Heading to Monterey, California for other reasons, I thought I’d catch some music while I was there and lo-and-behold, a golden opportunity awaited me. The 57th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival was happening during my visit so (just like I had done when I was in Snowmass, Colorado) I decided to partake in this esteemed local activity. And how could I not given? With a stellar lineup that included Jason Moran, The Philadelphia Experiment in an ultra rare set, Charles Lloyd across many projects, Booker T. Jones, The Roots and more, just on the days I didn’t attend, Monterey offered a veritable feast for the ears.
On the evening of Friday September 19th, I arrived at the Monterey Fairgrounds expecting to come upon a massive venue given that there were eight stages for performances listed. However I was pleased to find the grounds rather cozy, with vendors, including an Amoeba music tent, and merchandise hawkers within the immediate vicinity and set along the long pathway that ran from either end of the rectangular space that was quick to traverse. One end had music spots dubbed Dizzy’s Den and the Night Club while the other end was primarily for the Jimmy Lyons Arena where the headliners performed.
There were volunteers walking the grounds sharing information about the mission of the Monterey Jazz Fest, which encompasses more than the singular September weekend event. The MJF has long been involved in promoting jazz education among youths, and developing the community in schools. MJF has a group of “Traveling Clinicans” who travel to schools to provide free instruction to students. These impressive efforts are the real core of the MJF, with the festival serving as a beacon to the rest of the world (the festival is often rated one of the best jazz fests).
For the 57th incarnation, the festival honored the legendary 76 year old saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who performed multiple shows with several groups over the weekend. On Friday night, I arrived in time to catch the tail of his set in Sangam, with Zakir Hussain on tabla and Eric Harland on drums in Dizzy’s. Though the air outside was cool, inside it felt steamy and stuffy as a result of all the people packed in to catch him for the first of many shows. I could sense the rapturous state many of the folks were in, as the music “summoned a ritual environment, solemn and contemplative, then raucous and ecstatic.” (according to the Mercury News).
Though Dizzy’s was nearly filled, there was still room for people on the edges. Not so across the way at the Night Club where (upright) bassist Christian McBride performed with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The line for the group was out the door and well over 100 people deep. I snuck my way in for a bit of their set after catching some of Robert Glasper’s set with Jason Moran, and to see the spacious and inviting arena stage for the first time (with an astroturf lawn for the first time).
Then I found myself back at Dizzy’s to catch Red Baraat, the funky dhol-n-brass band from Brooklyn, making their Jazz Fest debut. But unfortunately, with the seats still in the venue, it was a bit difficult for the thin crowd to stay in motion despite band-leader Sunny Jain’s encouragement but those in the front were happy to dance especially with strong party tunes like “Shruggy Ji”.
I made my way over to the arena to see the headliner, pianist Herbie Hancock, who continues to tour with the same band I saw him with last year at The Capitol Theatre, which includes guitarist Lionel Loueke, where he began his thrilling funky “greatest hits” set. Hancock addressed the audience at several points but mostly he tried to keep the chat short to pack in as much music as possible. “Watermelon Man” was particularly blistering and probably my favorite but “Rockit” was just as impressive and exciting to hear. It wasn’t the full MJF experience, but the taster I got was enough to recognize that this festival is both a cultural treasure and a place to get your groove on.
Jason Moran and Robert Glasper:
Cecile McLorin Salvant (signing autographs):
Christian McBride Trio: