie Coon’s presence on stage–playing with anybody–was a gentle, enhancing, positive one. I’ve heard him play “pretty” on “I Got It Bad,” making something solely his own out of the classic Ellington tune; and I’ve heard him in the slightly riotous context of the “Jack and Ed Show,” working with “Fast Eddie” Erickson (Monterey Bay Club manager Teri Waros gave the team that name). They’re just about the only duo I know that would risk playing Fats Waller’s “The Joint Is Jumpin” as an opening number, but they could get any joint bouncin’ right from the start—and Eddie provided ample humor. “Here’s another old Fats Waller tune,” he’d say. “Unfortunately he doesn’t write many new ones anymore.”

Jackie Coon was best known for his ten years of work with Papa Jake Stock’s Abalone Stompers, a band he considered “family”–and he extended the metaphor with another tale about five weeks he spent touring in Europe with Ralph Sutton (an exceptional pianist), the best part of which, he claimed, was the homecoming: ”I walked into Monterey Airport and there were all the guys with their horns, and my wife. Jackson Stock waved a big sign that read, ‘The Coon Is Back.’”

Writing of Jackie’s 1986 Sea Breeze album Jazzin’ Around, noted L.A. Times writer Leonard Feather said, “Coon displays a fluency that manages to produce an effect at once traditional and contemporary.” That fluency, plus the gentle and confidential tone (nothing frantic, no panic) yet sustained drive, is everywhere in evidence on the record–one of the delights of which is Jackie’s singing: a natural annex of self, unpretentious, whether it’s a revamping of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” or the cold-turkey love pledge of “Keepln’ Out of Mischief Now.” About his singing, Jackie said, “I like it, now that I’ve got it down on record. It’s easier for me to do now. It’s published! And if a guy gets up in the band and sings bad, it’s okay. And women like it. It’s more fun now than it’s ever been.” It was the good fortune of Dixieland Monterey and local jazz fans in general that Jackie Coon found a home in Big Sur and never strayed too far from his local family, friends, and many fans. Thank you, Jackie Coon—and thank you Dixieland Monterey!

It was an everlasting treat to hear Jackie and Eddie Erickson collaborate on “It’s a Wonderful World,” Jackie sweetly providing the song’s source at the start (“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”), and Eddie, after a heartfelt rendering of the words, adopting the voice of Louis Armstrong at the close. “Fast Eddie’s” contributions to Dixieland Monterey are substantial, and he is truly another “local hero” or local treasure, having arrived here from San Jose in 1969 and playing at Capone’s Warehouse on Cannery Row—a place to which Betty and I took our children, Tim and Steve, for pizza, jazz, and short Buster Keaton films. Like Jackie Coon, Eddie played at Disneyland (where he was featured with the Banjo Kings, and led the Riverboat Rascals show band on Disney’s Empress Lilly Showboat). He returned to town to team up with Big Mama Sue at Dixieland Monterey, and, at present, with Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett in a group called Bed.

Fest Eddie Erickson         Fast Eddie Erickson2

An accomplished wit as a well as a superb instrumentalist (banjo and guitar) and vocalist, his stuttered mic-that-won’t-work-properly shtick is a work of art. Eddie has also allied himself with one more local treasure, local hero: pianist and saxophonist Bob Phillips, a man on whom the word “genius” fits like a tailor-made glove. Bob is one of the most comprehensive, inclusive pianists I’ve ever known, totally at home with a wide range of styles and genres (from trad jazz to bebop, free jazz and beyond); a subtle accompanist who enhances jazz vocalists, show tune enthusiasts, and opera singers with equal ease—and a solo pianist (from Bach or Beethoven sonatas to Cole Porter tunes) of distinction. Whatever Bob Phillips plays, it’s first-rate—filled with immediate appeal. He can make himself comfortable in any setting—and stand out!

New Jersey-born Bob Phillips began “his love affair with the piano at age seven, and had gone professional by age seventeen,” his bio reads—playing nights in Greenwich Village in 1955 while working his way through the Manhattan School of Music by day: obtaining gigs at every venue from Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Birdland, the Village Gate, to the Village Vanguard before–disenchanted with New York City winters–he headed south to Orlando, Florida, playing at Disney World for a year and a half before heading West and—to our delight—settling in Carmel, California.

Not long after I arrived here, my MPC colleague Ray Fabrizio took me to what is now the Best Western Beach Resort on Hiway 1, so that I might hear a pianist he felt was “another Oscar Peterson.” That pianist was Bob Phillips. I had the pleasure of “working” with Bob at Dixieland Monterey when, in 2002, honored as Musician of the Year, he put together a clinic for aspiring young musicians—a clinic that featured the abundant talents of friends who’d come from near and far to assist him, such as flutist Ali Ryerson and clarinetist/whistler Brad Terry. Bob asked me to present a condensed history of trad jazz, which I did, and I also read a piece I’ll reproduce here on my own discovery, at age fourteen, of the music at the hands of a drummer from Chicago, J. P. Wolff, who transferred to our Michigan high school (carting a pair of sticks he claimed had been given him by Gene Krupa—which may or may not have been true). One day, after we’d stood and  studied a handsome set of Slingerland drums in the window of Grinnell Bros. Music Store, Parker (his “real” name) marched me over to his home, where his own set of drums resided in the living room. Here’s my account (read to the kids at the Dixieland Monterey clinic) of what took place:

I’d never seen anything like those drums  before. A wooden bass drum big as a wine cask, its calfskin moldy yellow. Wooden snare tilted at a rakish angle that, nearly vertical, made you want to catch it, as if it were about to fall over. No hi hat. One small cymbal mounted on the bass,precariously. Two cowbells. A tone block. Well, I had seen drums like this before. In record stores, on the covers of albums: truly old cats like Chick Webb, Big Sid Catlett and Baby Dodds. J.P. Wolff smiled, as proud as if we were staring through the window not of Grinnell Brothers but a maternity ward. This was his kid, his child, his creation. He then stepped up to a phonograph—big, wooden, clumsy and ugly as those drums—and, lifting the arm, bid me have a seat.

“Listen, Kid,” he said.

This was my introduction to a group led by tenor guitarist Eddie Condon. The singer was trombonist Jack Teagarden: “Born in Texas, raised in Tennessee,/Born in Texas, raised in Tennessee./Ain’t gonna let no one woman/Make a fool out of me.”

I thought I knew music. I thought I’d heard it before. I’d mastered a cardboard set of drums I made (with the top of a number ten can of beans as a ride cymbal) and a wooden snare. I played piano, or at least I tried to. I had a collection of 10 inch LPs by great jazz pianists—but I had never heard anything like this before: “Impromptu Ensemble #1.”

Gene Schroeder, a piano man, kicked it off—smooth enough and what I was accustomed to—but what happened after, all reeds and horns laced together like some crazy cloverleaf, a rhythm section sedate and steady as stone, this headed by the ubiquitous Eddie Condon, his guitar silent but there. Condon was special. He played a four string, a tenor. You won’t find them in music stores anymore. And he was special in another way. Although he made a thousand records, no one I’ve ever met—J. Parker Wolff included—can claim that on a single one of them he’s ever really heard Eddie Condon play. The rhythm section is there all right, fine and strong, but Condon for some reason never seems to be in it. But this was a team affair the likes of which I’d never heard, never known, raucous and rich as a family reunion. It raised me from my chair, but Parker shoved me back down again.

“They’s just begun to percolate, Gate,” he said. “Listen!”

“I’d rather drink muddy water, Lord, sleep in a hollow log,/I’d rather drink muddy water, Lord, sleep in a hollow log,/Than to be here in New York,/Treated like a dirty dog.”

Pee Wee Russell: stitching, weaving, playing the beautiful fool—his throaty hesitations, his cavorting with several or holding a single note, someone keeping the subway door ajar while all his friends rush in. Which is just what they did: those clean insolent trumpets—Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky—brazen, obnoxious, obviously loving every single note and minute of it; then, the backseat trombone—Jack Teagarden—filling out the bottom chords, humble as the jug in a skiffle band until he unleashed flatulent smears, unblushing, arrogant, and not backseat in his vocals, vocals which—when I came to know them well—made him one of my favorite frontline performers. All this wonderful stuff was nudged, fraternally, by Ernie Caceres on baritone sax, smooth as the snout on a Saint Bernard, complete with the cask of brandy. Shroeder again. Cool. That silent person who sits through an evening of clever conversation and, later with one small remark—a single flourish, “in-the-windows” as the jazzmen say—may outdo the entire house. But no one outdid anyone here. After each member of this family, this aggregate, had shown what he could do—alone, alive—they put it all together, the reunion came, eachholding that difficult balance, no functionary but a host of full-fledged, headlong, rabid, loving, spoiled brats. It was my first taste of “hot” jazz and I loved it. By the time pianist James P. Johnson had slipped into “Just You, Just Me,” I was a convert, completely.

After I gave this account of my own “conversion,” Bob and I presented a history of the evolution of jazz from ragtime to the present day, employing a single tune, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” and taking it through a series of styles. Or I should say, Bob Phillips embodied that history, for all I did was call out the name of a practitioner known for a particular style, or a type of the music itself : Jelly Roll Morton “jassing” up ragtime; the “Latin tinge”; the blues, Teddy Wilson’s swing/stride; Thelonious Monk (tenor saxophonist George Young joining Bob for this approach) and ending with the open, free “modern” but grounded in New Orleans tradition of Marcus Roberts. Once I’d named a style, Bob set about playing it, brilliantly, beautifully, with all the ease and grace and “fun” (spontaneity) for which he is so widely respected. After, trumpeter Hart Smith, one of the clinicians, said, “You guys must have rehearsed like crazy”—and I replied, “No, all I did was call out the names, and the rest was left to the complete genius of Bob Phillips.”

Pianist_Bob_Phillips3   Pianist Bob Phillips2

In 2002, Dixieland Monterey not only recognized Bob Phillips limitless talent by naming him Musician of the Year, but he’s been made a permanent Artist in Residence. When the Monterey Bay Area celebrated John Steinbeck’s 100th birthday that year, Bob formed the Sweet Thursday Jazz Band. He performed with Old Friends (Bill Dendle, George Young, Jackson Stock, Shelley Burns) in 2014—and he will certainly be on the scene at JazzAge Monterey’s “Jazz Bash by the Bay” this year.

The last group of “favorites” I’ll mentioned from the Golden Era is the Blue Street Jazz Band from Fresno—a group for which Betty and I and Dick and Sarah Maxwell became persistent followers throughout those “middle years.” When we started out as devotees, the band, founded in 1983 by trumpet player Forest Helmick and then under the leadership of trombonist Dave Ruffner, consisted of those two plus John Martin on soprano sax and clarinet (and later on: Nathan Ketner and Ted Strauss on reeds), Bob Embry on piano and viola (Jason Wanner now on piano), the amazing (his solos!)  Ed Hull on tuba (later: Jason Jurcak on tuba and string bass; and Sam Rocha on bass and sousaphone), Rick Canfield (drums), Robert Bennett, banjo (replaced by Matt Bottel, banjo and guitar: a computer program designer who would become the husband of … ), Sherri Colby, vocalist, the “Siren of the San Joaquin.”

Three early members were jazz educators: Dave Ruffner (high school band director), Rick Canfield (junior high or “middle school” band director), and Forrest Helmick (elementary school music teacher), clinicians who became “advocates of traditional jazz bands for the youth.”—and this combination of skills produced elaborate and highly creative arrangements by knowledgeable players with a solid hold on and foundation in their “stuff”—their eclectic originality branding them as “The Bad Boys of Dixieland,” their sets known for variety and surprise, a delightful rapport amongst themselves and with their audience,  providing ample space for humor.

We all fell in love with Sherri Colby, who seemed nearly a child (a teenager) when we first heard her, and who would go on to earn a doctorate in cultural anthropology, yet remain true to (a member of) the band. The vocal duet she and Dave Ruffner provided on “Rose of Washington Square,” taken at a tempo approaching a mental Theta cycle (slow! The third slowest of the four different brain wave cycles: the state we are in when most relaxed but not asleep, a “foggy alertness,” but also the mind set of the “enlightened”). And I can still hear (without playing the CD it’s on) Bob Emery’s viola solo opening on “Ashokan Farewell.” Other favorite tunes were “Mardi Gras Mambo,” “Last Night on the Back Porch” (on which Sherri shined), “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” “They All Asked for You” (“I went down to the animal zoo and they all asked for you … they even inquired about you!”); and moving from the secular to the sacred, Blue Street’s renderings of “Since Jesus Came Into My Soul” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

The group has recorded twenty-two albums (I won’t pretend that I have all of those!) and in 2013 at “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” they celebrated their 30st anniversary as a band. Here’s a photo I took of Sherri Colby when we first began to frequent Blue Street Jazz Band sets; a photo of the band as a whole now; and a CD cover, photo of leader Dave Ruffin, and the fan badge that became quite popular.

Blue Street Jazz Band3   Blue Street Jazz Band

Blue Street  Blue Street Jazz Band4  Blue Street Jazz Band2

Each of the groups I have cited established a warm, comfortable, fully human kinship with their audiences, their fans—and not just because many of the venues were small and intimate by nature during that era. I have tried to get this point across by telling “stories” about them, to make these remarkable people come alive as best I can, and not just dwell on musical attributes. We had other favorite bands among the 160 that have performed at the event of course, and I’ll pay homage to two more by way of Sarah Maxwell’s drawings: of The Golden Eagle band and Beverly Hills Unlisted.

Dixieland Monterey8   Dixieland Monterey7

 I would get to know Bob Murphy, who played soprano saxophone in the Natural Gas Jazz Band. I interviewed Bob because that group was billed as “the only American jazz band ever to play in Siberia,” and I had begun a book that would be published as Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union (a place where Betty and I undertook a 9,000 kilometer “trek” of our own, in order to interview Soviet musicians). Bob Murphy proved to be, as I wrote, “a large genial bear of a fellow: loose, agile on his horn, ingratiating with the silver-haired crowd that pursues the infinite supply of local Dixieland festivals and ninety-one tours and jazz cruises scheduled annually in the U.S. catering to their social and musical needs.” And that seems a perfect lead into a summary of sorts …

How do you keep an institution dedicated to “old time” music vibrant and alive year after year—in the face of featured artists grown too familiar perhaps and impending stasis? Even as I relished so much of the music I heard, I began one of the articles I wrote on Dixieland Monterey for the local Herald Weekend Magazine (an article called “Dixieland—More Than Funny Hats”) with the following: “Dixieland. Who needs it? Or what, for that matter, when you get right down to the music, is it? British jazz critic and poet Philip Larkin (a die-hard trad jazz fan himself) wrote, ‘It is distressing that an adjective of the most impeccable lineage should now denote no more than a dreary repertoire of worn-out trudging numbers verging at times on juvenile funny-hat comedy. But there it is. The word is practically synonymous with “traditional”—and bad traditional at that.’” And I added, “I love jazz—many forms of it—but if there is anything I do not need in my life just now, it’s funny hats.”

Philosopher George Santayana (another “favorite’ of mine!) once suggested that when things pass away it’s probably high time they did so. I am too fond of “eternal verities” (and music I find “eternal”) to agree with the statement, although I can see the sense in it. Fortunately, Santayana also said, “The best men in all ages keep classic traditions alive,” and also, “We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.”

In his brilliant study of not just literary but human history as well, Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin shows how human incompleteness that invites imagination and genuine growth is opposed to fixed, immutable notions of a “completed” nature and clearly defined boundaries—and Bakhtin clearly comes out in favor of the “carnival spirit,” the life of the “marketplace” that evolved over hundreds and thousands of years “in the infinitely varied culture of folk humor”—the human soul’s need for “gaiety and joy”—as opposed to what has declined into the typical, average, literal, trivial, or sentimental–a world of atrophy. The “true ambivalent and universal laughter [of “festival” life, of comic rites and pageants] does not deny seriousness but purifies and completes it,” and a genuine ongoing festival refuses to dry up or settle for a conventional “fixed parade.”

But how does one keep that genuine “carnival spirit” alive? Once again, George Santayana reminds us that, on one hand, “Life is not a spectacle; it is a predicament,” but also that there is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” In the next blog post I will write about the metamorphosis of Dixieland Monterey into JazzAge Monterey, with its renewed hope to widen its horizons, to attract a wider age range of fans, to make Jazz Bash by the Bay get “better” (and better), to allow it to represent truly “the heart and soul of the great Jazz Age” as well as the rich trad jazz heritage.

The 2015 event will open Thursday night, March 5 at the Portola Hotel & Spa with “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a dance party featuring Swing Fever, an eight-piece big band from San Francisco that features vocalist Denise Perrier, and the weekend event that follows will offer a host of both fresh and vintage talent that I’ll “talk” about next time I write.

Because I made this blog “personal,” I will end on a nostalgic note—and post photos taken during the “middle years” of Dixieland Monterey: of our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell “gussied up” at and for the event; of Sarah and Betty the same (or as ”gussied up” as we ever got), and of good friend clarinetist Joe Gallo from San Jose who, having heard his favorites at the event (Allan Vache, Abe Most, Bob Draga, etc.) and I so many fine pianists (John Sheridan, Dick Carey, Johnny Varro, etc.), we returned to Pacific Grove and, inspired, and late into the night, we tried the music on for size ourselves!

Dick Maxwell at Dixieland Monterey           Sarah Maxwell2

Betty and Sarah   Bill and Joe Gallo


JazzAge Monterey: Let the Good Times Roll–Part One

At the close of the last Bill’s Blog post, I mentioned a local (Monterey, California) event that will take place on March 6-8 in, as advertised: “The ballrooms and cabarets of the Portola Hotel & Spa and the Monterey Conference Center.” I said I hoped to present (in three parts or posts) the full history of this event, which began in 1980 as “Fairgrounds Dixieland” and was then allowed to “spill over into downtown Monterey” and eventually became—over a span of thirty-five years—what it is now: JazzAge Monterey’s “Jazz Bash by the Bay.”

JAM 2013 program cover    JAM 2014 program cover

These are the event’s program covers from 2013 and 2014 (both handsomely conceived and executed by artist Will Bullas):

In past posts, I have written about three exceptional performers who have graced the Portola Hotel “stages” over the past two years (two of whom will return this March): Argentine guitarist Gonzalo Bergara, with his quartet; vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, with her trio (trombonist Dan Barrett; pianist Paolo Alderighi); and the amazing stride pianist Stephanie Trick, with her trio (Phil Flanigan, bass; Danny Coots, drums). Both Rebecca Kilgore and Stephanie Trick will be back for this year’s Jazz Bash by the Bay. The music just keeps getting better and better—so let’s see how this event and my interest in writing about it got off the ground thirty-five years ago.

Here is the brochure that was sent out to acquaint folks with this year’s fare—and photos of Gonzalo Bergara, Rebecca Kilgore with her trio, and Stephanie Trick with hers:

JAM 2015 brochure   Gonzalo Bergara   Rebecca Kilgore Trio

Stepjeny Trick Trio

In 1985, I started writing about a subject I’d been “playing” all my life (Music! I took up drums and piano at age fourteen, and had my own dance “orchestra”—actually a six-piece combo with two vocalists—at age sixteen, just outside of Detroit), but I had always kept music “separate” and never devoted words to it (other than to sing them!)—whereas I was writing poetry, short stories, and even a first or “practice” (and abortive) novel at the time. My wife and I attended a performance by the Bill Berry Big Band at Douglas Beach House (The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society) in Half Moon Bay, accompanied by our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell. Sarah was an excellent visual artist and, watching her “quick sketch” the various players, I thought, “Why can’t I do that with words?” The rich tone of a tenor saxophone had the “feel” of velour to me, or I heard a trumpet “sluicing through the soft sax sound.” Saxophonist Marshall Royal wore “a yachting cap, a la Count Basie, and [had] the face of a seasoned pit bull … examining a fresh reed as if it were the Hope Diamond,” et cetera. I was off and running … or writing (about jazz), and I have never stopped.

Monterey had a rich jazz “scene” at the time, and the Herald Weekend Magazine took a piece I came up with (“A Jam Session at the Seashore”) for a May 1985 issue; West (the San Jose Mercury Sunday supplement published a shorter version of the same in August), and I had my first article published nationally in DownBeat, July 1987 (“Remembering Buddy,” about drummer Buddy Rich and an appearance by him with his Big Band in Monterey). George Fuller, who, in 1986, published a chapbook of my poems as Poet Santa Cruz: Number 4 in his Jazz Press series, was editor of Monterey Life magazine and, having seen a couple of the jazz pieces I’d written, asked me for an article on Dixieland Monterey, then in its sixth year of activity. I wrote an article with the subtitle “Let the Good Times Roll,” and it appeared in Monterey Life in February 1987.

When I thought, recently, of covering or describing the first six years of Dixieland Monterey, I felt I might use that article as a basis or “notes” for the blog post, but re-reading the piece, I will have to say (devoid of any modesty whatsoever) that it seems to capture the mood, the tone, the “feel” of the event’s early years quite well, so I am going to reproduce it here with very few “corrections” or amendations. Some place names (venues) and “personnel” (both no longer with us) may not be instantly recognizable, but I’m going to leave things as they were rather than provide tempo-impeding “footnotes,” and present what I wrote about as if it were taking place right now (all history is synchronistic, occurring simultaneously, anyway—right?), alive and well, in order to retain the excitement and “color” of what occurred then. Here, then, are the first six years of Dixieland Monterey … Let the Good Times roll!

And in order to allow that to happen (at the max!), I’m going to illustrate this post with some of the “quick sketch” material that Sarah Maxwell provided to accompany articles I wrote. My editor at Herald Weekend Magazine had some reservations regarding my prose style (“What’do you think this is, The New Yorker?” he’d say by way of complaint; “And who do you think you are: William Faulkner?”), but he loved Sarah’s drawings, unconditionally, and may have accepted or tolerated what I wrote by default, just so he could print her superb art work. So I will “lace” what follows with Sarah’s great “stuff.”

At the end of this month (in 1987) Hot Jazz descends on Monterey with a happy vengeance: three nights and two days (February 27, 28; March 1) of music provided by over twenty bands at locations ranging from the Franklin Street Bar & Grill to Jack Swan’s First Theatre–all within walking distance of one another. The occasion is the 6th annual Dixieland Monterey festival, one of the most successful of its type in the state.

Dixieland Monterey3

You’ll find groups with quaint names such as Stumptown, Professor Plum’s and the Hot Frogs Jumping Jazz Band. You’ll witness every novelty effect from a Bud Lite trumpet mute (or red ceramic lady’s slipper) to a chicken solo (a rubber fowl squeezed in time to “Everybody Loves My Baby”). Stroll, trip or race from club to club in pace with a crowd that knows exactly why it’s in town: the proprietors of nearly ten bistros opening their doors only to ardent fans wearing hardball size Dixieland Monterey badges.

Bands may seem to be posted on a chart just a little less complicated than an NFL playoff schedule, but no, in actuality each is listed clearly by specific day, time and place (Fulton Street Jazz Band, Saturday, 1:30, Red Snapper, etc.–this from the 1986 schedule). Half the fun of this affair, for the crowd, is moving from place to place. If you play your scorecard right, you’ll have grand days and nights, and hear some fine good time music.

The festival, a spin-off from the active local Hot Jazz Society, started six years ago when fans attending the popular Sacramento fete decided the thing could be done just as well, if not better, at home. Joe Ingram approached local ad men/musicians Ed Greco and John Keller, and the three decided to allow a Fairgrounds Dixieland occasion “to spill over into downtown Monterey,” half of twelve bands playing Patee Arena, the other half in clubs in the metropolitan area. About 800 badges were sold for the latter and, while the plan didn’t make money, it didn’t lose any either.

The next year the festival “got serious.” The Hot Jazz Society was tapped for “manpower” (they still provide the major portion of the 250-300 volunteers who donate their services to the efficiently run affair), a Board of Directors was set up and, following a study of the best features of the many Dixieland festivals throughout the state, Dixieland Monterey was off and rolling–or swinging. Actually it did roll, kicked off that second year by a truly in-house band (Ingram, Greco, Keller and Mike Marotta) jamming aboard a flatbed truck following Clydesdale horses–the beginnings of what has since turned out to be “the biggest parade the city of Monterey has.”

Dixieland Monterey5     Dixieland Monterey

Keller says the current festival steering group of six people has stuck to its trust to (1) keep the event “as intimate as we can, within walking distance of itself,” (2) to present “the best live performance Dixieland our dollar can afford,” and (3) control growth so the event “has a chance to maintain its integrity.” The sale of 500 more badges is permitted each year, with an anticipated 2500 to be distributed in 1987.

Ironically, this flourishing six year old enterprise–a non-profit volunteer staffed organization (extra money goes into scholarships)–has no central office, but Keller admits that “pretty soon we’ll have to get serious about this.”

When the festival started, cabaret owners seemed understandably timid about turning away their steady customers and restricting trade to Dixieland Monterey badge holders, but not for long. This “lovely” crowd provoked $10,000 a day bar sales, and “all of a sudden everyone became believers,” guaranteeing the success of what Keller calls “the classiest Dixieland festival in California.”

Lovely or not, the crowd is nearly evangelical (there’s even a Sunday morning service in the DeAnza room of the host hotel, the Doubletree–the needs of the faithful served last year by the Nightblooming Jazzmen) in its enthusiasm for this music. They are people well acquainted with the range of Dixieland festivals from Pomona to Oregon, and cruises with names such as “Jazzsea” and “Dixsea” which will transport you, along with your favorite bands, to far away places like St. Thomas and Barbados.

Here, at Dixieland Monterey, you are likely to bump into every sort of devotee, from expert flapper dancers with marathon appetites to a colorful parasol brigade to groupies equipped with “Nightmares,” black spandex jackets, or what playwright Tom Stoppard has decried as “No philosophy that can’t be printed on a T-shirt” (some a bit too salty for a family magazine). It’s a happy, dedicated crowd, a condition that Keller attributes to the fact that the music is “highly danceable, bright and light,” containing a terpsichorean complement not found in most jazz today (“with rare exceptions”), the music providing a sense of continuity (from New Orleans through Chicago style to Swing), “remaining relatively true to its instrumentation and sound.”

Bob Gay–a knowledgeable non-musician, a broker in real life–is in charge of selecting the bands, the top ten of which are predictable favorites from previous years. The others are “new faces” with proven ability to draw crowds at other festivals. Last year pianist Norma Teagarden, of the famous jazz family, donated her services, and one is likely to hear some high class solo performers such as cornetist Jackie Coon, reed men Jeff Walker and Tony Pagano (the latter on a gold soprano sax) and pianist Bob Hirsch–just to name a few–astride the tight ensemble work of their respective groups: Jake Stock’s Abalone Stompers, Conrad Janis & the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, Mike Vax & the Great American Jazz Band (Vax himself, on trumpet, a Stan Kenton alumnus) and the excellent Fulton Street Jazz Band from Sacramento. You’ll find hot vocalists such as Chris Norris (Golden Eagle) and Jan Sutherland (Custer’s Last Band). This year, also, the popular Royal Society Jazz Orchestra will return.

Here’s Sarah Maxwell’s sketch of Mike Vax & the Great American Jazz Band:

Dixieland Monterey6

The groups aren’t here to make money (by the time trip and lodging are paid they just about break even), but they obviously love the music they play. There’s much, along with the groups already mentioned, to choose from: from High Sierra to South Frisco to Tuleburg, Bye Bye Blues and the Grand Dominion Jazz Band.

Jazz critic Len Lyons, whose catholicity of taste runs the gamut from Ragtime through Fusion to Free Jazz, decries what he calls the “ossified style” of Dixieland (“There was nothing original about the Original Dixieland Jass Band save for their overnight commercial success”), but if there’s any merit to what he says, the crowd that will pour into Monterey on the last weekend of this month doesn’t know it yet, and probably wouldn’t care if they did. They are not youthful, these fans (aside from their aspirations), but you won’t witness much ossification.

Cash registers shall be ringing, yes, but as you wander the range of cabarets from the Cuckoo’s Nest to Tony’s American Grill & Bar, from Red Snapper and the Wharfside to the Doubletree’s Bonsai Room and the Sheraton Hotel, you’ll probably discover lots of overt joy: legitimate delight in, and solid appreciation of, sounds that stem from New Orleans-style playing (which Lyons does regard as full of the color of life, “effervescent, even lusty”).

It’s music with the blues touch, lively extemporaneous composition or improvising within tight harmonies, stopped time and the instrumental color of insolent trumpets, clarinets that weave and stitch, and a genuine “rhythm” section of steady danceable piano, bass and drums. You’ll also find some silly hats, chicken solos, barnyard braying and flatulent trombones, but for the most part it’s agreed-upon fun: this crowd comes to town for what they love, which is good time music.

Dixieland Monterey4

That covers the event’s first six years, I hope—and in the next post, I’ll take you from 1987 through a host of fine performances that will land us in 2014, when Dixieland Monterey, hoping to widen its horizons, to attract a wider age range of fans, to make Jazz Bash by the Bay get “better” (and better), to allow it to represent truly “the heart and soul of the great Jazz Age” as well as the rich Trad heritage, took on a new name: JazzAge Monterey.

I had my favorites throughout those “middle” years, and I won’t be shy about praising them: The Fulton Street Band from Sacramento; local treasures (local heroes!) Jackie Coon, “Fast Eddie” Erickson, and Bob Phillips; Bo Grumpus (with the miraculous Craig Ventresco on guitar); Blue Street from Fresno (with Dave Ruffner and Sherri Colby’s handsome vocal duet on “Rose of Washington Square” still alive in my ears, along with Bob Embry’s viola on “Ashokan Farewell”); outstanding pianists such as John Sheridan, Jason Wanner, Chris Calabrese, Andrew Fielding, and Johnny Varro (returning this year!); drummer Jake Hanna; clarinetists Allan Vache, Bob Draga, and Abe Most; the remarkable (ageless) Edna Lewis; and a veritable plethora of excellent groups from Igor’s Jazz Cowboys, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, to the (ageless also!) Royal Society Jazz Orchestra (also comin’ back this year!).

Stay tuned for more Good Times!

MJF57: 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival–Part Two

I’ve had to take a nearly three month hiatus from much writing, reading and even playing the piano (reading charts) in order to get my eyes “fixed”—but here, finally, is the second portion of what I intended to post on the 57th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. Back in October (not long after that event, at which I took copious notes, but was having some trouble seeing them, and also the various stages on which the music took place!), I was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration (“We can’t stop it,” my ophthalmologist said, “but we can slow it down”), this while I was being set up for cataract surgery, an extraordinary procedure I underwent on December 11 (right eye) and 18 (left), at the skilled hands, heart, and mind of Dr. Holmes. I had been “at risk” for Detached Retina in 2005, so we had to make sure that important piece of property was firmly, securely in place–and the return of a vertigo condition (inner ear viral infection) I’ve had for 27 years (but kept under control until now) provided another source of “adventure.” The surgeries themselves came off without a “hitch,” thanks to Dr. Holmes–and I am ready now to post Part Two on the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival.

I’ve already provided a fairly extensive (13 pages! This is Bill’s Blog Baroque—remember?) account of five favorite MJF57 performances: Billy Child’s Saturday night premiere of Map to the Treasure, his tribute to singer/songwriter/pianist Laura Nyro; Child’s quartet’s appearance just after in Dizzy’s Den; saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s group Sangan (with percussionists Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland) and Lloyd’s Sunday night set with his quartet (Jason Moran on piano;Reuben Rogers, bass; and Harland again on drums); and Brian Blade’s The Fellowship Band performing on the Garden Stage on Sunday afternoon. Now, I’d like to pay homage to a number of other “acts” that fleshed out what I felt was an extraordinary weekend of music—Tim Jackson’s inspired programming at work (and play) again.

On Saturday afternoon, our houseguest for the weekend (along with Oakland photographer Stu Brinin), Dan Ouellette, conducted the DownBeat Blindfold Test (which Dan has done for 20 years) with guitarist Lionel Loueke, in which the latter was asked to recognize (if possible) and comment on the performance of a given artist, after hearing “the take” (a recording of a piece played). When, at first, no sound was forthcoming when requested by Dan, jazz writer Paul de Barros, who was sitting in front of me, identified the artist as “John Cage”: an “in joke,” because Cage once performed a piece called 4′33″, pronounced “Four minutes, thirty-three seconds” or just “Four thirty-three,” a composition the score of which instructs the performers not to play their instrument throughout the entire piece, throughout its three movements. Cage did leave the widows open so that “ateliotic” or environmental sounds (such as auto horns honking or ambulance sirens blazing) might “intrude” upon the musical silence—or “perform” themselves.

Here’s Lionel Loueke (photo by Craig Lovell) and Dan Ourellette, Blindfold Test host:

MJF14 8   Dan

Sound forthcoming at MJF was a 1958 piece by John Coltrane, “Freight Trane” (with Tommy Flanagan on piano and Kenny Burrell on guitar). Loueke confessed he’d never heard Burrell on record before “in that style,” but loved “the tune and the way the changes are played,” and found the guitarist “very fluent in bebop vocabulary.” He did recognize the next artist, guitarist George Benson, with his “clean, perfect technique” (the root “and fifths together”) and said that he himself “started to learn to play jazz because of him,” that he loved “not just the technique but the total musicality.” A friend had given Loueke an LP of Benson’s Weekend in L.A., and when his parents went off to church, Loueke would “crank up” their record player, set his own cassette player as close to the speakers as possible, and would “try to play” with Benson, who played so fast that Loueke found he “did better” when he could slow down the recording by letting the cassette’s batteries “get worn out.” The tune Dan had played was “Body Talk,” recorded in 1973, with Harold Mabern on piano, who–ironically–would play three sets at MJF57 in the CoffeeHouse Gallery on Friday night (and more about him in a moment!).

 Dan admitted that he was going to “throw a curve ball” on the next piece: a vibrato-heavy, deep-toned, slightly rough sounding guitar piece, but Loueke got it, saying, “This has to be Kurt Rosenwinkel,” because of his “very strong guitar personality that comes through his sound.” The tune was “Mr. Hope,” which Loueke said he didn’t know firsthand, “but I love it.” He felt Rosenwinkel “takes the guitar to another level, harmonically and melodically speaking … a one-of-a-kind player who brings something new to the table … it swings so hard, and I can still feel the melody after the recording stops.”

Lionel Loueke’s responses remained insightful, astute throughout the entire Blindfold Test: “guessing” Ali Farka Toure right away (“I could hear him from the sound of his guitar … there were also two ngonis [ngoni, a traditional lute from Mali that dates back hundreds of years] so I wasn’t sure. But when he started singing. I knew it was him”). Loueke admires the way Toure “makes his guitar sound like he’s playing a kora” [a 21string lute-bridge harp used extensively in West Africa] … The first time I heard him I thought he sounded like John Lee Hooker, but in a different language. It’s the blues, the African type of blues.” Loueke didn’t “catch” Ralph Towner, originally with the group Oregon, playing solo (“I think it’s a Brazilian guitar player with that style and the nylon-string guitar.”), but he had insightful things to say about the “warmer sound” provided by nylon strings and playing with your fingers rather than a pick, because you get “a little closer to the instrument … I play with my fingers on the electric for the same reason.”

A piece by Django Reinhardt (“Dream of You,” 1950 ) brought the response, “I like this a lot. If this isn’t Django, then I have no idea … I love Django because of the way he was so melodic but at the same time so virtuosic”; and Bill Frisell (“Armarillo Barbados,” 1994), instantly recognized, also brought forth compliments: “The sound behind each note is so strong that it’s hard not to recognize him. He’s another one-of-a-kind.”

The previous evening, at 9:30, I made a fortunate discovery on the Garden Stage, when a Berklee College of Music grad (I saw my friend Rob Hayes, Assistant Vice President for External Affairs standing at the mixing board, in admiration), pianist/vocalist Sarah McKenzie appeared with her quartet. She not only possesses a handsome voice, but genuine “chops” as well on piano, and I thoroughly enjoyed, and admired, her set—so much so that, after she played a stunning, truly original version of one of my favorite songs, “Dindi,” I went directly to the Amoeba Music Store booth to see if the tune appeared on her latest CD, Close Your Eyes. It didn’t! But I got Close Your Eyes anyway, which is loaded with first-rate tunes, all well performed. Later, I would run into Rob (whom I interviewed just before I went to Japan in 1996, working on Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within, University of Michigan Press, 2004, because, at the time, 333 musicians from Japan had graduated from Berklee.) When I talked with Rob now, he said that a McKenzie CD with “Dindi” on it was forthcoming.

MJF14 1  MJF14 2

Sarah McKenzie attended Berklee on a full scholarship, and her second album, Close Your Eyes won the ARIA (Australian GRAMMY) award as Best Jazz Album in 2012. Her quartet—a group that ranges in place of origin from Israel to Canada to Virgin Islands to Florida and Australia—is made up of Berklee classmates Daniel Rotem (tenor sax), Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Tabari Lake (bass) and Rodney Rocgues (drums). The set kicked off with “Bye Bye Blackbird.” While it may have taken the group a small stretch of time to get their truly international chops in sync, the Sarah McKenzie Quartet featured a large open style with a spirited, ingenious, tasteful dignity I love; and Sarah herself tried a number of different approaches on for size, including scat singing. I was most impressed by her piano playing. “The Way You Look Tonight” (which is on Close Your Eyes) evolved as a fully engaging piece that truly swung, with elegant phrasing, a fine svelte touch, and solid comping behind the others–Sarah McKenzie somewhat “sassy” with her scat, but showing much poise: an easeful, comfortable manner—comping her own vocals seamlessly.

The last time I heard and saw Harold Mabern was in 1994, when he appeared as a portion of the  James Williams Contemporary Piano Ensemble, a group that featured the sumptuous talents (and additional forty fingers) of Mabern, Geoff Keezer, Donald Brown, and Mulgrew Miller—along with James Williams himself. That year, they kicked off the Festival in high gear: a piano ensemble only matched, to my mind, by the appearance of Bill Charlop, Lynne Arriale, and Jason Moran with Marian McPartland in 2004. The 1994 Contemporary Piano Ensemble closed out its set with a Williams’ original, “That Church Thing,” a piece that found the five pianists circling four pianos they’d shared chores at, all five clapping hands and leading a rousing gospel parade.

Harold Mabern is a talker as well as a player, and that was just fine, because the incidental talk that preceded the playing—and sometimes accompanied it—was good. He mentioned Nat “King” Cole, and then launched into “Baby, Baby, Baby, What is Wrong with You?”—offering words of encouragement to himself in an aside: “Let’s see if I can do this one,” and then commentary on the blues in general: “You can’t teach the blues.” All this was laced, or enhanced, with scat singing intended (I think) to show that if the blues don’t come naturally, it best not arrive at all (to borrow, or steal, an observation by John Keats regarding poetry: “If Poetry comes not as naturally as Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”). Mabern even tossed in a playful “I used to get $2000 to do this … don’t I wish,” and finally completed the tune itself, just good ole funky fun: “You packed your bags and left me;/I didn’t know what to do;/ Baby, baby, baby, what is wrong with you?”—the instrumental portions flavored with pronounced barrelhouse trills to emphasize the fact that she (“Baby, baby, baby”) had been gone far too long, et cetera.

This piece (or production) was followed by a song Mabern had written for trumpeter Lee Morgan, who recorded prolifically from 1956 until the day before his death in February 1972, when Morgan was shot and killed by his common-law wife Helen More (a.k.a. Morgan), following a between sets altercation at Slug’s Saloon, an East Village (NYC) jazz club. Mabern’s piece is called “Edward Lee,” and was rendered in a funky Trad Jazz style so percussive it sounded a bit muddy to me, but that may have been the intended effect. Whatever, Harold Mabern swings, no doubt about it, and his rhythm section (Michael Zisman, bass; Peppe Merolla, drums), if not exactly shading the piece, definitely did propel it—the overall “feel” good, all the tricks of the trade (from double time to trading fours) employed.

After, Mabern returned to “talk,” telling tales of serving time at Manassas High School, taking up the piano “late” (age 15), but making his first professional appearances, in Chicago, at that same age. He offered asides on John Coltrane’s persistence and incessant practice as an artist (“Trane laid with it till he solved his problems”), which led into a smooth, playful “But Not for Me” (part of the playfulness consisted of a quote from “Pop Goes the Weasel”), a refreshing, original interpretation of the Gershwin tune, with deep steady assistance on bass by Zisman (1/2,  ½, ½), a strong bass solo by the same while Mabern sat things out, appreciatively, before returning with a formal flourish worthy of Chopin (albeit parody)—the pianist an entertainer of the old-school as well as a first-rate instrumentalist. I enjoyed all that he had to offer.

Here’s the cover of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble CD The Key Players on which Harold Mabern appears, and the man himself at the piano:

MJF14 9      harold-mabern 2

The same was true on Saturday afternoon, when Booker T. Jones (of “Green Onions” and Booker T. and the MGs fame) performed, sans MGs, but with a fresh group. This one-time prodigy named after the great educator Booker T. Washington and now a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, offered familiar fare played with flair on the Jimmy Lyons (Main) Stage: a cover version of “Purple Rain” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Hoochy Koochy Man.” All this was taken in by a somewhat sedate but fully appreciative Saturday Afternoon Blues audience, not at all like the Festival’s 1960’s wild-with-abandon Saturday afternoon crowds (topless women and lovers who abandoned the privacy of sleeping bags to disclose other moves dancing in the aisles–and stands). Then, an annual parade was led by The Rainbow Lady (De Dee Rainbow of Seattle), dressed in effusively colorful garb, her face flecked with gold dust, her substantial body decked out in silver boas and rings ranging from turquoise Navaho to cast silver Chinese dragons, carrying her full-spectrum parasol and a globe-topped wand, a giant badge perched atop one breast that read “Enjoy life; this is not a dress rehearsal.”

Some of what Booker T. (who has retained both charm and good looks) offered was greeted with church-like reverence or solemnity—the man sitting next to me attempting to simulate the rhythms by way of both hands and head and only partially succeeding—but the spirit was there. Booker T. played “Time Is Time” (written while he was still in high school, and employed as sound track for the film Up Tight)—this as the set’s “last song,” himself on Hammond B-3 organ: a brooding start, left hand drone, and a shift to hand-clapping recognizable melody and rhythms that more than suggested anthem proportions, Booker T.’s eyes shut tight as if he were in a trance, building until the sound ceased abruptly and he cried out, “That’s our show … see you again!” And his faithful followers would—for he performed once more that evening in Dizzy’s Den, as special guest with The Philadelphia Experiment, a group featuring Uri Caine (another of my favorite pianists), bassist Christian McBride, and Questlove from the group The Roots which had stirred up its own audience (and set them dancing at midnight) on opening night.

I enjoyed so much of what I heard all weekend long at MJF57, but I was disappointed by two sets offered—expecting grand things from the second of them. The first was the Becca Stevens Band (the same vocalist who provided such a memorable performance as part of Billy Childs’ Map to the Treasure premiere, singing Laura Nyro’s “Confession” and “To a Child”). On Saturday afternoon, in Dizzy’s Den, Becca offered her own songs, accompanying herself on guitar and ukulele—the first tune, which contained the solemn line “everything must go soon” was quite handsome, suggesting echoes of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season),” the lyrics of which (excluding the title) and final verse of which Seeger adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes—a song that would go on to become an international hit in 1965, covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds. However, when Becca switched from guitar to ukulele, the music seemed to get as “cute” as that instrument sometimes becomes in hands (and minds) less creative than those of Jake Shimabukuro (Arthur Godfrey anyone?). Lines such as “each day that spring is in full bloom,” “look inside your heart and look inside mine,” and “bring me your higher love” struck me with less force than the lessons of Ecclesiastes, so I bowed out on Becca, who does have a lovely voice.

The second disappointing set was Jason Moran’s “Fats Waller Dance Party,” for which I had been prepared, in a very positive way, by an article Dan Ouellette wrote for DownBeat (my October issue arriving, fortunately, just before the September Festival), “Jason Moran: Other Ways of Operating.” I’ve already commented on the extraordinary work Moran does in both duos with and the quartet of Charles Lloyd, alongside his 2004 MJF appearance with Marian McPartland. And Thomas “Fats” Waller was one of the first pianists who, by way of his RCA recordings, awakened a desire in me to play piano. Consequently, this alliance (Waller/Moran) and Dan’s piece aroused high hopes.

Jason Moran was the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Fellowship, and, in 2011, received a commission from the Harlem Stage Gatehouse to prepare and present a homage to former Harlem resident Thomas “Fats” Waller. In his article, Dan Ouellette wrote, as an aside, “It’s been said that when he died, [Waller’s] ashes were spread around the neighborhood.” For the project he’d been assigned, Moran engaged the services of vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, who has ten GRAMMY nominations to her credit, and is best known on the hip-hop and neo-soul scene. She assisted Moran, in Ouellette’s words, “translating the jazz tradition into contemporary expression as a dance party”—and the two collaborated again on the recording All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller for Blue Note Records.

“I want to know other ways of operating,” Moran told Ouellette, drawing “dance into music,” projecting what Ndegeocello calls “the party feel … Party was the focus to celebrate and praise Fats, who was a hit-maker in his time.” Moran’s task was “coming to philosophical grips about delving into the Waller songbook,” and he was concerned that the music might perhaps prove “too personal to the icon.” He did not wish to tread on Waller’s “narrative,” so he asked, “Why play his music the way that it’s always been? My goal was: Does it sound good?” Much discussion, and many different conversations ensued: with Ndegeocello, with drummer Charles Hayes (Ndegeocello on him: “His Pop groove is formidable. You can’t stand still when Charles plays.”), and with engineer Bob Power, who was impressed by the willingness of Moran and Ndegeocello to follow “an oddly otherworldly bent that carries with it a deep emotional level … They were unfettered by the originals.”

Jason Moran as Fats Waller   Jason Moran as Fats Waller 2

All this struck me as “good stuff.” With so much solid thought and preparation behind this ambitious venture–one that sought to combine solid musicianship with good time fun, hoping to entice an audience to not just listen, but (nearly automatically) get up and dance–I was eager to be a part of that audience in front of the Garden Stage on Saturday night at the MJF. But I’m sorry to say that, for me (and for a number of other folks I talked to), the “show” fell flat, in spite of so many good intentions. Moran, wearing a large papier-mache mask of Waller’s head, initiated the set as if he were his own cheerleader (or conducting a football rally pep-talk): “Keep it goin’ for as long as you can … keep it up for Fats Waller … he’s been dead for a long time, but give it up as if he were here!” This sounded a bit too much like a disclaimer to me, and the attempt to resurrect or re-interpret or re-invent Waller that followed did not take me in the direction intended (a re-appreciation of the pianist/entertainer I have loved for years), but close to the opposite: “What on earth are they doing with or to him?!”

Jason Moran (above as Fats; photo credit John Rogers for pic with microphone) offered an odd blend of endless vamps and solid stride on “Lulu’s Back in Town” (with fine support from Tarus Mateen on bass), and then vocalist Lisa Harris danced on stage—the vamp mode continuing, the title of the next tune, “Honeysuckle Rose,” a fatiguing loop embellished by Leron Thomas’ trumpet, Harris converting Waller’s clever, memorable bridge (“Don’t buy sugar/You just have to touch my cup/You’re my sugar/It’s sweeter when you stir it up”) to a static “Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh,” Moran backing this up with synthesizer chords and some more acoustic piano, the piece closing out with a five note Basie (“plink plink plink plink plink”) ending.

My favorite Waller tune “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was introduced by information that the composer “wrote it while he was in alimony jail,” Lisa Harris chanting the lyrics rather than singing them, the phrase “for you” (which follows “savin’ my love …”) stuck in the loop groove again, some trumpet relief provided, then more “for yous,” a seemingly endless nonsense syllable refrain, hands over her head, suggesting a dance. She did call out, “We want to see you dance”—but no one took her up on the invitation except Jason Moran himself, wearing the papier-mache mask, prancing about the stage, removing his sport coat, stripped down to his T-shirt, Harris madly shaking a tambourine; but all I could feel at the time (thinking back to the “best laid plans” projected in Dan Ourellette’s article in DownBeat) was: “They’ve somehow mistaken motion for action.”

On Sunday afternoon, I returned to the Garden Stage stands for a performance by a vocalist I’d never heard (or heard of) before, Youn Sun Nah, from Korea—making her first Monterey Jazz Festival appearance. She was accompanied by Ulf Wakenius, advertised as the “last guitarist of Oscar Peterson.” Youn Sun Nah provided a piece with a soft “Asian” blues flavor, a song of her own with lyrics about friendship and memory I had no trouble getting into: “I wear this crown of thorns … full of broken thoughts I cannot repair … everyone I know goes away at the end … that old familiar sting.”

Gifted with a voice with which she can create just about any vocal effect a human being can imagine, she reminded me of Sainkho Namtchylak (known for her Tuvan throat singing, or Khoomei–a singer I much admire), Youn Sun Nah employing dynamics that ranged from a whisper to sudden overt shouts: percussive phrases such as “not ready to play and not ready to fight” mixed with what the Japanese call “yugen” (suggestion in preference to outright statement), staging a love drama (and she has incorporated “theater” within her music seamlessly), “Stay … go,” which made  enjoyable use of scat and appropriate hand gestures that resembled the subtle maneuvers of hula. An attractive presence on stage, Youn San Nah employed a full range of effects—auditory and visual—to enhance her performance, and Ulf Wakenius was very much there at her side to match them.

MJF Youn Sun Nah    MJF Youn Sun Nah 3

I was sitting next to Mitsuru Mendenhall, wife of first-rate local pianist Eddie Mendenhall, and she introduced me to her mother, who was visiting from Japan. Intent on Youn Sun Nah, I couldn’t help but lean over and say “utsukushii” (“beautiful,” for a work of art, in Japanese), and they both nodded in agreement. Now playing kalimba (African thumb piano), the singer would offer a barely audible “Thank you” at the end of each tune—much in contrast to some of the truly powerful, even overwhelming sounds that had emerged from her lips. The single totally familiar song she sang was “My Favorite Things,” which she offered at a slow, leisurely tempo, a joyful dirge, a delicate chant—and she closed her set with an English folk song, “A Sailor’s Life,” delivered with strong emotion, building from plaintive to puissant, creating the eerie effect that she was singing in two parts, singing harmony with herself: “We can row our oars … we can be lovers without tears.” I felt the overall performance had been strong, enjoyable—a unique blend of solid musicianship and enhancing theater.

I devoted the Festival’s last night, Sunday, to the Charles Lloyd Quartet: first its appearance on the Jimmy Lyons Stage as reported in the previous post, which meant that I missed what I was told was an outstanding set by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire at the Night Club, but I did arrive there in time to hear Delfeayo Marsalis (trombone) with his special guest, family patriarch Ellis Marsalis on piano. I first heard Delfeayo Marsalis play at the Rampart Street Funky Butt in New Orleans, when my wife Betty and I attended a AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference there in 2002, so I wanted to get “caught up,” to see just what he was up to now—which was pretty much the same (and enjoyable): the Trad Jazz that is the fundamental format or source for the Marsalis family legacy.

I don’t take photos at the Monterey Jazz Festival (I’m too busy writing it all down!), so I’m going to have some fun here and post a photo of Delfeayo Marsalis (singing) that I took at the Funky Butt in 2002—and to “catch” that New Orleans flavor: a photo I took of the Preservation Hall sign, and two of street musician Doreen Ketchens (dubbed “Queen Clarinet,” whom those in the know told me was the “best trumpet player in New Orleans,” but refused to play in the clubs), seen here playing in Jackson Square, in front of St. Louis Cathedral (I was also told that musicians came from all over the world just to perform with her).

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At MJF, Delfeayo’s group was holding forth with “On the Sunny Side of the Street” when I entered the Night Club, the leader contributing a joyous solo laced with trad slurs and growls, the rhythm section assisted by a hand-clapping standing room only (I was lucky to find a recently vacated seat) audience Delfeayo had engaged at the start with plugs for his birthplace: “If you go to New Orleans, you got to go to that Mardi Gras … and when you’re down there, my Daddy’s gonna tell you what it’s all about … we’re gonna jump and shout; we gonna turn the party out!” If the chat up and licks were familiar, they were still good fun—and “Daddy,” of course, is Delfeayo’s father (and Winton’s, and Branford’s and Jason’s), the pianist whom I felt (and he’s been doing it for years) “stole the show” with his truly tasteful style, which he provided on “Autumn Leaves” and then again on “Nancy,” a handsome close-to-the-melody paraphrase right down to the last “laughing face” grace note on the latter.

The group played “Speak Low” (that fine Kurt Weill tune with lyrics by Ogden Nash), up tempo—but the drummer (whom I hadn’t checked out) struck me as a tad heavy handed, so I was surprised to discover it was Marvin “Smitty” Smith, one of my favorite drummers and whose excellent articles on drum technique I’ve found invaluable (up to the point, that is, of my ongoing shortcomings when it comes to percussion)—but throughout the set, the audience did get “taken down to New Orleans” and the trip was good.

I’d run into guitarist Bruce Forman, about whom I’ve written in the past on a number of occasions (his many fine performances) and whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and we had a good catching up “chat.” I had another of those “conflict of interests” occasions, for I learned that Bruce would be playing with the Tony Monaco Trio in Dizzy’s Den at 7:30, but–because of the many excellent simultaneous offerings at MJF–I’d missed out on hearing pianist Donald Brown play with his trio at the Coffee House Gallery on Saturday night, along with a Saturday afternoon “Conversation” there, “Remembering Two Piano Masters: Mulgrew Miller & James Williams,” featuring Brown, Harold Mabern, and Geoff Keezer. I had to forego Bruce if I was to catch Keezer’s set—and that amazing  pianist offered his customary first-rate fare: clean, well-conceived, fully imaginative lightning-quick runs and engaging dynamics, on tunes written by James Williams (“In the Open Court”) and Mulgrew Miller (“From Day to Day”). Thank you, Geoff, for the homage paid to those two greats in your own performance. After his set, the last line I entered in my notebook was: “God, he’s fast!” Fast and good.

The last set I witnessed on Sunday night was by Eric Harland’s group Voyager. I’d been so impressed by this 2014 Artist-in-Residence’s appearances with Charles Lloyd (twice), but I may have been a bit burnt out by a full weekend of superlative offerings, for while Harland, as a drummer, is a delight to listen to in and of himself (similar in this sense to Brian Blade), and while he had Taylor Eigsti on hand (another fine pianist), I found Chris Turner’s heavily-cliched vocals lacking … something (“Can we sing together?” followed by a nursery rime refrain: “la la la la la la la la,”etc.). I found myself jotting down some uncomplimentary notes throughout this set regarding a phenomenon which, along with all the riches (the top notch performances), I’d experienced that weekend.

I found myself writing about unrelated “increments” of music offered in lieu of meaningful sequence; an OVERKILL of “information” (notes) in place of focused innate feeling vividly expressed; forethoughts and afterthoughts but that significant leap across the synapses, the connecting tissue, the fortunate “in between” (that can be ALL) somehow ignored or left out—so that the attempt to tie things together too often fell back on endless vamps, treading water, stalling for time, repetitious becoming with no end in sight, still searching for a significant story to tell rather than telling it outright or having that story fall in place of its own accord—these efforts so unlike the truly stirring, meaningful music I’d heard from Charles Lloyd (that gorgeous tone of his alone!), Billy Childs, and Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band (fellowship indeed!).

Once again, because of “overlap” in offerings, and my own inability to be in two (or three!) places at the same time (unlike the gifted critic Scott Yanow, who still somehow manages—after all these years–to “take it ALL in”), I missed out on: excellent vocalist Claudia Villela and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel’s “Getz/Gilberto” set; drummer John Hanrahan’s quintet featuring tenor-saxophonist Brian Gephart doing, as Scott would write, “a superior job of performing all of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’” (“earning a standing ovation”); “The remarkable Lisa Fischer [whom I did hear with Billy Childs] perform a soul/R&B set for a packed house”; pianist Aaron Diehl and his quartet paying homage to John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet with the commissioned piece “Three Streams of Expression” (“fully capturing the sound of the MJQ”); pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa (“a passionate player with very impressive technique, a future giant from Cuba who was dazzling with his trio.”). And thanks, Scott, for the quotes!

Thus ended what I felt was one of the most well-rounded, fully engaging weekends of music the Monterey Jazz Festival has offered—and the fare each year is consistently high, thanks to the competent staff and Tim Jackson’s well-proven genius for exceptional programming.

Another jazz fest is coming up soon: the March 6-8 JAM (JazzAge Monterey) 35th Anniversary “Jazz Bash by the Bay” at the Monterey Conference Center. I was fortunate in being asked to be on the Advisory Board for this event (originally known as Dixieland Monterey—now offering a full range of trad jazz, ragtime, swing, zydeco, gypsy jazz, and blues, with more than a taste of truly current licks along the way), and I would like to offer, by way of Bill’s Blog, a three part series of pieces–the first of which will cover the event’s first six years–telling the story of how its remarkable and much welcomed evolution has taken place. So … see you then!