Saturday, September 18, 2010

What I'll see at the 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival and why: Saturday

Fred Hersch

The festival's first full day. We'll head over in the early afternoon all bright and bouncy and drag our tired selves back to the hotel after midnight. (It's a half-mile walk between our hotel and the festival site, a WPA-era fairgrounds, and it feels a lot longer at the end of the day.)

2 pm DownBeat Blindfold Test with Fred Hersch Hosted by Dan Ouellette (Dizzy's Den)
The premise is, jazz journalist Ouellette will attempt to stump pianist Hersch by playing several jazz recordings and asking him to identify the performers. It's really an excuse for what is sure to be a far-ranging, fascinating conversation about jazz. If you can't be there in person, you can read about it in a future issue of DownBeat.

If time allows, I'll attempt to catch the last part of...

2:20 pm Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
This may end up being one of the most popular and talked-about acts at this year's festival. Trombone Shorty (so named because he started playing the instrument at age 4, when it was longer than he was tall) is (as someone in the know said the other day) the right person from the right place playing the right music at the right time. Translation: He's a tall, good looking, preternaturally talented man in his 20s from New Orleans playing jazz, hip-hop, soul, and street at a time when the doomsayers are wailing "Jazz is dead!" I won't be surprised if he second-lines the whole Arena crowd out the door and through the fairgrounds. We saw him this summer at the Minnesota Zoo (on a very nice outdoor stage, in case you non-Minnesotans are wondering) and loved him. Go Shorty!

3:30 pm Hristo Vitchev Quartet (Coffee House)
A jazz guitarist and composer from Bulgaria? I'll bite. With pianist Weber Iago, drummer Joe De Rose, and bassist Dan Robbins. (Tip: To do the festival well, try new things.)

4:00 pm Conversation with George Wein Hosted by Andrew Gilbert (Dizzy's Den)
Founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, producer of hundreds of music events annually since then, George Wein thought he was bowing out of the festival biz when he sold his company to the Festival Network, a newly-formed entity run by thirtysomething Chris Shields. By 2009, both the Newport and New York festivals (among others) were in shambles and Wein came to the rescue. The man is 84; won't he ever get to take it easy? He's a living jazz encyclopedia and hearing him speak should be interesting to say the least.

7:30 pm Gretchen Parlato Band (Night Club)
Everybody's talking about this young singer, including Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Of Parlato, Shorter has said, "in an inconspicuous way, Gretchen plays the same instrument as Frank Sinatra," and to be honest, I have no clue what that means. Her band is stellar: Lionel Loueke on guitar, Aaron Parks on piano and Fender Rhodes, Derrick Hodge on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums.

8 pm Billy Childs Quartet and the Kronos Quartet premiering Music for Two Quartets (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
It's the hour of the festival's first major music pileup: Childs and Kronos in the Arena, gifted young ukelelist Jake Shimabukuro on the Garden Stage, Septeto Nacional de Cuba at Dizzy's, and the Gerald Clayton Trio in the Coffee House. I'm torn between Childs/Kronos and Clayton but will probably opt for the former because the music they're premiering was commissioned by the MJF. Commissioning new works is a very good thing and I want to show my support. Also, I've enjoyed the commissions I've seen in the past: from Jason Moran, Dave Brubeck, Maria Schneider. (Kronos will also perform a new work by Schneider.) Pianist/composer/arranger Childs' quartet is impeccable: Brian Blade on drums, Scott Colley on bass, Steve Wilson on saxes and flute.

9:45 pm Chris Potter Underground (Garden Stage)
I would walk across hot coals to see this group: Potter on saxophones, Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Nate Smith on drums. (Note no bass.) The band has been together for five years now, and although each member is involved with other bands and projects (Potter perhaps most famously with Dave Holland), they're committed. I'm super excited about seeing Craig Taborn again. Craig, your mom says hi.

10:50 pm Chick Corea Freedom Band with Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and Roy Haynes (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
The festival's all-star supergroup. This is the only time they will play together; McBride and Haynes will perform in other venues on the grounds on Sunday, but unless I'm mistaken, neither Corea nor Garrett will make another appearance. I was surprised to learn that the great drummer Roy Haynes is making his MJF debut this year.

I might have to leave early to catch at least part of Gerald Clayton's 11 pm set at the Coffee House. With Clayton on piano, Justin Brown on drums, and Joe Sanders on bass, it will be a fine way to end the night.

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