Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ode to Maude

Cafe Maude is rather odd.

It's a hot spot in a sleepy southwest Minneapolis neighborhood that, before Maude opened, had never seen so much nighttime activity or so many parked cars, something that drives the adjacent hardware store crazy.

It's a restaurant where a grilled flat bread is a meal (try the smoked chicken), a hamburger is heaven, and a sister special-events venue across the street, the Armatage Room, serves prix-fixe dinners based on themes: Istanbul, Argentina, period Italian films.

On the weekends, it's a mostly-jazz music club that books some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities, but almost no one comes to listen. For the vast majority of people standing two or three deep around the bar and chattering in the booths and at the tables, the music is aural wallpaper.

And yet, how I love Maude. I make sure to know who's playing there, and I often end up going, usually a bit later into the evening, when some of the clamoring crowd has cleared.

A quick list of just some of the people/groups who have appeared on the small stage in recent months: Chris Thomson, Adam Linz, Dave King, James Buckley, Bryan Nichols, Jay Epstein, Anthony Cox, JT Bates, Chris Bates, Alden Ikeda, Michael Lewis, Patrick Harison, Fat Kid Wednesdays, Enormous Quartet, Martin Dosh, Dean Granros, Milo Fine, Davu Seru, the Pines, Brad Bellows, Peter Schimke, Park Evans, Volcano Insurance, Joey Van Phillips, Tim Glenn, Sean Carey, Paul Metzger.

Last night it was a group billed as the Peter Schimke Collaboration. Led by pianist, composer, and sometime singer Schimke, it included Dean Granros on electric guitar, James Buckley on acoustic bass, and Jay Epstein on drums. Accordionist Patrick Harison stopped by after an earlier gig at a church and sat in for a couple of tunes.

We had requested a table near the music and got one. Don Berryman of Jazz Police joined us, having come over from the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, where Astral Project was playing a second night. (HH and I came from the Bloomington Center for the Arts and a Johnny Mercer tribute show; more about Astral Project and Mercer later.) We heard the whole second set. When it was over, I was completely satisfied. I would not have changed a single thing or asked for one thing more.

Here's the setlist (thanks to Jay Epstein for considerable help with this; I usually take notes during live music but this time I was too lazy):

—Monk's "Trinkle Trinkle." This group can really play Monk.
—"The Vow," an original ballad by Schimke. So beautiful.
—Django Reinhardt's "Troublant Bolero." The first piece where Harison joined in. If you think accordion is all oom-pah-pah you are sorely mistaken. When Harison improvises on his button accordion, it's transporting
—"Wrong" by Jerry Bergonzi. Complex and challenging.
—Steely Dan's "Do It Again." Schimke sang ("You go back, Jack, do it again/Wheel turning round and round"), Harison played the squeezebox.
—"Blue Sparrow" by Dean Granros.
—"Ugly Beauty" by Monk.
—Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," their closing number, a joyous, freewheeling, in-the-moment journey through a jazz standard with generous solos by everyone.

What else is there, what else could there be?

Check Maude's calendar to see what's coming up. No cover charge, no reservations needed after 10 pm. Music starts at 9 and goes until midnight, often later, as "Footprints" did last night. The band just kept playing, as if they didn't want to let go of the tune.

The only caveat: You have to be able to stand the crowd noise. If you can't, you'll get cranky and start shooshing people, who will look at you as if you're mad and then ignore you.

If you're not sure, think about this: Month after month, weekend after weekend, exceptional musicians come to Maude to play. There's something about the place. Maybe it's owner Kevin Sheehy's infectious passion and enthusiasm for the arts. (Talk to him about art or travel or a particular musician or food and he's like a pot boiling over.) Or music programmer Ms. Mysterious (she doesn't want her name in print), who knows what she likes and brings it in. Some musicians feel she's too exclusionary; I say keep up the good work, Ms. M. Maybe it's the room; comfy, cozy, well-appointed. And the full bar, and the eclectic menu, and (in clement Minnesota months) the patio. Or maybe it's all of those things. Who knows. I'll be back.

Photo of the boys in the band by Don Berryman, taken after last night's final set. L to R: Schimke, Buckley, Epstein, Granros.

Friday, September 25, 2009

News about e.s.t.

I post news about the Esbjörn Svensson Trio when I hear it, for those of you who miss the group as much as I do. I often wonder where they would have gone and what they would have done after Leucocyte, their final CD.

Released a few months after pianist Svensson's tragic death in a scuba diving accident in June 2008, Leucocyte is e.s.t.'s only album of start-to-finish free improvisation. It was recorded in a studio in Australia while they were touring in January 2007, mixed and mastered in early 2008, and ready for commercial release when Svensson died (in other words, not patched together ghoulishly to capitalize on his death). It's a series of studio jam sessions that were later textured, distorted, manipulated, and salted with static, but some moments sound much like the music I heard Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund, and drummer Magnus Ostrom play live over the years.

Aside for the track "Leucocyte: II. Ad Interim," which is totally blank, and 20 seconds of dead air at the end of "Ajar" (silence is something e.s.t. also used on Tuesday Wonderland, Viaticum, and Good Morning Susie Soho, and I always found it more annoying than enlightening), Leucocyte has a lot of what I loved about e.s.t.: tenderness, lyricism, soaring beauty, head-banging rock-star moments, and plenty of electronic noise.

Sometimes noise meets lyricism, as at the start of the aptly-named track "Jazz," which begins with sci-fi sounds, then Svensson's piano walks in and it's pure piano trio with lots of speedy bebop flourishes (and Keith Jarrett-like vocalizations--Svensson's?). Near the end, it slows and simplifies to lingering soft notes on bass and piano.

There's a video clip on the website that features the track "Leucocyte: 1. Ab Initio" over a montage of live concert and tour footage. Turn up your computer speakers and enjoy.

Here's the news I received early this morning from B.H. Hopper Management.

Today a compilation called “e.s.t. – Retrospective – The very best of e.s.t.” (ACT) will be released worldwide. It contains the e.s.t. hit songs Dodge the Dodo, From Gagarin´s Point of View, Behind the Yashmak, Viaticum, Goldwrap and many more. Altogether 13 tracks from 7 award winning albums.

The compilation has been put together by Magnus Öström, Dan Berglund and Burkhard Hopper and in a 22-page booklet they tell the story behind each of the twelve e.s.t. albums.

It is the ideal starting point for newcomers to their music and a definitive signpost along the way for those who have already begun their journey into the world of e.s.t.

Dan and Magnus have also been busy with other projects:

Magnus Öström produced an album for his fellow countrywoman Janet Lindstroem containing a duo with former Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt.

Dan Berglund is in the middle of recording a solo-project for ACT, which will get released in January 2010 and will be supported by touring from March 2010 onwards (the first tour dates you can find on <> ). For this solo-project he has put together a quartet of great Swedish musicians: Johan Lindstroem on guitar, Martin Hederos on piano and Andreas Werliin on drums and of course himself on bass. All the songs for the new album will be original tunes. Dan is very much looking forward to seeing all of you next year at his shows again!


Nothing scheduled for the US yet.

I wrote a review of Tuesday Wonderland in April 2007 for and have just pulled it onto the blog. Find it here if you want. Once again, I bitch about the long silences. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Music gets no love from the MacArthur Foundation this year

Ah, the MacArthur genius grant. Your phone rings and someone tells you (speaking very slowly and clearly, I presume) that you have just won $500,000 to do with as you please, no strings attached.

Last year, saxophonist Miguel Zenon was a winner, as were violinist Leila Josefowicz and instrument maker/composer Walter Kitundu. (Heads up: Zenon comes to the Dakota, one night only, Wednesday, Oct. 14.) In 2007, blues musician Corey Harris won, as did vocalist Dawn Upshaw. In 2006, jazz violinist Regina Carter (who just performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival as one of the All-Stars) and musician/composer John Zorn. In 2005, conductor Marin Alsop, violinmaker Joseph Curtin, and music educator Aaron Dworkin. 2004, ragtime pianist and composer Reginald Robinson. 2003, composer Osvaldo Golijov. 2002, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer. 2001, pianist Stephan Hough and composer Bright Sheng.

The 2009 fellows include a novelist, a short story writer, and a poet, a filmmaker and a photojournalist, a painter, a papermaker, and a digital artist, but no one involved with music. That hasn't happened since 2000.

Tonight jazz drummer/bandleader/genius Matt Wilson handed out his own MacArthur Grants at the Jazz Standard.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Travel coda

HH drinks espresso from a monkey cup on Fisherman's Wharf.

MJF/52 on

My reports on all three days of the Monterey Jazz Festival (which ended Sunday night) are up on Day One is here, Day Two here, Day Three here. [NOTE: With no longer active, I've moved them to this blog: Day One, Day Two, Day Three.] Later this week (or early next week) you can read a wrap-up and see several of HH's photos on

If you want to know more about the festival, see Forrest Dylan Bryant's series at his site The Jazz Observer. He blogged during the festival from his iPhone, which boggles my mind. I took notes in my trusty Moleskine notebook, often in the dark, sometimes standing up, and deciphered them later (some on the plane on the way home). Bryant and I never met but we crossed paths several times, and we seem to be kindred spirits--we both enjoyed Buffalo Collision. We saw some of the same things but mostly different things, so if you happen to read both of us you'll get a good idea of the festival's scope and diversity.

You can also read the extensive coverage on the JazzWest website. One of their writers, Jerry Karp, also enjoyed Buffalo Collision. (Not that this is a litmus test; I'm just saying.)

On the other hand, Dave Becker of hated both Buffalo Collision and Jason Moran's Monterey commission, "Feedback." You might want to read him, too. We don't all have to like the same things.

More writings on the festival (I'll add these as I learn about them, usually from MFJ's Tim Orr on Facebook):

Richard Scheinin for the San Mercury News
Josef Woodard for the Santa Barbara Independent
—Michael Katz for the International Review of Music: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
—Eric Johnson for Metro Santa Cruz
—Rick Marianetti for The man is a poet. Here, here, here, and here. Love that he included a picture of the Hat Man, dear Paul Aschenbrenner.
—Jeff Krow for Audiophile Audition
—Jay Goetting for the Napa Valley Register
—Jon Poses for the Columbia Daily Tribune (Missouri)
—James Adams at (Oakland/San Jose/San Francisco; lots of photos)
—The JazzWest Saturday photo gallery
—The All About Jazz wrap-up
—"Entertainment Desk" (don't these people have names?) at California Chronicle
--More from Dave Becker at
--And Brian McCoy at
--All Music Guide's Scott Yanow (from his own site)
--And finally, one on the food (which is pretty terrific), also from

MJF/52: Day Three at Monterey

Originally published on

In the early evening, just before Jason Moran takes the stage in the Arena for his 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival commission, Clint Eastwood walks by. A man beside us at the bratwurst booth says, “Now I’ve gotten my money’s worth.” He laughs, but no Monterey experience is complete without at least one sighting of Eastwood, who has been a friend of the Festival for so many years.

Our day begins at a conversation between NEA Jazz Master Toshiko Akiyoshi, who turns 80 next year, and journalist Yoshi Kato. This is another thing that makes Monterey special: opportunities to hear from jazz greats like Akiyoshi and (yesterday) Bobby Hutcherson in the relaxed setting of Dizzy’s Den. We learn about Akiyoshi’s childhood in Manchuria; her early love of the piano; how, when she was 16 years old, a record collector named Mr. Fui invited her to his home to hear a recording of Teddy Wilson playing “Sweet Lorraine.” To Akiyoshi, each note was a pearl.

She tells us about her first recording and how Downbeat gave the album three stars and its cover five stars. That “it’s good to have music knowledge but…the most important thing is to have a musical mind, a musical attitude.” Kato asks about her 40-year relationship with Lew Tabackin, her husband and band member. “Every great band has a great soloist,” she says. “Lew is a supreme tenor player and a supreme flute player.”

I don’t know Akiyoshi’s music and won’t hear her play this year—her performance is scheduled at the same time as Moran’s in the Arena—but spending an hour in a room with her, listening to her stories and being in her presence, has made me want to listen to her music. Akiyoshi fans, I’m open to suggestions on where to start.

The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio is performing on the Garden Stage. A friend heard Rodriguez solo at the Detroit festival a few weeks ago and raved. Rodriguez’s story is fascinating. In January of this year, he defected from Cuba, leaving his family and friends, risking arrest, deportation, and imprisonment.

Backed by Nathan East on bass and Francisco Mela on drums, he plays two originals; then East begins a low, soft solo that whispers “Body and Soul.” We have to listen hard to hear it; planes fly overhead, it’s an outdoor stage, and the crowd in the nearby food court is noisy. But it’s worth it. And when the piano enters and Rodriguez brings his own interpretation to the American jazz standard, you can hear his great love of this music.

We can spend only a few moments with trumpeter/flugelhorn player Dominick Farinacci in the Coffee House. Just 25, the Juilliard grad recently released his first U.S. album, Lovers, Tales & Dances, which features jazz greats including Kenny Barron, Lewis Nash, and Joe Lovano. (Farinacci previously made six albums as a leader in Japan.) He connects well with the crowd and his tone is warm and golden. With Dan Kaufman on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Carmen Intorre on drums, and Matthias Kunzli on percussion, he plays Piazzolla’s lovely “Libertango,” followed by a blues. Kunzli’s percussion adds new layers of sound and rhythm to the standard quartet.

Buffalo Collision played the late show last night at the Dakota in Minneapolis, then took an early flight west to make their afternoon date at the Garden Stage. Probably the most outside group at the Festival (I say “probably” because I haven’t heard everyone, but it’s a safe bet), Buffalo Collision is pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King (both of The Bad Plus), saxophonist Tim Berne, and cellist Hank Roberts, all monster improvisers. This show will later get at least one scathing review (“I’ve never witnessed a set so hostile to the notion of melody”) but to me it’s bliss.

Monterey took risks this year by booking Buffalo Collision and commissioning Moran, whose work is known to be progressive, but jazz is not made by Brubeck alone. I wonder how Ornette Coleman was received when he first played the Festival in 1959.

Buffalo Collision plays four or maybe five pieces during their hour-long set; it’s a little hard to tell and it doesn’t really matter. At one point Iverson stands and leans inside the piano, doing something with the strings—plucking? pressing?—while King and Roberts explore the outer limits of their instruments. Roberts coaxes sounds out of his cello that would have Rostropovich spinning in his grave: screams and growls, clicks and groans. For a time, his cello sounds like a stringed Chinese instrument.

There is an underlying rhythm to this music but who’s making it? Without a bass player, the timekeeper’s job logically falls to King, but that’s not where he’s at. Yet the rhythm exists somewhere between the notes, like a sympathetic vibration. It must exist because I’m tapping my foot.

The music rises and falls, with solos and duos and full-blast ensemble sections, blending tenderness and wit, cacophony and lyricism. In between are interludes by Roberts, like rope bridges stretched over canyons. Hold on, don’t look down, and you’ll make it safely to the other side.

In the Arena, Jason Moran and Bandwagon are playing a tune by Moran’s teacher Jaki Byard. It’s a warm-up for the reason they’re here: for “Feedback,” this year’s Festival commission. Moran is a risk-taker, an experimenter, a thinker, drawing freely from all of the resources available to him; standards, history, the Jazz Loft Project archives (for his recent In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959), technology, his own prodigious and playful imagination.

I see him whenever I get the chance; he often comes to the Walker Art Center, which has also commissioned new work by him, for performances and conversations with performing arts curator Philip Bither.

Tonight Moran tells us that Jimi Hendrix played this very stage in 1967 at the Monterey Pops festival. “I was intrigued by his performance and how he used the technique of feedback,” Moran explains. “He worked it into all of his music. I took all these sections where he used feedback and chopped them up.” He warns us that it might get loud, we might want to cover our ears, we might even want to leave. Several people do leave, but for those of us who stay, it’s a fascinating and rewarding experience.

Loops of feedback moan and screech, buzz and hum. Over them, Moran and his trio, the Bandwagon—Tarus Mateen on electric bass, Nasheet Waits on drums—play intelligent, melodic trio music. Moran moves between the big Yamaha grand and a Fender-Rhodes. The mood shifts from poetry to funk. Then Moran howls into the mic before inviting the audience to participate in the piece. One side of the crowd, he says, should sing a single note—a low ahhh. The other, a rising and falling whoop. They oblige. Human feedback, live and in the moment.

We spend ten minutes with the Shotgun Wedding Quintet—jazz meets rap, big band and boom-bap, tons of fun—before heading back to the Arena to see Dave Brubeck receive an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. “A while ago I was offered an honorary doctorate,” Brubeck says, wearing full academic regalia, “and I asked my brother, ‘Should I accept it?’ He said ‘Do—you’ll never earn one.”

When the curtain opens again, it’s on the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck on piano, Bobby Militello on alto saxophone and fluted, Michael Moore on bass, Randy Jones on drums. “I told my group we would play Ellington,” Brubeck says by way of introduction, “and asked them to please just follow me wherever I go.” A lively “C-Jam Blues” segues into “Mood Indigo” and “Take the A-Train.” They don’t play like young men—they don’t have the speed or the elasticity—but they play like the pros they are, with joy and generosity and mastery. And Militello still blows like a typhoon.

We’ll hear the end of the set—and the expected, beloved, thunderously applauded performance of “Take Five”—over the speakers inside the Coffee House, where we’ve gone to hear the Vijay Iyer Trio. Remember, Monterey is about choices, often hard choices. I’ve seen Brubeck often, Iyer only once, and I’ve been reading so much about Iyer’s trio and their new CD Historicity that I’m dying of curiosity.

Iyer is said to make complex, mathematical music (he has his B.A. in math and physics from Yale), and the radio announcer who introduced him quoted Iyer as saying “Music is mathematics in action,” but I don’t hear math. I hear beauty and emotion. Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon A.D.,” an original Iyer work, “Questions of Agency,” selections from Historicity. Solid, supple, expressive, inventive, intriguing stuff, played as one by Iyer, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and bassist Matt Brewer (replacing, without explanation, regular trio bassist Stephan Crump).

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White are still playing in the Arena when we leave the Coffee House, but I’m more than content with Iyer as my final Monterey show. We hang out for a while on the grounds, talking with friends, stepping briefly into Lyons Lounge, where DJ Logic is unplugging his equipment, watching the vendors tear down and pack up. Even at this late hour, if you want, you can still buy chili, a cup of green tea, or sweet potato fries. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

MJF/52: Day Two at Monterey

Originally published at

The weather changed on the hour and the music was just as eclectic on the second day of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Morning haze gave way to hot afternoon sun in time for John Scofield and the Piety Street Band, fog rolled in and saved my brain from boiling (the Arena is open-air), the temperature fell along with the evening, and by the time the big red curtain opened on Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, people were wearing coats and gloves. The Festival is its own collection of microclimates.

We enter the Arena in time for “The Angel of Death,” guitarist Scofield’s take on the Hank Williams tune. He introduces it as “the scariest song he knows” but it’s hard to be scared in a happy crowd of people in floppy hats and sunglasses.

I have not been a close follower of Scofield, my bad, but I do like this group. Rootsy, rollicking, soulful. The set closer, “It’s a Big Army” (“I’m a soldier in the army of love/I’m a soldier in the army”), rocks the audience. Roland Guerin takes a slappy bass solo, drummer Shannon Powell bangs the tambourine, and pianist/organist Cleary shouts the lyrics. I want to be a soldier, too.

Next up in the Arena: one of the Festival’s most anticipated events, the first-ever appearance here of folk music icon Pete Seeger. I’m not a folkie but I hold Seeger in highest respect for his lifelong political activism, plus he has written some fine songs: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” His band is family and friends; at one point, his guitarist (and grandson) Tao Rodriguez-Seeger urges, “Come on, Grandpa, play some banjo for me.” Standing at stage left, out of the sun, we hear “Midnight Special” and Woody Guthrie’s “Dustbowl Blues.”

Off to a conversation at Dizzy’s Den: “70 Years of Blue Note Records.” On stage: host Ashley Kahn, Blue Note’s Michael Cuscuna, and two great Blue Note artists, Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Lovano. Kahn lets his guests do most of the talking and they share stories and memories.

By now we’ve met up with friends and spend the next couple of hours parked at a picnic table in the grassy food court. The open-air Garden Stage is nearby and the music of Ruthie Foster is our soundtrack. It’s glorious. According to Festival tradition, the end of the table we’re not using is taken over by a changing cast of characters bearing chicken wings, mud pie, and stories of why they’re here and what they’re enjoying.

The first Arena show of the night was originally pianist Hank Jones and the Joe Lovano Quartet. When Jones cancelled for health reasons just before the Festival began (he recently played the Detroit Jazz Festival, lucky Detroit), Scofield stepped in. So the set we hear is completely different from what it might have been.

With the dream team of John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums, the group powers through Lovano’s “Fort Worth,” Scofield’s “Since You Asked,” and what I think is a Monk tune. Lovano starts the set by telling us what they were playing, then stops, caught up in the music. (Not for the first time, I submit this humble request on behalf of writers everywhere: Please, mighty jazz greats, take a second and tell us what you’re about to play or have just played.) It’s raucous and wailing, a showcase for four remarkable musicians; at one point, Lovano plays two soprano saxophones simultaneously. People sitting near me think it’s a bit too squawky.

The group Wayne Wallace and Rhythm & Rhyme takes a long time setting up on the Garden stage, and we soon know why: It’s a big Latin band, complete with at least twelve musicians and seven vocalists. This is a group I don’t know, chosen partly because when we duck into the Night Club for the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet (with the wonderful Gerald Clayton on piano), it’s steamy inside. So we wait while the crew brings out what seems like an endless supply of microphones and instruments, then someone tests every microphone, and finally the band members take their places.

A big Latin band is a thing of beauty, its leader the eye of a musical hurricane. Seeing Wallace, I’m reminded of the estimable Pancho Sanchez. A lot of people play a lot of instruments and several rhythms simultaneously. It’s exciting. I’m especially interested to see a woman saxophonist on the front line, and I’m sorry I don’t catch her name.

The band plays music from their acclaimed CDs, The Reckless Search for Beauty and The Nature of the Beat, including Wallace’s arrangement of Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru,” Duke Ellington’s “A Chromatic Romance,” and Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm.” They throw in something by Earth, Wind & Fire. Wallace calls them “transmogrified songs,” a perfect description for what we’re hearing: tunes we think we know turned into something new.

It starts out a bit uneven and fusiony (to my ears) and at first I wonder how long I’ll stay on the cold, hard metal Garden Stage bench, but I’m soon won over by Wallace and his band, who now have two more fans in Minnesota.

We think we might be late for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Arena but we’re just in time. The curtain opens on a band that gets better every time I hear it. It’s JLCO’s first time at Monterey since 2001 (when the Festival happened very soon after 9/11; I wasn’t present for that one but it must have been something). Tonight they’re all heat and excitement and precision, a wall of brass held together by the splendid rhythm section of Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums.

The set is simply thrilling from the first notes of Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West” (arranged by the fine young trombonist Vincent Gardener) through Henriquez’s final notes on his arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Shades of Jade.” In between: Lou Donaldson’s “Blues Walk” (arr. Sherman Irby, so swinging), Wayne Shorter’s “Free for All” (arr. Wynton Marsalis), and Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” (arr. Ted Nash). Nash’s take on this tune is sweet: breathy flutes, muted trumpets, room for a sparkly solo by Nimmer. Say ahhh.

The band is billed as Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, but nearly everyone had his turn in the spotlight tonight. The whole set was ridiculously stellar. I stood the entire time (at the side of the stage) and if they were still playing I’d still be standing.
It’s late. After midnight. Time to head back. But first, a Dee Dee Bridgewater nightcap. She’s playing at Dizzy’s Den (her second set of the night; she preceded JLCO in the Arena), it’s on our way to the gate, and she must be wrapping things up by now, right? Wrong. She’s just getting started and she’s on a tear.

I’ve seen Bridgewater several times before—an October 2007 date at the Dakota with her Malian project has a permanent place on my Top Five list of live music performances—but never as she is tonight: Dee Dee unbound. She sings, she talks, she flirts with the audience, she flirts with her band: Edsel Gomez on piano, Ira Coleman on bass, Vince Cherico on drums, Luisito Quintero on percussion. She tells us about her upcoming divorce (her third), she scats and growls, she makes her voice a horn, she fills the room with her personality and broad, sweeping gestures. She pulls no punches and she’s spicy tonight, a little too spicy for some people. The man sitting next to me hates her. And yet, he doesn’t leave.

We get a taste of her forthcoming CD, a tribute to Billie Holiday. “All Blues.” “Speak Low” from her Kurt Weill project. “My Favorite Things,” Dee Dee style—not the perky whiskers-on-kittens ditty but a dangerous song about a girl who knows what she wants and you’d better not stand in her way. She follows with a down-and-dirty “Dr. Feelgood” blues. And finally a magnificent “Afro Blue.”

We stagger out the door at 1:45 a.m., after the patient stage manager (a 25-year veteran of the festival) has politely asked Gomez to politely ask Bridgewater to please wrap things up so folks can go home. I’m guessing this is one of those Monterey shows that will go down in the history books. Dee Dee Bridgewater, force of nature, shaved-head warrior queen. 

Hats for Cats: Ethan Iverson

When Buffalo Collision (Ethan Iverson, Tim Berne, Hank Roberts, Dave King) played the Dakota late-night shows on Friday and Saturday, Ethan heard we'd be at the Monterey Jazz Festival, where the group was scheduled to perform on Sunday afternoon. He had his hat with him, brought it along, wore it onstage, and made my day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I'm reporting on the Monterey Jazz Festival for,
tweeting at (I'm mainly doing this for Howard Mandel's #jazzlives effort), and writing a festival wrap-up for when I return. (The wrap-up will feature John's pictures.) Day One at Monterey is here if not on the home page.

And just when I think I'm working too hard, I find the Jazz Observer, a site written by jazz journalist and broadcaster Forrest Dylan Bryant, who's actually blogging from the festival and turning in great stories on the spot. I keep looking around for a guy with a laptop.

Photo: Kurt Elling on the lawn at Monterey.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Press credentials rock

MJF/52: Day One at Monterey

Originally published at

There are many ways to experience the Monterey Jazz Festival: as a sit-down meal of many courses, as a buffet, as a snack tent (like the new-this-tear Taste Tent on the Midway, where you can sample foods and beverages from a variety of festival partners). This is my fifth year here and I should have a routine by now but I don’t.

The happy problem with Monterey, and any festival where you have to make choices, is you have to make choices. You can’t be in two places at once, or in this case six, the number of venues where you can hear live music. I start with a plan but it always falls apart as I’m distracted by a new name, a buzz, or sounds coming out an open door.

On Friday, the opening night of the three-day festival, we enter through Gate 3 and duck into the Night Club for a few moments with the Scott Amendola Trio. Screaming guitar. Too much, too soon. I learn later that the show worked up to this level of frenzy and had we been there from the beginning it would have been fine. I promise to get a CD.

Next brief stop, the Garden Stage for the Berklee-Monterey Quintet 2009, a reminder of the MJF’s ongoing commitment to jazz education and featuring young artists. (Much of Sunday afternoon will be devoted to performances by young artists.)

My photographer husband and I catch the end of New Orleans piano player Jonathan Batiste’s first set at the Coffee House Gallery. (At the Coffee House, artists tend to stay put for the evening, playing more than one set.) A bit of “We Shall Overcome,” then something in which Batiste sings “you got to hold on.” He sings, he plays piano with his hands and his fists, he plays melodica and piano at the same time. He’s amazing.

His fired-up band includes Eddie Barbash and Matt Marantz on saxophones, Philip Kuehn on bass, Joseph Saylor on drums, and someone on trombone whose name I didn’t catch. All look almost too young to be out without their mamas.

It’s near the end of Esperanza Spalding’s set at the Arena. This year, the young bassist/vocalist/composer is the Arena opener, a sign that You Have Arrived. We saw her earlier this year at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, and she also played the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June, an outdoor event during which Prince sat in his limousine behind the stage, listening and calling her on his cell phone.

Earlier, as we walked toward the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the Festival site, we overheard a woman ahead of us tell her companions “Esperanza Spalding is a good bass player, but she also wants to be a singer, and if she asked me, I’d tell her to stick to the bass.” Perhaps she felt differently after tonight. Spalding’s singing and bass playing are intertwined. Although I can’t begin to understand how someone plays bass the way she does and sings at the same time, which often includes complex scatting, I’ve seen it enough to believe that this is who she is and how she expresses herself. Her supportive and intuitive band is Lee Genovese on piano, Ricardo Vogt on guitar, Otis Brown on drums.

The Arena’s second event of the night, one we’ll see in full, is this year’s version of the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars supergroup: Kenny Barron on piano, Regina Carter on violin, vocalist Kurt Elling, and Russell Malone on guitar, with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. As the curtain opens, the band is already playing and Elling is already singing: “My Love, Effendi,” his vocalese spin on the McCoy Tyner tune. He slides from words into scatting, which many in the audience have come to hear (someone yells “Go, Kurt!”).

Throughout the set, Elling acts as unofficial emcee, announcing the group members and occasionally passing the mic to someone else. He and Carter take the spotlight for the lovely old Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein song “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” after which Carter and Barron play a ballad that acts like a big, gentle, quieting hand on the crowd; it seems that everyone listens and no one wants to miss a single sweet note from Barron’s piano or sigh from Carter’s bow.

Malone is featured next in a quartet with Barron, Kitagawa, and Blake, then the mic goes to Barron, who announces his original composition “What If?” It’s a Monkish tune that opens up midway for an Elling vocalese that begins “What if Jack Kerouac showed up tonight with his pockets full of snippets of ideas?” Then he tosses out several—“Girls running up library steps with shorts on,” “boys smashing dandelions with a stick,” “all day long, wearing a hat that was not on my head,” “drunk as a hoot owl, writing letters by thunderstorm”—and someone in the band responds to each in a playful back-and-forth.

More highlights of this generous set—for which, Elling explains, the group prepared with only two short rehearsals together, “but together we probably have over 300 years of rehearsals, all so we could be ready for you tonight”—include the saucy Jon Hendricks/Horace Silver collaboration “Soul Food,” and Malone’s take on “Time After Time.” After a naughty introduction—something about an older singer who taught him how to treat a ballad like a kiss—Malone does that thing he does: plays guitar so beautifully you could swoon. Backed by Barron, Kitagawa, and Blake, he hands us soft, feathery notes, delicious chords beneath the melody, and an elegant ending.

All four of the All-Stars shine tonight, but it’s Malone who steals my heart.

Festival director Tim Jackson has made Forro in the Dark one of his Top Ten picks, so we head next to the Night Club. Forro is the rural party music of northeastern Brazil, and this Brooklyn-based group of Brazilian expats probably isn’t used to playing to a seated crowd. They urge us to get up and dance, and a few do, but it’s hard on a carpeted floor. This is a fun, energetic group I would like to hear on their home turf, which for now is the East Village nightspot Nublu, where they play weekly.

As they update the sounds of their traditional music, they do it with a blend of new and old instruments: electric bass and guitar, pifano (bamboo) flute, zabumba (a type of bass drum that is worn by the musician and played on both sides), saxophone, percussion. They play originals, at least one song by Caetano Veloso, and a ballad.

The band members are Jorge Continentino on saxophone, pifano flute, and vocals; Joao Erbetta on guitar an vocals; Gilmar Gomes on percussion and vocals; and Adriana dos Santos on zabumba and vocals. The only non-Brazilian among them is bassist/vocalist Masa Shimizu, who’s originally from Tokyo and met the others in NYC. The house is nowhere near full but no one is sitting still.

Across the way at Dizzy’s Den, Esperanza Spalding is still playing her second set of the night, and we score seats near the front in time for her final tune, the audience sing-along she’s becoming known for: She scats a simple phrase, we repeat, another, repeat, and then she lets loose with a long, showy verse that makes everyone gasp and laugh. It’s a joyous end to the evening.

Back at the Hyatt, the hotel where most musicians stay (it’s within walking distance of the fairgrounds), the bar is full and noisy. We spot Regina Carter right away; Kurt Elling walks in wearing a white baseball cap. New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, who performs on Saturday evening, plays “Caravan” on the piano; Jonathan Batiste joins in on his melodica. My only regret: missing the John Patitucci Trio earlier tonight, which I’m already hearing was awesome.

Random first-night memories: Tepanyaki rice bowl from the Korean BBQ booth. The kids at the Best Buy tent (Best Buy is this year’s seller of CDs) playing “The Beatles: Rock Band” game and paying no attention to the jazz on the Garden Stage across the way. The Hat Man at the Arena gate, wearing a felt moose head hat and telling everyone “It’s my chocolate moose.” A couple here for the first time, wondering what to hear and see, up for anything. That’s the spirit. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Travel blather, the final chapter

It's the first day of the Monterey Jazz Festival but the gates don't open until 6 p.m. so we have time for a few more sights. Early last week I read an article about Tor House in the Los Angeles Times and made a reservation for an 11:00 tour.

Tor House was poet Robinson Jeffers' home in Carmel (not Big Sur, as the article says). He built much of it with his own hands, using boulders gathered from the shore of Carmel Bay. I don't know much about Jeffers' poetry; his best-known poem is probably "Shine, Perishing Republic," and you can read it here. His work is thick, dark, often pessimistic and misanthropic, and when you stand in the low-ceilinged living room of his home, looking out at the ocean and Point Lobos, you wonder how anyone could be so negative with so much glory before him.

If you visit the website and look at the photos, you get the impression that Tor House is grandly situated all by itself on an isolated stretch of the California coastline. In fact, it's in a crowded neighborhood surrounded by multimillion-dollar beachfront homes (you enter from Ocean View Ave., but Scenic Drive is just on the other side). What was once a pristine view of Point Lobos has been scarred for the past 50 years by the so-called Butterfly House, which went on the market in 2007 for $19.995 million and apparently sold; it's currently undergoing renovation. Jeffers died in 1962 and watching that house go up must have made him crazy.

Tor House tours are limited to six people; as it turns out, we have the excellent docent, Sherry Shollenbarger, all to ourselves. We take our time hearing stories and poems, looking at photographs, asking questions, and just being in the rooms where Jeffers lived with his wife and muse, Una, and their twin boys.

Tor House was a lifelong project for Jeffers. He wrote in the mornings from his upstairs office, worked on the house in the afternoons. (Sherry tells us that when Jeffers wrote, he paced; when the pacing stopped, Una banged on the ceiling from below, where she was seated at her own small desk, to get him on track again.) The original house was begun in 1918 and built by a contractor; Jefferson apprenticed himself to the contractor, learned to build with stone, and added to the home over several years: a tower for Una, a dining room, a new wing. They had no central heating and used kerosene lamps; a tin tile (embossed with a lion) set into the wood ceiling above Una's piano was protection against rising heat and soot.

Tor House is managed by a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are no buses, no T-shirts or key rings or snow globes; the only souvenirs you can purchase are books by and about Jeffers and simple notecards. Freebies include the foundation's newsletter and a teacher's guide to Jeffers' poetry published by the National Endowment for the Arts, also available online.

The house is filled with the personal belongings of Jeffers and his wife; their desks and chairs, shelves full of their books, quilted bench covers made from their old clothing (woolens ordered from the British Isles), the Celtic crosses Una loved, the unicorns people gave her. Carved into walls and lintels and doors are words and phrases they found inspiring. On the day Thomas Hardy died in 1928, Jeffers carved "Hardy" into a stone beside a door in the dining room. Seeing those shallow, uneven letters in the stone was a powerful experience. I could imagine the poet standing there, grieving and marking the stone.

We walk the garden, far more manicured now, Sherry tells us, than when the Jefferses lived there, and see the giant rock that became the cornerstone of the house (and is remembered in Jeffers' poem titled, you guessed it, "To the Rock That Will Be a Cornerstone of the House").

We climb the narrow, steep, uneven stone steps into Una's tower and look out over the ocean. (There's a second way up, an even narrower stairwell Jeffers created for his young sons. HH takes that one but it's way too claustrophobic for me. I can picture myself stuck and screaming.) Intrepid HH also climbs to the very top of the tower, even steeper steps with a chain handrail (in the Jefferses' time, we learn, they held onto a length of hemp).

You can read Jeffers' poem about his house here. Not thick, dark, or pessimistic, only slightly misanthropic ("fire and the axe are devils"), but tender, inviting, loving. Sherry read this poem aloud to us in the living room. What a pleasure.

If you enjoy visiting writers' homes, seeing where they worked and getting a feel for the environment that fed their creativity, Tor House is a worthy stop.

From there, after driving up and down Scenic Drive and marveling at the houses, we go to the nearby Carmel Mission, home of the Carmel Mission Basilica and the shrine of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784), the Majorca-born founder of the mission chain that stretched across upper California in an attempt to solidify Spain's hold on the land. Here you enter and exit through the gift shop, which is full of religious medals and pendants, statuary, jewelry, crucifixes, crosses, prints, rosaries, cards, calendars, and more. The restored church is peaceful and beautiful; founder Serra's grave is in the floor near the altar. The gardens are lovely, as is the cemetery with its simple graves ringed with abalone shells.

The mission has an active school, which was in session during our visit, and several museums, which would be a lot more interesting if the information provided was better and more complete. The Harry Downie Museum tells the story of the Mission's restoration in hard-to-read script; the Munras Family Heritage Museum displays personal items that belonged to a prominent Monterey family (hence Munras Street and Hotel Casa Munras), but with little explanation. There's a room full of elaborate priests' vestments—from when? No clue. A gallery with a large cenotaph (a tomb without a body) which I guessed (correctly) had something to do with Fra Serra, and the Convento Museum, which contains the cell in which Serra died in 1784. (The real cell?) It's the final stop on a tour that leads back to the gift shop.

Photos: Tor House viewed from Scenic Drive. Graves with abalone shells at the Carmel Mission.

Ten reasons I’m glad to be at the Monterey Jazz Festival

Numbers don’t imply preference or order of importance, they’re just a reminder to stop at 10.

1. Vijay Iyer. Say “VID-jay EYE-ur.” When Ben Ratliff writes “Presto! Here is the new great piano trio,” people notice. I haven’t seen Iyer since he was at the Walker Art Center with Rudresh Mahanthappa in 1996. Monterey may be wishing they had booked him into a larger space than the Coffee House Gallery. With Stephen Crump on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums. Hoping we’ll hear several cuts from the forthcoming Historicity. Sunday, September 20, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

2. Buffalo Collision. I’m not joking when I say that if you’re a jazz fan in Minneapolis/St. Paul and you leave town for even a few days, you will miss something you wish you had seen. As I looked ahead to Monterey, I rued missing Buffalo Collision at the Dakota this Friday and Saturday. Somehow they will play the late set there on Saturday (which ends around 1:30 a.m.) and end up in Monterey in time to play the Garden Stage at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon. Ethan Iverson on piano, Dave King on drums, Tim Berne on saxophone, Hank Roberts on cello.

3. The Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars Featuring Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, and Russell Malone. Supergroup! All four of these artists have pleased me immensely in the past—the elegant pianist Barron and adventurous violinist Carter together in Montreal, Malone in various configurations (and in conversation; the angel-faced guitar player tells wicked jokes); vocalist Kurt Elling so many times I should have Platinum Elite status. Jonathan Blake on drums, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass. Friday, 9:40 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday, 8:00 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.

4. Pete Seeger. Not a jazz artist but let’s all get over it. Like many jazz festivals and clubs, Monterey has broadened its scope (it has long featured blues on Saturday afternoons) and if that helps to keep the gates/doors open I’m all for it. Seeger is an icon. Earlier this week my husband and I met someone who had volunteered at the Haight-Ashbury free clinic in the 60s. He talked about the songs, the protests, the artists, the mood, and the excitement of the times as if they all happened yesterday, with special reference to and affection for Seeger. I’m not a folk fan but I’d be a fool to miss this. I’m expecting at least a mention and perhaps a tribute to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, who died on Wednesday.

5. Jason Moran & The Bandwagon Premiering Feedback. Someone (and I can’t remember who—tell me and I’ll correct this immediately) recently wrote about how rock music is finding new life in video games and why can’t jazz do the same? So, why not a video game with Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran as riff-to-the-death piano players? Maybe throw in Robert Glasper and Eldar (whom I missed seeing in Minneapolis earlier this week). Back on topic, I most recently saw Moran at the Dakota with Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. For many in the audience, Moran stole the show. Can’t wait to hear his new commission. Thank you, Monterey, for commissioning new work by important artists. 7:00 p.m. Sunday, Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage. Moran and the Bandwagon also play at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday in the Night Club.

6. Dave Brubeck Quartet Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Time Out. Has it really been half a century since Brubeck recorded a tune in 5/4 time that is not only instantly recognizable today but still catchy, infectious, and fun? Brubeck has been part of the Monterey festival since the start. Earlier this year, health problems interrupted his touring schedule. People will rise to their feet en masse when he comes on stage on Sunday night at 8:20 p.m. (or thereabouts) in the Arena. It’s going to be a thrilling, memorable moment. I was here for Brubeck's “Cannery Row Suite” premiere in 2006 (with vocalists Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini) and it was unforgettable. With Randy Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass. Go Dave!

7. Alfredo Rodriguez Trio. Quincy Jones tried and failed to get this young Cuban pianist a visa. In January 2009--earlier this year, not a typo--he defected to the US. A friend saw him at the Detroit Jazz Festival and raved about him. That’s all I know, but it’s enough to put me in the bleachers at the Garden Stage on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.

8. Dee Dee Bridgewater. The lovely, endlessly creative and surprising Dee Dee! Does she still shave her head? Is she still singing Malian music? She’s coming to Minneapolis next year to sing with the Minnesota Orchestra. Does she have another new project for Monterey or will she draw from her extensive and colorful repertoire of French songs, Kurt Weill tunes, straight-ahead, Ella, Ellington, etc.? Not a clue. Saturday night, 9:20 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday night, 11:30 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.

9. Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Quartet. I’ve seen flutist/saxophonist Tabackin at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul but never with his wife, pianist/bandleader/composer/arranger/NEA jazz master Akiyoshi. Must stop by the Night Club on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. Ack! Same time as Jason Moran's premiere in the Arena! Sometime around 6:30 I'll start gnashing my teeth and wailing.

10. The food, the ambience, the characters. (a) Monterey has good fair food—multi-ethnic, tasty, substantial, prepared in grills and ovens that send clouds of fragrant smoke into the air. This year there’s a salad bar. Heirloom tomatoes? (b) The ambience is laid-back, California-style party. No passing bodies over mosh pits, no fisticuffs or flying F-bombs. It’s genial and courteous, which is not to say it’s fuddy-duddy or boring, just that this is one place where civility apparently still exists and the excitement happens on stage. (c) Hoping the Hat Man (lobster hat, jailbird hat) is still at the Arena gates and Dee Dee Rainbow is feeling well enough to attend this year. She was absent last year and it was a Very Big Deal.

I’m at 10 (and I even fudged 10 a bit) so must quit, but not without mentioning Joe Lovano and Conrad Herwig, Randy Brecker, John Scofield, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the mind-blowing trio of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White (awesome last week at the Dakota in Minneapolis), Esperanza Spalding, the John Patitucci Trio with Lovano and Brian Blade, and DJ Logic, all of whom will be here in the balmy ocean breezes and cool evening mists of Monterey at a jazz festival that has continued without interruption for 52 consecutive years. Times are tough so the festival has taken the unusual step of offering single-show arena tickets for sale; usually you have to buy a package to get a reserved seat in the Arena, where the biggest names perform. Please, people, come.

This year I'll be reporting on the festival for and writing a wrap-up for when I return home. So you can check those sites over the weekend and into next week if you want to know more.

Travel: Why bother?

Because sometimes you see or experience something so amazing you can't believe your luck. Like a pair of humpback whales in the water right beside your boat.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Travel drivel ctd.

A day that takes its sweet time passing.

Breakfast and coffee at the reliable Parker-Lusseau, where it's too early to eat cake with ladyfingers and lemon custard wrapped in rose-tinted white chocolate.

Hwy 1 to Big Sur. A wall of fog stretches across the Pacific. As it nears the land, it becomes a white cloud that obscures mountains, homes, trees.

To the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant for chocolate chip cookies. The cookbook includes profiles of the owners (originally from LA), people who work there, and suppliers (beekeepers, organic farmers, growers of microgreens). I think of Werner Herzog's film Encounters at the End of the World, in which Herzog goes to Antarctica to learn about the people who live there.

To Ventana for the legendary view from the restaurant, which we find is closed for remodeling. We honestly don't care. The view from a bench below the restaurant is just fine.

To Pfeiffer Beach, which our indispensable Insiders' Guide says is accessible via a poorly-marked road. Try unmarked, two-mile, one-lane that winds through woods and past turnoffs marked PRIVATE and KEEP OUT and BEWARE OF DOG. The beach is glorious. The sand is purple. Not deep purple, but the top edges have a purple tinge. This is the beach featured in the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie The Sandpiper.

One end is all rocks and we climb them. Soon I'm sitting on a large rock that slants sharply down, watching the waves crash below. If I lean too far, I'll die.

Drinks in Carmel at a working-class bar where the bartender's second job is selling laser sights to the military. He gives us a catalog. A contractor in for a beer says times are tough--the building of spec houses has slowed to a crawl. Later we'll pass a realtor's office with an ad in the window for a $13 million Pebble Beach home.

To the tapas restaurant Mundaka with friends we met last year at the jazz festival. Kevin Smith is a writer and student of Tai Chi; his partner Jeffrey Mallory works with computers. Together they care for artist Emile Norman. They have concert tickets for 8 or we might still be talking, drinking tempranillo, eating squash blossoms in caramel sauce.

To Carmel's public beach for the final fading moments of the sunset. How do people with homes on the ocean get anything done? Don't they want to look out the window every second?

A movie back in Monterey. In this early-to-bed town, we have the theater to ourselves.

Photos: Fog; bakery; Liz and Dick on the beach; view from a rock

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More travel babble

We thought we might take a whale watching boat cruise this morning but sleeping in (way in) was too tempting, given the cool Cali breezes blowing in our window and the fat Hyatt bed with its smooshy pillows. Why aren’t our beds at home as fantastic as some hotel beds?

So we got up late and went for breakfast at Kathy’s on Cass St. Avocado and mushroom omelet, pancakes, potatoes. The sort of breakfast that makes you want to take a nap, except we had just gotten up. We pored over today’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, an incredible shrinking newspaper (small trim size, small page count). Found many of the comics I like but no “Mark Trail.” Wondering WHAT Rusty is up to.

From there, the 17 Mile Drive. We’ve done this before but what's wrong with repeating a leisurely tour through the Del Monte woods with palatial estates on your left, the Pacific on your right, and golfers in the road? It’s mostly about doing nothing—drive a bit, get out of the car, walk on the path, listen to the waves, sit on a bench, listen to the waves, look through your binoculars at what you think might be seals but turn out to be weeds, watch a large bird with a long orange beak and big pink feet hop over rocks in search of food, try to stay ahead of the tour buses.

We couldn’t entirely avoid one, a blue Cardiff Tours behemoth that raised and lowered its air suspension (BEEP BEEP BEEP) to let people on and off. We noticed one family in particular and I wish I had snapped a stealth picture. Jovial dad, patient mom, two sullen teenage girls, one expressionless, the other with her legs covered in tattoos, wearing a hoodie with kitten ears, angrily smoking a cigarette. You could tell the parents were trying but the girls were in hell.

We spent a lot of time admiring the Lone Cypress, the official trademarked symbol of the Pebble Beach Corporation. You can walk down several steps to a deckish landing with benches and sit there if you want, watching groups of people come down the stairs and pose for pictures in front of the famous tree. A group of Japanese tourists posed in front of the wrong tree. We thought about telling them but didn’t.

Back in Monterey in time for the weekly Farmers' Market on Alvarado St. Fresh Cali produce, jewelry made from rocks, candles, musicians, babies, street food. Lots of street food. Lebanese pockets stuffed with potatoes and spices so hot they make your whole head burn. Tamales. Gyros. BBQ. We sat at a picnic table eating chicken with our fingers as the street grew dark and the people running the booth doused the coals.

Photos: John's Bonsai Lone Cypress. Farmers' Market crowd, musicians, orchids.

Travel ramblings, if anyone cares

HH and I are in Monterey for the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which doesn’t start until Friday. Until then it’s vay-cay-shun. Which begins with our annual stop at the Swanton Berry Farm on Highway 1 for strawberry shortcake. Organic strawberries and real whipped cream on a sweet biscuit.

Changes to Swanton’s this year include more furniture inside, more jams (which you can sample by spooning them onto animal crackers), and a young plaid-shirted employee who claims to be the biggest Vikings fan born in L.A. He asked if we had seen the day’s game. We had not. We were on a plane, squashed like sorry sardines among the other pleated, folded, pressed and compressed passengers on the full flight.

At the hotel we talked first to the check-in person and second to the concierge. A concierge is someone you want to know and treat with utmost respect. The one at the Hyatt Monterey has been here for 20 years. So you can say to her such vague, nonspecific, beetle-brained things as “I picked up a card at a small Italian restaurant in Pacific Grove last year but left it on my desk at home” and she’ll say “Oh, you mean Joe Rombi’s, would you like me to make a reservation for you?” Crab cake followed by the Sunday spaghetti-and-meatballs special, with meatballs the size of cannonballs, and a nice chianti.

On Monday we drove to Moss Landing, which (according to the Insiders’ Guide to the Monterey Peninsula, an extremely detailed and useful book) is supposed to have a lot of antique stores. Maybe it used to but it doesn’t anymore. The recession seems to have kneecapped this little town on the shore of Monterey Bay. We were the only people in the shops we visited and the café where we stopped for liquid refreshment.

Moss Landing is, as of 2008, the new home of the Shakespeare Society of America, where we spent an hour or so talking with CEO Terry Taylor and where HH got his picture taken in two Your-Head-Here life-size cut-outs, one a knight and one a king. (See above for the king; the knight's on fb.) Taylor’s background includes a passion for the Bard, a degree from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and a career in consulting and cell phone sales. The Shakespeare Society building is full of prints, paintings, costumes, busts, scripts, books, and models of the Globe Theater. It is a charming, strange, and fascinating find in this town of 300 people.

Taylor pointed us up Hwy 1 to a dock that was installed for visitors in 2008 but was almost immediately taken over by sea lions. Posted signs warn against trying to rescue any and explain that overpopulation has led to disease and starvation. I’m not an expert at estimating the size of crowds but am guessing the dock held more than 1,000 sea lions. They were packed tighter than we were on our flight from Minneapolis. When the wind shifted, they smelled very bad. Make that very, very, very, very bad.

Back in Monterey, we walked the Monterey Recreational Trail from Fisherman’s Wharf along the ocean to the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove and back again. Then dinner at the Monterey Fish House, another tip from Her Holiness the Concierge. Oysters on the half shell, crab ravioli, grilled artichoke, calamari Sicilian (in red sauce with calamata olives). Noisy, crazy, packed, delicious.

We sat at the bar. The man seated to our right was a physician who had worked at the free clinic in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s, when patients included people like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He urged us to spend at least one day in Big Sur, something we plan to do anyway, and offered specific suggestions: Buy chocolate-chip cookies from the Big Sur Bakery. Sit on the deck at the Ventana Inn. And walk barefoot along Pfeiffer Beach where, he promised, the surf sounds like jazz.

More photos--sea lions, houses in Pacific Grove, whatever--may come later once HH downloads his camera card.