At the close of my last blog post (which I devoted largely to the appearance of Norah Jones at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival–and the state of jazz as an art form just now), I said I did plan, in my next post, to do justice to much of the excellent music I witnessed at this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival—and I mentioned two performances I much admired on the first (Friday, September 21) night: the Hristo Vitchev Quartet (Hristo Vitchev, guitar; Jasnam Daya Singh, piano; Dan Robbins, bass; Mike Shannon, drums) and the Jan Ira Bloom Quartet (the leader on soprano sax; Dawn Clement, piano; Mark Hellas, bass; Bobby Previte, drums).
The Hristo Vitchev Quarter opened the Festival that first night, performing on The Garden Stage at 6:30. I was not all that familiar with 37-year-old Bulgaria-born (but now based in San Francisco) Hristo Vitchev (“one of the newest and most innovative voices in modern jazz guitar,” an artist who “combines elements of classical, modern jazz, folk, and avant-garde sonic hues in his music”), but I have known Brazilian-born Jasnam Daya Singh for some time, for he performed for years in Monterey as Weber Iago—and we had a chance at this year’s Festival to renew our friendship (by way of a good “catching up” chat just before the group performed—during which I was reminded of the time he told me that, given the host of his Bossa Nova “hits” I am acquainted with, only a portion of the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim ever made it out of Brazil). I have written about Dan Robbins and Mike Shannon (both highly respected Monterey Bay Area musicians) in the past, and I’d previewed the group’s excellent recent CD Of Light and Shadows—so I was eager to hear them together, “live.”
Their set met all of my expectations. They played the title tune from the CD, “Of Light and Shadows,” which begins with a three note vamp, Jasnam Daya Singh’s unique fluid piano configurations in the backgound, then foreground in unison with Hristo Vitchev’ s equally circumfluent guitar. A characteristic of the group’s music is the seeming ease with which the individual voices blend (emerge and submerge), united, the whole unfolding handsomely, each voice taking a turn “on top,” then gracefully bowing out. Mike Shannon offers accelerated but subtle drum-breaks, followed by deft guitar lines, and these in turn by Jasnam Daya Singh’s consistently original, inventive improvisations (a mix of fresh bop configuration and classical restraint). A four note guitar/bass in unison theme takes us “out.”
“The Shortest Wave Length,” also found on the CD, opens with lush, beautiful piano, off which Vitchev builds the theme (Mike Shannon urging the piece on with his customary taste and skill). Dan Robbins provides a handsome bass solo, followed by a piano interlude (similar to the opening), gracious right hand runs and glorious two-handed piano, Hristo Vitchev easing his way into this frame, melodic, maintaining his warm tone, yet offering playful, prancing notes—all four musicians expanding, enhancing the theme, an ascent, and anthem march forward—then back to the original piano opening: (graceful, “classical” design and disposition), with Mike Shannon’s subtle “tympani” effects at the close.
A third tune from Of Light and Shadow offered was a beautiful ballad, “A Portrait of a Love Forgotten”—a simple repetitious two chord opening giving way to subtle guitar modulations, tender, melodic: guitar and piano “married,” as one, a warm gentle texture sustained; stillness yet a gracious “glide” forward, extended guitar runs, chromatic journeys; then piano with the same touch, caress (not an anxious trace anywhere: just persistent affection)—and back to the alternating two chord pattern, with subtle enhancement by all four musicians: Dan Robbins in unison on the theme with Mike Shannon’s wash of cymbals at the end. This is a superb fully together combo to watch for—again and again!
Here are photos of Hristo Vitchev, Jasnan Daya Singh, and the Quartet in a row: Dan Robbins, Vitchev, Singh, and Mike Shannon (Photo credits: The Mercury News; zw.linkedin.com; jazzguitarsociety.com)
I was familiar with the work of soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, but had only recently been introduced to her pianist, Dawn Clement, through their CD Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson. Wild Lines is a superb, reverent homage to one of my “top ten” favorite poets, Emily D., and at Monterey, whereas Jane Ira Bloom improvised beautifully on the pieces her group offered, much of credit has to go to Dawn Clement, who not only offered first-rate piano, but recited portions of the poems with elegance and maximum respect.
“Excuse Emily and Her Atoms” began with those words, followed by a soft piano vamp, the words “The North Star is of small fabric but it implies much yet presides,” and exquisite give and take between Bloom and Clement, building to deft sprightly piano runs, the echo of Jane Ira Bloom’s themes and configurations, “wild lines,” a fade to Mark Helias’ first-rate bass solo, soprano sax minimalism (melodic repetition), and ending with a soaring, “uplifting” (“Leave me ecstasy”) ending.
Next came “Alone and In A circumstance,” piano intro, vamp, and recitation: “Alone and in a circumstance / Reluctant to be told / A spider on my reticence / Assiduously crawled.” (“And so much more at home than I / Immediately grew / I felt myself a visitor / And hurriedly withdrew.”). Jane Ira Bloom (“All compositions” but one are attributed to her in the CD liner notes) provided a handsome melody here (reminiscent of “I Can’t Get Started”), floating, flowing, enhanced by Bobby Previte’s tom tom and brittle cymbal work—the theme offset by Clement’s piano vamp and exchanged melodically, supported by the expert rhythm section of Helias and Previte, the latter’s full kit accompaniment, with emphasis on ride cymbal: the playfulness melting to a smooth melodic “withdrawal.”
“One Note” began with a portion of Emily D’s poem: “One note from / One Bird / is better than / a million words,” excerpted from The Gorgeous Nothings: skipping, ornithological gestures on piano, replicated on soprano sax, then both together above smooth wire brush drumming, a bop riff, and impressive improvisation by Dawn Clement. The set ended with mournful melody, shuffling drum work (and hi hat clarity), bowed bass, soaring sax, unison accents, and everybody comin’ home on “I Lived on Dread”—an extraordinary performance by all:
I lived on Dread—
To Those who know
The Stimulus there is
In Danger—Other impetus
Is numb—and Vitalless—
As ’twere a Spur—upon the Soul—
A Fear will urge it where
To go without the Sceptre’s aid
Were Challenging Despair.
Jane Ira Bloom emerged as one of the Festival weekend’s “super stars,” I feel: this Friday night set with her quartet—and her superb set on Saturday night with pianist Fred Hersch (their duo on “Time After Time” sent writer Andy Gilbert into an ecstatic trance, and me too! Followed by a memorable “There’s a Place for Us.”). I am going to pause for a moment and insert an account of a personal “condition” I carried with me throughout the weekend—one which proved “beneficial” for all of Jan Ira Bloom’s sets, but not necessarily for access to other venues than the Pacific Jazz Café (which has a unique policy) and witnessing the work of artists I would love to have heard and seen but found inaccessible.
First: Here are photos of Jan Ira Bloom, Dawn Clement, Dawn with Jan Ira Bloom leading her quartet, and drummer Bobby Previte (Photo credits: nply.org; All About Jazz; Stuart Brinin; Eye Shot Jazz: Daniel Sheehan)
Briefly: I have a vestibular system (vertigo) condition I’ve experienced (off and on) for twenty-seven years, along with a visual condition (macular degeneration), and, back in December of 1017, I spent ten days in Community Hospital (and seventeen physical therapy sessions just after) attempting to regain the use of a left leg that, mysteriously, had ceased to function (no sensation whatsoever)—and while I had little trouble manipulating (traversing) the Fairgrounds during the day (in sunlight), I discovered, once the sun went down, that darkness presented numerous obstacles, and considerable risk, when it came to mobility (maintaining my balance), going from one venue to the next. Events in the main arena (Jimmy Lyons Stage) take place at one end of the Fairgrounds—and the other far end nests a North Coast Brewing Company open pavilion where I hoped to meet my friend Stu Brinin on occasion for liquid refreshment and good conversation (Stu is a photographer who lives in Oakland, and he “rooms” at the home of my wife Betty and me throughout the Festival weekend. He’s a very gregarious, genial fellow, a Master of extraversion, and we have decided, in our minds, to change the name of the North Coast Brewing Company sanctuary to Stu’s Place).
The “policy” the Pacific Jazz Café provided was a raised section or “nook” (seating area) for members of the audience with “physical or mental impairments that substantially limit ‘major life’ activities.” (“Major life activities include walking, sitting, reading, seeing, and communicating”– as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals so defined)—and when I walked in for Jane Ira Bloom’s first set on Friday night, an usher spotted my cane (and tentative mobility) and directed me to the elevated isolated (off to the left) section (best view in the house!) and provided a seat I returned to on Saturday night—for Fred Hersch’s “Solo Piano” set, and his set with Jane Ira Bloom which followed (I would also hear the trio of guitarist Julian Lage and Bill Frisell’s Trio there on Sunday night).
The Hersch solo piano set at 7:30 on Sunday night was splendid—exceptional in the way his performances always are: original, elegant, winsome, masterful. He dug into his past, playing “a little gem” he first discovered in high school, “something by Antonio Carlo Jobim,” Hersch a master of dynamics, applying his exquisite touch to the tune, which (I’m sorry to say) I can’t recall the name of (although it was a piece I’ve played myself—and I was reminded of my talk with Jasnam Daya Singh, with which I began this Blog, and his commentary on the host of songs by the prolific Jobim that never made it out of Brazil). Fred Hersch played it tender, each note a caress; and he played it prancing, even “cute,” a demonstration of richly considered, and fully coordinated, two-hand piano.
George Gerswin’s “Embraceable You” followed: an ingenious transformation of the original melody taking place, once that melody had been established in mind—left and right hands offering what seemed different tunes (inventive lower register, deep bass, and dancing tasteful treble (high-pitched) lines—both together a beautiful blend as “one.” He played “My Old Man” (from Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue), referring to his own “misspent youth” beforehand—and he added a range of tunes to his graceful, cheerful, classically precise rendering of that tune with “Doxy,” (and he can play the blues!), Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” (strictly instrumental, but the rich words—”In every heart there is a room / A sanctuary safe and strong / To heal the wounds from lovers past / Until a new one comes along”—implied in every note; and he offered a beautiful, subtle (left hand only at the start) treatment of a song I associate with Chet Baker: “This Is Always.”
Just when you felt no other set could equate or surpass what you’d just heard—Fred Hersch’s set with Jane Ira Bloom did! As I’ve already said, I feel Jane Ira Bloom emerged as one of the Festival weekend’s “super stars,” and this superb set on Saturday night with Fred Hersch secured the opinion (as well as his super star status). They offered two of my favorite songs from their Jane Ira Bloom & Fred Hersch/As One CD (both composed by the pianist): “A Child’s Song [for Charlie Haden]” and “Janeology.” The former begins with a soft loving solo improv opening by Hersch, then a rich engaging soprano sax theme, accompanied by faultless, tasteful piano comping (the two are perfectly paired! Respectful of, empathic with, each other). Jane Ira Bloom is one of the most animated instrumentalists I’ve ever seen “in action,” arching, swaying, undulating, executing gestures absolutely in time, in keeping with the music—and when she “fades,” Hersch enters as if only the perspective, the point of view of an improvisation had shifted, not the personnel.
Here is a photo of Fred Hersch at the piano—and with Jane Ira Bloom (Photo credits: https://williamscenter.lafayette.edu; Stuart Brinin)
Their “Time After Time,” as I remarked earlier, was superb—this duet sending writer Andy Gilbert, who was standing just outside of my “nook,” into an ecstatic trance–and me too! I’d heard this song on her The Red Quartets CD (which not only includes Fred Hersch, but Mark Dresser and Bobby Previte as well), as she and Hersch together played it as gently, tenderly, movingly (again: a wordless phrasing of “the one you run to see” and “you’ve kept my love so young, so new” embodied the sentiments perfectly) as they performed on the recording—and Fred Hersch’s solo was “relaxed” love incarnate—as comfortable, natural, yet grand as a creative act can be. And their joint close out with (and again wordless, but implied) “so lucky to be … loving … you” was perfection.
“Janeology” was a delightful mix of lithesome spats and splashes, good fun—Jane Ira Bloom bobbing and weaving like Sugar Ray Robinson throughout—piano and sax playing games with one another (good games), almost a “chase scene,” the mobility enhanced by Hersch’s “plink plinks,” and booming bass chords that she danced atop of—counterpoint at its crazy best, and then they just quit, suddenly, delightfully. After, she said, “We’ll leave you with something by Leonard Bernstein … I think you will recognize this.” With mutual delicacy and a powerful ending, they close out the set with “There’s a Place for Us.” Beautiful!
Leaving the Pacific Jazz Café, somewhat reluctantly (for I’d had the best seat in the house for the remarkable performances I’d witnessed), I had hoped to catch the tale end portion of “Celebrating a MJF Legend: Remembering Ray Brown” (featuring Christian McBride, Benny Green, and Gregory Hutchinson—with John Clayton, John Patitucci, and Diane Reeves as “Special Guests”)—but this set was held in the main arena, a considerable distance away, and the difficulty I was having walking successfully (with regard to my vestibular system—and I wouldn’t make use of available, and convenient, shuttle transportation until the next day) discouraged me from taking the “hike.” Also convenient, was a building close by the Pacific Jazz Café which offered a large screen version of whatever took place on the Jimmy Lyons Stage main arena), so I went “next door”—to check out the result of a project I’d worked on for this year’s Festival.
On the basis of some short video pieces for which I had provided copy for the 60th anniversary MJF (humorous quips from Festival history, such as Miles Davis response to being asked to “go first” in 1964: “Sure, I like them fresh ears.”–short videos shown throughout the weekend), I had been asked to provide copy for an extended video on Ray Brown—words to be used as voice overs in the film. I’d come up with what I felt was “good stuff” (my acquaintance with bassist Ray Brown extending back to the early 50s, when I saw him with Jazz at the Philharmonic in Detroit). The person who asked for this material said he “loved” what I sent him, and I was curious to see how it had been used—although I was somewhat concerned, because I’d not heard from him again, and I was to be paid on the basis of how much of what I’d written was actually used in the finished project.
Sitting in the Jazz Theater, I learned that none of what I’d written had been used in the final film—which consisted solely of interviews (“testimonial”) by artists such as Christian McBride and Diane Reeves. Disappointed (disgusted? Betrayed?), I decided to “skip” whatever might be left of the Ray Brown tribute set, and go sip a quiet glass of wine outside, waiting for Jon Batiste’s set at 10:10.
Here are two pictures of Ray Brown at the Monterey Jazz Festival (with Christen McBride, and with Christen and with Benny Green). (Photos credits: montereyjazzfestival.org)
And here, for posterity (Definition: “If you save something ‘for posterity,’ you’re hoping that years later people will appreciate it, like a time capsule you bury in the yard.”) is what I had written in tribute to Ray Brown:
Raymond Matthews Brown was a highly respected, constantly sought-after masterful double-bassist—an innovator, a mentor, educator, exceptional talent scout, and iconic ambassador for the art form of jazz.
He shaped his own set of aesthetic principles and stood by them all of his life: “The most important thing about the bass as an instrument is not playing it fast, not playing solos, but getting a good sound”—which Ray Brown had from the start: a large, solid, original sound that made him much sought after as an accompanist.
Yet the end result of considerable discipline was, as those he performed with acknowledged, “how much he loved to play … he kept on playing when everyone else took a break.” Asked toward the end of his life, “Do you still love it?”, he replied, “Why play if you don’t?” Pittsburg, PA-born Ray Brown started out on piano at age 8, hoped to switch to trombone (but couldn’t afford one) and filled, in high school, an empty orchestra space on bass. He served an apprenticeship (listening to Duke Ellington’s orchestra by way of the city’s beer garden jukeboxes) learning the licks of jazz legend Jimmy Blanton, and answered the call of 52nd Street just after he graduated from high school–purchasing a one-way-ticket to NYC. A friend, pianist Hank Jones, introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie, who hired Ray on the spot. From this time on, Ray Brown helped define the role of the modern jazz rhythm section with his “unique dynamic and innate sense of swing.”
Ray met, and married, Ella Fitzgerald (and introduced “the first lady of song” to bebop) and they performed together (with Oscar Peterson) om tours with JATP (Jazz at the Philharmonic, with whom Ray would remain for 18 years, but only 4 with Ella). A lean, tall, handsome Ray, a genuine gentleman, responded, when someone in the audience at a Detroit concert shouted out suggestive comments regarding the vocalist, by setting down his bass, coming to the front of the stage, and telling the heckler that, if he didn’t stop the offense, Ray would take him outside and teach him some manners.
Ray Brown made his first appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959, with the Oscar Peterson Trio (with which he would play for 15 years, Peterson saying the group formed a “breathe together bond.”). Brown would return to the MJF seven more times, serving in a number of capacities (rehearsing the Gil Evans big band in 1966; in a Salute to JATP in 1971; in a 1973 Charlie Parker Tribute, and with Dizzy Gillespie and Friends in 1978.)
He acted as MJF Musical Director in 1966: “A wild time [Janis Joplin performed],” in Ray’s words: “Fans were carrying on so bad the neighbors complained to the police.” Ray was chatting with General Manager Jimmy Lyons when, in Ray’s words again: “This guy walks up with all these medals on his chest.” He was Monterey’s Chief of Police, and he asked, “Who’s running this thing?” Lyons pointed to Ray, and the Chief told Ray, “I want this show shut down by midnight, and if it isn’t, I’m going to put you in jail.” Ray contacted Count Basie, who agreed to shorten his set, as did Carmen McRae (Ray: “You know how evil she could be!”), but saxophonist Gerry Mulligan accused Ray Brown of “Crow Jim tactics,” his show cut because he was white. “Man,” Ray Brown summarized his term as Musical Director, “Gerry had a complete conniption, and Jimmy just stood by and smiled.”
Ray Brown would settle in LA—in high demand to accompany singers such as Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan; and, as a talent scout of young pianists, such as Benny Green (who first performed at MJF with the California High School All-Star Band at age 15), Geoff Kiezer, and Larry Fuller. Ray performed at MJF with a young Christian McBride (alongside old pros Milt Jackson and J.J. Johnson—and Benny Green) in 1994. Ray was 68 at the time, McBride 22. It was Ray’s last MJF appearance. He recalls: “Tim Jackson just asked me, ‘Why don’t you do something alone with Christian?’ And I said, ‘Okay but you know this crowd.” The crowd loved it; the bass duet was stunning.
A golf fanatic (a friend joked that Ray might have “made more money playing golf than playing bass.”), having performed and recorded with everyone from Andre Previn, opera stars Kiri Te Kanawa and Leontyne Price, having received an Honorary Degree (1995, Doctor of Music) from Berklee College of Music, and inducted, in 2003, in the Down Beat Hall of Fame, Ray Brown played golf all morning before a gig in Indianapolis in 2002, went back to his hotel room to take a nap, and passed away.
Here are more photos of Ray–from back in the era in which I first saw him “live”—photos I also sent with what I had written (Photo credits: rjt4.tumbir.com; Pittsburgh Music History)
At 10:10 on Saturday night at the 61st MJF, I heard and saw Jon Batiste (with the Dap-Kings in a “New Orleans to Brooklyn” set which took place in the main arena, but I witnessed it in the Jazz Theater). I’ll say of Jon Batiste what I claimed for Jane Ira Bloom: I felt he was one of the Festival weekend’s “super stars.” He played three of my favorite tunes: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (“The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting / This land was made for you and me.”); “St. James Infirmary”; and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight” (perhaps even more roguish, ludic, spry than the composer offered it.).
Talking with NPR’s Terry Gross, Batiste said, “One of the first songs I had ever learned was ‘Straight, No Chaser,’ so I had known of [Monk’s] music, but I had never checked his playing out, and wow! It was like, and this is the power of music and why I think everything is everything, we’re all connected: This artist had cultivated a sound that I intuitively was reaching for 50 years before I existed. And I didn’t even know that what I was reaching for had already been developed … So at that point, you say ‘absorbed,’ I kid you not, it must’ve been at least for nine months to a year exclusively listening to Thelonious Monk.”
Whatever Jon Batiste “absorbs,” he also makes his own. One of the first jazz pieces I loved, and learned to sing (even recorded, on a very primitive device at age 13) was “St. James Infirmary” (Jack Teagarden’s version)—but Batiste’s “take” made me rethink (and feel) the song completely. About it, he has said (in a PopMatters interview with Christian John Wikane): “The song means a lot to me because it’s a song I learned early in my development. It’s something that you learn if you’re 11 years old and playing music in New Orleans … What I was doing was trying to create an outlet for the band to express the climax of angst and despair that you would feel if you were in the situation of the song, just completely crestfallen … The scene that I was creating on ‘Saint James Infirmary Blues’ was a funeral procession. The person who’s in the song can sense that something bad is on the horizon, but doesn’t know it happened yet. It takes this elegant melody, this graceful melody, and puts the blues through it. It’s like the love has gone to this place of despair. The song continues on to where you have the procession when you hear the horns and the drums come in, which is what happens in New Orleans. You have a dirge that brings people to home.”
Jon Batiste has not only mastered the music of New Orlean, past and present, but the city’s food supply as well, and where to find it–such as his favorite local meal, the humble poboy sandwich. “You can find the best poboys in unexpected locations, like grocery stores and gas stations,” he says in a video, and even provides unique directions: “You take Chartres to Natchez, down to Tchoupitoulas,” he says, instructing viewers to “hang a right on Smith Street,” with a doctored street sign reading “Bjonlignounolas” appearing on the screen as he lets his audience know how to correctly answer a wizard named Dennis’ riddle to earn the best poboy in town.
As for New Orleans jazz, Batiste says, “Music has always been a way for people to endure hardship and figure out how to really connect to their humanity or affirm their humanity when everything around them is trying to squash their humanity … Its importance goes beyond entertainment … In any situation, music can be used as a reprieve or a balm.” Which is exactly what he offered in Monterey on Saturday night—with a range of tunes from the three I’ve cited to “Kenner Boogie” (“It’s the way I interpret the feeling and the scene of being back home. The left hand is like a whole band, and the right hand is like a party. In the way it comes together, it’s the whole community.”) and “Don’t Stop”: “When it comes to loving me, don’t stop / I know there ain’t no guarantee, but don’t stop / Let’s keep it shaking while we can … Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop believing / ’Cause you know our time is coming up / So with all you’ve got, don’t stop.”
In his article “Women Run the Show at Monterey Jazz Fest” (in San Francisco Classical Voice), my friend Andy Gilbert wrote: “When a music festival’s mojo is working, every set seems to bump up against each other as if part of an expansive conversation about form, expression, collaboration, and the state of the art form itself … In an eagerly awaited and overdue breakthrough, the world’s longest continuously running jazz festival made a concerted effort this year to present women-led ensembles, and the results were both jaw-droppingly revelatory and utterly quotidian … What’s the Monterey Jazz Fest like when all five major stages feature a significant female presence? … Monterey delivered something truly new, and it was glorious to behold. It wasn’t so much the profusion of stellar women players as the fecund diversity in visions of bandleaders, composers, and arrangers.”
My Oakland photographer buddy Stu Brinin told me not to miss saxophonist Kristen Strom, who performed at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon in Dizzy’s Den. She led a group made up of herself on alto and soprano saxes, two trumpets, guitar, bass, and drums—the results providing a tight, unified, but also free and easy swing, not fancy or indulgent, but accessible melody, solid harmony, her own tone or “attack” strong—especially on a tune called “The Vikings” (The word a historical revival, from Old Norse vikingr “freebooter, sea-rover, pirate, viking ” which usually is explained as “one who came from the fjords”). Andy Gilbert would write of her, “San Jose saxophonist Kristen Strom’s Moving Day [set] summoned the sly but open-hearted spirit of the late, beloved bassist John Shifflett, bringing to life his little-heard compositions as a window into the generous soul of a musician’s musician.”
Another friend, drummer Akira Tana (who was of much help when I wrote Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within), told me he would be playing in trumpeter Aya Takazawa’s quintet at 12:30 on Sunday afternoon. Another fine “tight” group: her playing spirited, mid-range, a bit self-conscious on her solos at the start, but strong. Engaging—and excellent unison work with saxophonist Lyle Link. Pianist Matt Clark offered a tasteful solo (variety: solid chords, nimble right-hand runs)—the format mostly the Hard Bop so popular, still, in Japan (and my man Akira providing steady, hard-driving rhythm). Good blues, and Aya throughout an attractive stage presence, very much “in the moment”—a definite crowd-pleaser, accomplished artist.
I’ll briefly mention three more artists I enjoyed: Anastassiya Petrova’s organ quartet (rich Russian two-handed, and two-footed! Hammond B3 conservatory-trained technique, and then Berklee College of Music, and she swings)! The entire group “radiates nuance, power, and a down-home, soul kitchen vibe”–granting refreshing youthful energy, and gratitude (“Thanks a lot for coming; it means a lot to all of us: from Kazakhstan, to you!”). On Saturday afternoon, having discovered a shuttle that would take ne from venue to venue, in the main arena, I enjoyed “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues,” Thornetta Davis (“You been gone so long, I thought you were dead … Here you come knockin’ on my door / But I don’t need you anymore … I’d rather be alone, than lonely with you … All you gave me was the Blues.”), and Blue Notes’ Jose James, called a “fearless musical omnivore,” thrilling his audience with Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us.”
Here are photos of Kristen Strom, Aya Takazawa, Anastassiya Petrova, Thornetta Davis, and Jose James (Photo credits: Stuart Brinin; www.nautiljon.com; https://insta-stalker.com/profile/anastassiya_petrova_music/; Detroit Metro Times; http://www.soulbounce.com)
While the 61st MJF offered abundant, prolific representation of “The Year of the Woman in Monterey,” it also hosted a generous sampling of World Music. Two of my favorite groups were Bakante (“From the Delta to the Desert, a World Music Supergroup”) and Ladama. The former featured members from four continents (“Multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual”). They presented their first piece, simply called “Song,” “for all the women of the world, sung by Malika Tirolien, accompanied by lap steel guitar, three guitars, bass, and three percussionists—infectious universal rhythms! Malika also offered “The Day Will Rise,” a song or stirring chant she wrote for her grandfather—and the set was rounded off with “Ego Chamber” (“Social media connects us, but also divides us.”) and “Air,” a song Malika Tirolien wrote for her daughter: about “mistakes I made and my parents made, in the hope she will do better.”).
Ladama–according to the program notes I acquired before I heard the group—consists of “four women, virtuosic musicians, and educators — Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola and Sara Lucas — each from a different country and culture of the Americas, who are sisters in song, rhythm and spirit. Harnessing music from their respective countries of origin — Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States, the group utilizes traditional and non-traditional instruments from across the Americas, but with a modern twist, to produce Latin Alternative music.” And that’s exactly what they provided: delightful, rousing yet subtle, florid music—played on instruments that ranged from a large hand drum to the Bandola Ilanera: one of many varieties of small pear-shape chordophones found in Venezuela and Columbia (“traditionally built with only seven frets and four gut strings and played with a pick; many [being made] nowadays with up to 21 frets“)–this played, masterfully, by Mafer Bandola, who also offered spirited vocals, with a beautiful upper register “float.” All four women shared vocal chores, and instrumental finesse. Ladama gave us a delightful set, fully expressing, divulging, in their own words, “how we feel making this music.”
I had large hopes for, but was disappointment by a set that was supposed to feature Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams: a fascinating match-up. I had been playing their excellent Blue Note CD Vanished Gardens over and over again, and looked forward to hearing and seeing it “reproduced” in Monterey. Charles Lloyd didn’t disappoint, at all: in fact his brilliant improvisations (which range from far “out” to sweetly restrained—his, in Herbie Hancock’s word, “huge heart that’s brimming with love”) provided persistent delight that kept raising the question: Where’s Lucinda? Jazz writer friend Scott Yanow passed by and said, “Let me know if she ever comes out”—which she eventually did, acting (I’ll have to confess) a little the worse for wear—offering some songs from the CD, but one of them, “Ventura,” contained the lyrics “But I can’t pretend, I wish I was somewhere else”–and that nearly seemed to be the truth of it.
In pre-preparation for “Tia Fuller & Ingrid Jensen Present Tribute to Geri Allen The Fierce Nurturer: Life of a Song Through Spirit,” at home, I had listened to the many inspiring CDs I have by Geri Allen: one of my favorite pianists, composers, educators, human beings. The tribute set featured tap dancer Maurice Chestnut (“The fourth member of our band”), who resuscitated his original 2011 performance with Geri Allen of her festival-commissioned piece, “The Dazzler,” dedicated to showman Sammy Davis Jr. Now, as then, Chestnut (in the words of Paul de Barros) “contributed not just the usual clickety virtuoso turns on a tap platform, but graceful, interpretive moves integrated smartly into the trio’s flow.” And Terri Lyne Carrington provided her customary vital drumming. Portions of a video on Geri Allen (The Nurturer), the presence of spoken “Facebook”-style slogans that contained words and phrases such as “energy” and “our wisdom,” and even a moving “Amazing Grace” couldn’t for me (I’m sorry to say) offset what seemed to be a somewhat uninspired routine performance on actual tunes—so to make amends for my own not so positive response to this well-intended Festival opening night set, I’ll quote what Andy Gilbert wrote: “The festival’s artists-in-residence Tia Fuller (alto sax) and Ingrid Jensen (trumpet) presented a thoughtful and deeply felt tribute to the late pianist Geri Allen on Friday in the Arena that keyed on her enigmatic harmonic vocabulary and cagey sense of time.”
I had a fortunate surprise experience while listening to the Anat Cohen Tenet in the Jazz Theater. Vocalist Barbara Paris, whom I came to know at IAJE conferences I attended over the years, did not perform at the Festival, but was there, and she came up to me and said it was good to see me again, “out and about.” We went outside and sat at a table for a grand reunion conversation. She gave me her latest CD, Nine Decades of Jazz, which features her pianist Billy Wallace (who passed away in 2017 and had begun recording in 1955 with Clifford Brown and Max Roach). Barbara Paris and I got “caught up” on our lives and how we felt about the state of jazz in 2019—and it was great to see her again.
I’ll close this second portion blog on the 51st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival with something I was, again, asked to write (for voice overs) about 2018 Showcase Artist Dianne Reeves—but which, alas, again (like what I provided the MJF on Ray Brown) was neglected, did not appear in the video devoted to her. I did hear her sing a soulful “The Nearness of You” (one of my all-time favorite tunes)—and I have admired her performances at the Festival, for years. Here, for “posterity,” again, is what I wrote about her.
The voice of Dianne Reeves has been described using a host of adjectives: “warm,” “lush,” “very personal,” and phrases such as “breathtaking virtuosity,” “improvisational prowess,” “unique jazz and R&B stylings,” “astonishing skill”, “always capable of greatness.” In a 1996 performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival–a recreation of Jon Hendrick’s “Evolution of the Blues Song”–she symbolized (wearing the plain dress of a slave and holding a baby in her arms) The Mother of the Blues; and later, wearing colorful choir garb, she joined a chorus of singers and dancers in a joyously harmonized and choreographed “Everything started in the house of the Lord.”
Jon Hendrick’s original 1960 production took place in a setting with children seated on the floor, learning how the blues came about from a man who was still creating the score as he had ascended the stairs to the stage. This spontaneous performance left the audience in tears (Hendricks himself said an aftermath of reverent silence was “the most spiritual thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”). The 1996 recreation was a powerful carefully worked out production, and Dianne Reeves, as an established vocal master, was the ideal person to play a major role in it.
Dianne has been called “the pre-eminent jazz vocalist in the world,” and has been recognized and honored in just about every way possible, from honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and the Julliard School, to appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, to an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship Award.
This year, at the Monterey Jazz Festival, she is the Showcase Artist. She will perform multiple times at the Festival–to display the various aspects of her artistry (such as her most recent release, Beautiful Life, which won the 2015 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance)–and she will participate in a one-on-one Conversation, discussing her career.
Dianne Reeves first appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1990, with pianist Billy Childs’ group Night Flight, which had launched her career. She was Artist in Residence in 2010 (presenting “Strings Attached” with Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo).
Dianne Reeves has established herself as an all-time MJF favorite.
Here are photos of her at the 30th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, and her appearance in the 1996 recreation of Jon Hendrick’s “Evolution of the Blues Song” (Photo credit: http://www2.montereyjazzfestival.org/blog/jon-hendricks-1921-2017))