|Ahmad Jamal (C) Jean Marc Lubrano|
I’m writing this early (very early) on Saturday morning, after the festival’s first night (Friday). Did I see everything I said I would on Friday? Mostly, and then some.
We began at the Garden Stage with the Ben Flocks Quartet, where Flocks was joined by Javier Santiago, Chris Smith, and Cory Cox—all past Brubeck fellows, two (Santiago and Smith) from Minneapolis. We saw the first half of Marcus Roberts’ first set in the Coffee House, with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums. And the first half of the Roy Hargrove Big Band in the Arena, up to and including both songs by Roberta Gambarini, who looked amazing in a red gown.
The very end of Jazz Mafia’s Brass, Bows and Beats, a 45-member band squeezed into Dizzy’s Den. A little Les Nubians back at the Arena. All of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition in the Night Club. And, as it happened, a bit more of Hargrove’s big band. For their second performance of the night, they got a late start at Dizzy’s and played late—until well after midnight. Nobody minded. The line to get into that show was huge, by the way, a reminder that if there’s someone you really want to see in one of the smaller venues, where seats are not reserved, try to arrive early.
What about Sunday? It's the festival’s final day, with a magnificent lineup and more hard choices.
2 pm Conversation with Roy Haynes Hosted by Yoshi Kato (Dizzy’s Den)
Part of what I love about Monterey is the opportunity to hear jazz musicians speak. The interviews and conversations each year at Dizzy’s Den are, to me, high points of the festival. While I’ve seen Roy Haynes play several times at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul (he and AQ owner Kenny Horst are longtime friends), I have heard him speak only briefly, on the occasion of his 80th birthday at the AQ five years ago. (He just celebrated his 85th at the Blue Note in NYC.) So I’ll be there to hear what Haynes has to say about…whatever he wants to talk about.
2:40 pm Angelique Kidjo featuring Christian McBride, Lionel Loueke, Kendrick Scott, and Mino Cinelu (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
The Benin-born singer’s latest CD has an interesting roster of guest stars: Roy Hargrove, John Legend, Dianne Reeves, and Bono. Her band isn’t too shabby, either. Guitarist Loueke is a fellow Beninese; Cinelu toured with Miles Davis’ band in the early 1980s. If you go, wear a hat. You’ll be sitting in the direct California sun.
5:30 pm Sachal Vasandani Quartet (Garden Stage)
This young male jazz singer has it all—good looks, a golden voice, and on-stage charisma. His band includes Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass, and Kendrick Scott (who plays earlier in the day for Angelique Kidjo) on drums.
7 pm Harry Connick Jr. (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
This will be Connick’s Monterey Jazz Festival debut, and he has been the handsome face of this year's festival, in ads and articles and magazines. There’s something about Harry I have always liked, but his latest CD, Your Songs, isn’t among them. Produced by Clive Davis, it seems overdone and far too poppy. The songs include “All the Way,” “And I Love Her,” “Close to You,” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” It's an album with strings. Since Connick's festival band includes a first violinist “plus additional string players,” I’m suspicious. But I’ll stop by to bask in his star power.
It pains me to miss festival artist-in-residence Dianne Reeves and her new project “Strings Attached”—in this case, strings means two guitars, Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo, with no rhythm section—but it can’t be helped.
8 pm Fred Hersch Trio (Coffee House)
This is a wonderful festival for those who love jazz piano. So far, Marcus Roberts and Gerald Clayton, and now Fred Hersch, poet of the keys. He’s with his trio, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. This is one of the performances I have looked forward to most.
9 pm Ahmad Jamal (Jimmy Lyons Stage—Arena)
How is it possible that neither Roy Haynes nor Ahmad Jamal has ever played the Monterey Jazz Festival? Jamal recently celebrated his 80th birthday with a concert in Chicago’s Millennium Park. His playing makes me forget to breathe. It’s so complex, so beautiful, so spacious, so moving, so dynamically diverse; he can go from thunder to sigh in the same measure, the same phrase. On Friday night, Marcus Roberts included “Poinciana” in his first set. I can’t imagine Jamal won’t play his signature song on the last night of the Monterey Jazz Festival, before what is sure to be a rapt and appreciative crowd. His quartet: James Cammack on bass, Herlin Riley on drums, Manolo Badrena on percussion. I’ve heard this group and it doesn’t get any better. And I don’t care that I heard them as recently as February of this year (twice).
Both Roy Haynes and Fred Hersch play late sets starting at 9:30, the final sets of this year’s festival. On the way out, we’ll try to catch the last half of the Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band at Dizzy’s. He’s bringing Jaleel Shaw on saxophone, Martin Bejerano on piano, David Wong on bass. Terrific young players all, they’ll work up a sweat trying to keep up with Haynes.