Friday, December 28, 2012

Boot Camp at the Artists' Quarter: concert review

When: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 • Where: Artists' Quarter, St. Paul, MN • Who: Jeremy Walker, piano; Brandon Wozniak, tenor saxophone; Chris Bates, bass; Miguel Hurtado, drums

Jeremy Walker by John Whiting
Jeremy Walker is a jazz survivor. He’s had a jazz club in St. Paul, the now-legendary (in certain circles) Brilliant Corners, where Itzhak Perlman once came to play with Wynton Marsalis. He founded and ran a nonprofit called Jazz is NOW! that functioned as a composers’ forum (you could download original scores free from its website), presenting organization, and loose affiliation of some of the Twin Cities’ best improvising musicians. When health issues meant he could no longer play saxophone, his instrument since childhood, he switched to piano, practicing up to nine hours a day and studying with teachers including Frank Kimbrough and David Berkman.

Walker has lived in Minneapolis and New York and Minneapolis again. He has started and led a number of bands including the NOWnet (a flexible ensemble), Small City Trio (with Jeff Brueske and Tim Zhorne; their CD, “Pumpkins’ Reunion,” came out in 2010), Boxcar (with Wessell Anderson, Anthony Cox, and JT Bates), and something called the Bootet (Walker’s nickname is Boot). He was the original curator of the Late Night series at the Dakota. He writes an opinionated column on jazz, music, and life for He composes; lately he’s been working on a new piece, “Seven Psalms,” for piano, bass, drums, trombone, solo voice, and choir.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dinner party playlist

From Wolfgang's Vault, just in time for Thanksgiving, a dinner party playlist I can get behind for two reasons: it's jazzy and it's long. Dinner parties at our house run late.

Click here to see it.

Stan Getz, Stephane Grappelli, Brubeck, Monk, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Joe Pass, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, and more.

I suspect this music makes conversation smarter and wine tastier.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ringing Dave King: The drummer talks about his new album, “I’ve Been Ringing You”

Dave King by John Whiting
Dave King played back-to-back CD release concerts at the Artists’ Quarter on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 19-20), had a tooth pulled on Sunday, and left Monday for London, the start of a nine-city European tour behind the new Bad Plus CD, Made Possible. Still, he found time on Sunday evening to talk by phone about I’ve Been Ringing You, his new album on Sunnyside.

King made Ringing You with pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson. King and Carrothers have recorded together before (Shine Ball, 2007, and The Electric Bill, 2002), but King had never played a note with Peterson until the day they all convened at a Minneapolis church and laid down the new tracks.

Ringing You is an album of standards: songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ornette Coleman. Songs including "Autumn Serenade," "So in Love," "People Will Say We're in Love," and "Lonely Woman." So this is not the Dave King of the Bad Plus or Halloween, Alaska or the Gang Font or Dave King’s Trucking Company or Happy Apple or Junk Magic or Buffalo Collision.

Except, of course, it is. 

PLE: A lot of people will be surprised by this album. Dave King playing standards?

Dave King: I was talking to Ethan [Iverson] about some reviews that have come in – “King shows that he plays brushes!” or whatever – and they always make us laugh because it’s obvious that the reviewers don’t own any Bad Plus records. Every record has tunes with all of this language I grew up playing – brushes, swing rhythms. I could name ten ballads right now, tunes like “Bill Hickman at Home” [on Never Stop, 2010]. The irony is, even “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on These Are the Vistas [2003] is straight-up swinging. So it’s not a surprise or a controversy for people who have really listened, only for those who have never listened.

Twelve years in, there are still people who have read one article about a rock cover band, and I’m just this guy who sounds like Keith Moon. As long as I’ve been studying jazz, I’ve played straight ahead. That doesn’t surprise any of the musicians who know me, or who know the music of the other groups I play in. Donating a whole record to the idea of noirish balladry, and using brushes more, just means I was trying to make a different piano trio record.

But why standards?

I wanted to make a standards record after so many years of dedicating my life to original-sounding bands. But I still wanted to make a record that doesn’t sound like anyone else. It would be much more surprising if I made a record that was totally straight-ahead, without a shred of the avant-garde or progressive rhythms. Then I myself would go, “What are you doing?” But this record has all of those open spaces and chances being taken that the Bad Plus has inhabited, and my work with Tim Berne and Craig Taborn. I’m always going to inhabit some sort of risk-taking space. It’s part of what I am.

I’ve never been an irreverent person, with ill will toward straight-ahead jazz. When I’m at home, I listen to LPs of Carmen McRae more than Ornette Coleman. I don’t just sit around listening to Sun Ra and shit like that. I prefer listening to a lot of straight-ahead jazz as a fan.

I hadn’t made a record dedicated to tunes I love listening and playing. I’ve been turning my kids on to old jazz records and musicals, spending a lot of time going back, taking in music I love, in different versions. The version of “If I Should Lose You” I go insane for is Keith Jarrett’s from Standards, Vol. 2. There’s always some sort of iconoclastic element. Like in “Lonely Woman.” All of these are forelorn tunes.

So I’ve been spending time going back. And I thought it would be nice to document, as a love letter, a record I’d like to listen to in wintertime, that would put me in a mood. I think of jazz that way: fall and winter. I would make this a total homage. That’s why I wanted it to come out in October.

You recorded in a church.

I wanted to do it in a different way so it sounded older. All of the pop artists are doing retro stuff – Amy Winehouse, Adele – mining soul influences and old tones. You don’t hear any modern jazz records going for the old [Rudy] Van Gelder room sound.

Matt Lindquist, the sound engineer for FirstAvenue’s main room, has been experimenting with mobile recording. He offered to find us a room, set up mics, and do it the old way. He found a church in Hopkins off Highway 7, and he knew someone who went there. He asked if it would be OK to rent the church for a couple of hours, and how much would it cost? $200? Fine. It’s a 1960s church, a big room. We went over and tested the sound.

We played in the eagle’s net, where the choir would be – above the congregation, near the pipe organ. We had a grand piano. Not a great piano, but we had it tuned by Gordy Johnson.

How did you decide on the other musicians?

I knew I was going to ask [Bill] Carrothers. We have a longstanding friendship and we’ve played together for years. He has a deep love of music, and he’s a master. He immediately said yes. Then I thought about the bass. I had a couple of New York people in mind, people I’ve worked around and with. There’s no shortage of great bass players in my life. But I wanted Bill to feel comfortable. I never even thought about Billy Peterson, even though I knew he and Carrothers had a long history.

So Bill Carrothers suggested Billy Peterson. What was your response?

I trust Bill, and if he’s comfortable with a particular harmonic relationship or improvising relationship, that means the music can’t be bad. Everyone around here knows that Billy’s a great musician, but I hadn’t had any experience with him. I’ve never really fit into the Twin Cities jazz scene. I’ve lived here for 15 years, but I’ve never played with Billy Peterson, someone everyone else seems to know. But I called him. I thought – this is my chance to bring in an unknown element, unknown to me. I called him and he said yeah, immediately, absolutely.

Can you talk about how the album took shape?

We met in March, but we didn’t talk about tunes at all. I wanted Bill [Carrothers] to pick a few things he wanted to do, and I started thinking, “What would round out this record, this noir thing?” and decided, “We can improvise one piece – the title track.” We discussed tunes at the session. We went in late one afternoon, played for a couple of hours, took a dinner break, played for two more hours, and it was done. The opening tune, “Goodbye,” was the first thing we played, and we did it in one take. The other tunes were never more than two or three takes.

And that was it. I went home, sifted through everything, and set aside a couple takes of “Solar” that didn't turn out quite right.

How did you work with Billy, since you had never worked together before?

I didn’t want any of this “we’ve got to hook things up” mentality. I wanted him to be a searching, equal improviser. The bass didn’t have to play any role at all. It was more about a concept or emotion than filling some quota. I wanted him to know how I thought as a musician. To me, the deepest rhythm sections are working on some sort of esoteric level.

You played “Solar” at the CD release on Saturday. That was also only your second time playing live with Billy.

"Solar" was one of the highlights of the weekend – that sort of burning, swinging thing we didn’t have on that tune during the recording session. I had a great time at the CD release. I thought Billy P. sounded unbelievable. You could tell he really went for it. His ears are so huge, and he has incredible technique. He was so fired up about just being able to create like that. I felt really good about having him there, and I thought we played great together. I was completely comfortable playing with him.

Is I've Been Ringing You a one-off or the start of a new band?

I think we definitely want to try and play some more. Do another record in the future. Definitely field offers to tour and stuff. I’m looking at that.

And what will you call your newest band?

Not another band name! I would rather have all three of our names listed.

I’m super proud that this group is all Minneapolis dudes. This is not some small release. It’s already been reviewed in the New York Times, DownBeat, JazzTimes. These guys are bad motherfuckers. Carrothers is one of the greats of all times. His love for the music is so obvious. He’s earnestly in love with the piano and playing jazz. It’s an added bonus that he’s such an iconoclastic, controversial, thorny personality – a renegade human being. And before this record, I didn’t know the depth of Billy Peterson.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ari Hoenig, Bill Carrothers, and Chris Bates at the Artists' Quarter: Concert review

Ari Hoenig by John Whiting
When: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 • Where: Artists' Quarter, St. Paul •  Who: Ari Hoenig, drums; Bill Carrothers, piano; Chris Bates, bass

The first time you see and hear Ari Hoenig play a melody on the drums – a real melody with notes, not the melody you hear, like harmonics, when an exceptional drummer like Phil Hey plays (Hey’s melodies are implied yet present, there but not there) – it’s kind of weird. You get distracted from the music, caught up in wondering “How does he do that?” and “Why does he do that?” A combination of sticks and mallets and elbows (to raise the pitch, he leans on the drum head), it seems like a trick or a gimmick.

Except it’s not. Like a pianist plucking the strings or a percussionist bowing a gong or a throat singer chanting chords, Hoenig is pushing his instrument, pushing himself (and us) to new places, shaking up our expectations of what’s normal, adding momentum to the whole of music.

Playing melodies is not all he does; that would be a gimmick, and he would not be doing his job as a drummer. So he usually plays a solo head, then returns to playing rhythms when the piano and bass enter in – although there are moments of overlap, when all three are playing melody, and those are thrilling.

Bill Carrothers by John Whiting
Hoenig played the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul last night, the basement club that remains devoted to jazz. He was joined by the marvelous Bill Carrothers on piano. In 2007, they made an album together, “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” with bassist Ben Street for Carrothers’ French label, Pirouet, but had not performed together since. The trio was completed by Twin Cities bassist Chris Bates, who’s on fire this year, having recently released his first CD, “New Hope,” as leader of his own group, Chris Bates’ Red 5. “New Hope” has been getting a lot of press and acclaim, deservedly so, but Bates still practiced like crazy (he said later) for his weekend with Hoenig and Carrothers.

We heard two wonderful sets of music by Monk, Carrothers’ “Church of the Open Air” from “Sunny Side,” a tune that started as “I Got Rhythm” and wandered freely from there, maybe “Evidence” from “Sunny Side,” a fantastic “Moanin’” (for which Hoenig played the head, and prior to which he tuned the snare, thanks to percussionist Peter O’Gorman for noticing this), something that sounded classical, a few ballads, and tunes so fast and fierce that sparks flew from the piano. Both Carrothers and Hoenig can play vast numbers of notes/beats in a short time, but it’s always music, not mere virtuosity, and sometimes very playful. Midway through the evening, Davis Wilson, the AQ’s beloved doorman, said later that “Carrothers just pours music out, like pouring it out of a jug.”

Chris Bates by John Whiting
It was one of those great nights at the AQ, and it will be repeated tonight, only differently. Go if you can. 

Hear Hoenig find tunes in toms and a snare, then surprise you all night long; he’s completely unpredictable. Did he suddenly go from soft to loud, or slow to very fast? Did he really change the rhythm radically mid-phrase? Did he just toss his sticks and mallets onto the drums? Don't expect a groove or a steady, foot-tapping beat. Hear Carrothers do what he does best, which is pretty much anything: play beautiful, intimate, and touching melodies, burn down the house, mine music history, toss in quotes (last night, mid-Monk, I’m pretty sure we heard a phrase from “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” and later a bit from an old Maxwell House coffee commercial). Hear Chris Bates more than hold his own with these two crafty masters.  

All three are so good, so on, so tuned into the group, the moment, and the music that at first you can’t decide where to put your focus, until you give up and do what you should have done from the start: listen to the whole sound, or as much as your ears and head are capable of grasping.

Again: Go if you can. If you heard this music anywhere in the world – walking down a street in Paris, maybe, or Buenos Aires, New York or Tokyo – it would stop you in your tracks.



The Ari Hoenig, Bill Carrothers, Chris Bates trio continues through tonight, Oct. 13. Carrothers returns to the AQ next week with Dave King and Billy Peterson for the launch of King's new album on Sunnyside, "I've Been Ringing You."

Between Sets: A Conversation with Bill Carrothers (2011) (link takes you to the NPR website)
Ari Hoenig and Jean-Michel Pilc Project (2008)
Bill Carrothers: One of a kind (2008)
First must-see of 2008: Bill Carrothers' "Armistice"

Friday, September 28, 2012

A few more photos from Monterey

HH doing that thang he does,
from the side of the Garden Stage
Dee Dee Bridgewater backstage at the Night Club
after Gregory Porter's performance

HH schmoozing with Don Was and his son

Our favorite Monterey usher/volunteer,
Paul Aschenbrenner, who guards the Arena gates
in many guises
Paul in his shark hat, with HH's mascot
perched on his head
For some reason, F-16s flew over the festival grounds several times
during the weekend. They were loud and fast.
Not at Monterey, but en route to Monterey from SF, we stopped at a strawberry farm
and discovered the SlowCoast Airstream Store parked on the grounds.
Purveyors of books, bags, soap, and sea glass. We're considering a career change.

Monterey Jazz Festival 55: Photos

Click here to go to John's Monterey 2012 set on Flickr. Enjoy.

José James interview

Jose James by John Whiting
It might one day be said that singer José James’ star in the U.S. officially rose in September 2012. His new song, “Trouble,” was an iTunes single of the week. His new EP, “It’s All Over Your Body,” was launched, a preview to his forthcoming album on the iconicBlue Note label, to which he was signed earlier this month. (“No Beginning No End” is due out Jan. 22.) He made his debut at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival, the longest-running jazz fest in the world. Two days later, he opened for the influential pianist Robert Glasper at the iTunes Festival in London...

Read the complete interview at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Monterey Jazz Festival 55: A very good year

Tony Bennett
We missed Rudresh Mahanthappa’s performance with Jack DeJohnette. We missed Ninety Miles with Nicholas Payton and David Sanchez (so did the band’s vibraphonist, Stefon Harris, whose son was born that night). We missed Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Eddie Palmieri, Mulgrew Miller, Gregoire Maret, Christian Scott, Tierney Sutton, Ben Williams, the Cal Tjader tribute with Michael Wolff and Pete Escovedo (Sheila E’s dad), Antonio Sanchez & Migration, Mads Tolling (the former Turtle Island member, now heading his own quartet), John Abercrombie, even Esperanza Spalding.

And yet, at the 2012 Monterey Jazz Festival, we heard live music almost every moment of the weekend. From headliners we knew to artists we didn’t, the densely packed line-up kept us moving from Arena to Night Club, Garden Stage to Dizzy’s Den to Coffee House, with brief stops for food (Jamaican vegan stew, which was delicious; black-eyed peas and shrimp with grits; teriyakis; brats) and shopping (the usual array of eclectic vendors; I brought home a pair of tortoise-shell hoops and HH got his annual MJF T-shirt). As I have each year since 2005, when I first attended the world’s longest-running jazz fest, I arrived home already anticipating next year, when the artist-in-residence will be saxophonist Joe Lovano.


Our Friday night began at the Garden Stage, where we waited for José James to arrive for his 9:30 set. I had managed to get an interview with him (to my knowledge, the only interview he granted at the festival, and the only one he had time for), after which we stayed for most of his performance. This was a big week for James. Having just signed with Blue Note earlier this month, he’s riding the major-label high-speed train; his song “Trouble” was the iTunes Single of the Week, his EP launched, and his new album drops in January. During our talk in a small room backstage, Don Was dropped by with his son. Was seems like a nice guy. He laughs a lot.

Jose James
James’ set was very fine. Not our usual jazzy kick-off, but jazz infused with R and B, hip-hop, and soul. Sensual without being steamy. James doesn’t have the rumbling purr of Barry White, but he does have a delicious and velvety baritone voice, and this is easily turn-down-the-lights, pour-the-wine music. Highlights of the set: his new song “It’s All Over Your Body,” which included (in live performance) a nod to his earlier “Blackmagic;” the catchy single “Trouble;” his unique takes on Bill Withers’  “Ain’t No Sunshine When You’re Gone” (James sings a Bill Withers/Al Green show in NYC in October) and the Nancy Wilson standard “Save Your Love for Me;” and an amazing vocalese of Coltrane’s “Equinox,” with James’ own lyrics. (The Coltrane has been recorded but probably will never be released; read more/watchlive/download [legally] here.) Also every solo by his trumpet player, Takuya Kuroda.

From the Garden Stage, we headed to the Night Club for a taste of the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet, enough to hear the young trumpeter blow one eloquent tune. We knew we’d catch him again over the weekend -- he was this year’s Artist-in-Residence – and in fact we saw him several times on the festival grounds. Yet another wonderful thing about Monterey: random artist sightings. Ours included Tierney Sutton, Chris Potter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Pat Metheny, Christian Scott, members of various bands, and (twice) Clint Eastwood, a long-time festival supporter, trailed by his retinue. His son, bassist Kyle Eastwood, played a set early Sunday evening with the pianist Rick Germanson. (We missed that, too. Sorry, Rick!)

Gregory Porter
From the Night Club, we crossed two lawns to Dizzy’s Den, where the singer Gregory Porter held a packed house in thrall. Of the new artists we saw this year, Porter was for me the most memorable and profoundly touching. We arrived in time for his lilting, wistful “Be Good,” a ballad in waltz time. HH hears Sammy Davis Jr. in Porter’s voice; I’m too busy melting to hear anyone but Porter. My prayer to the jazz gods: please oh please let Porter become as big a star in the U.S. as he is in Europe so we can see more of him here. He has everything: a big, gorgeous voice, impeccable timing, natural swing, a tasty growl, and that clear and direct emotional connection we want from our singers. Plus he scats (bonus) and writes original songs. Okay, I love him. I kind of told him that when he came off stage after his second encore. I might have gushed a little.


DownBeat Blindfold Test
We began our Saturday at the annual MJF edition of the “DownBeat” Blindfold Test, during which journalist Dan Ouellette plays a selection of recordings for a featured artist, who does his or her best to identify the musicians. (This and other discussions held at the festival are rare opportunities to hear artists converse. Often, the moderator takes questions from the audience.) In this year’s hot seat: pianist Gerald Clayton, the immensely musical son of a musical family (John Clayton is his father, Jeff Clayton his uncle). He was stumped by the young Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and “Qbafrica,” the opening track to his debut CD, “Sounds of Space,” but ID'd him after a few hints from Ouellette. He also thought Rodriguez packed too much into the tune. And that’s all I’ll say about the Blindfold Test. You can read about it in a future issue of the magazine.

A small part of Trombone Shorty's crowd
We snatched a few moments of Trombone Shorty’s show in the sun-baked Arena, where a crowd of thousands stood and danced and waved handkerchiefs. Shorty played trombone, trumpet, and drums. He sang and danced. He’s a consummate showman, New Orleans distilled into a slim but muscular high-energy package. His 2010 Monterey debut was on the much smaller Garden Stage, but he’s an Arena man now.

Pedal steel master Robert Randolph and his Family Band played two sets on Saturday, the first in the Arena. We caught part of the second on the Garden Stage. Backstage, I had the chance to look closely at a spare pedal steel guitar, an odd instrument with a fascinating history. Randolph, whose version has 13 strings, made it moan, wail, and scream, sometimes pushing it forward on its front legs and bending over it in prayer, still playing. Bluesy, soulful, fiery, spiritual music. He’s one of the artists I didn’t know before Monterey and will never forget.

Bill Frisell's Big Sur Quintet
One of my must-sees is the annual Monterey Jazz Festival commission. Brand-new music by important artists, supported in part by the NEA, thank you very much. This year’s commission artist was Bill Frisell, whose “Music of Glen Deven Ranch,” composed in and about Big Sur, was lush and lyrical, spacious and pastoral – chamber music with grooves. Frisell’s Big Sur Quintet included Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts on cello, and Rudy Royston on drums. It was good to see Roberts at Monterey again; his last appearance there was in 2009 with Buffalo Collision, a group with Ethan Iverson, Dave King, and Tim Berne.

Catherine Russell
Still going (Saturday is Monterey’s most star-studded and therefore challenging day), we heard some of pianist Gerald Clayton’s first set in the intimate Coffee House and a few moments of the wonderful vocalist Catherine Russell on the Garden Stage. Long enough to catch her heartbreaking “Don’t Leave Me” in its entirety. She’s a passionate, powerful singer. From there we bounced back into the Arena for the Jack DeJohnette Special Trio with Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. DeJohnette was this year’s Showcase Artist; he’s also a 2012 NEA Jazz Master, and he’s spending his 70th year traveling and performing with friends. We settled in for the whole set, a display of musicality and camaraderie that seemed (to me at least) a bit Metheny-heavy. I wanted more Jack, a drummer I’ve seen live just once before.

Tony Bennett
For many with Arena tickets, the most anticipated event on Saturday was the return of Tony Bennett. I had seen his 2005 Monterey performance, which was unforgettable. He was 79 then; he’s 86 now. The seven years between 79 and 86 are not the same seven years one lives from 29 to 36 or even 59 to 66. Could this legendary entertainer still command the stage? Smack me for asking. He was fantastic. He spun on his heel. He slapped his knee. He bent down to the ground to pick up a piece of paper – which alarmed someone at the side of the stage, who ran to help. (We all held our breath. Tony! Don't fall!)  He reached out in expansive gestures that embraced all of us, chopped the air with his hands, smiled broadly (he is still so very handsome), and sang a ton of songs, all from memory (my loose count: 22). In most cases he sang one chorus each, but he has an immense catalog and he never sank to a medley. He may not land every note precisely on key, but he still has the volume, the chops, the exquisite phrasing, the charisma, and the heart to sing a big show in the open air before an adoring audience. When he stepped on stage, a woman beside me said, “I think I might cry,” then did. Bennett ended not with a grand, arena-filling “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (he sang that earlier), but with a hushed and tender “Fly Me to the Moon.” He gave us 90 minutes of greatness. Fill his heart with song and let him sing forevermore.

Done for the night? Not quite. We caught the last half of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour band in Dizzy’s Den. Each year, festival artistic director Tim Jackson puts together an all-star superband, then sends them out to spread the Monterey spirit across the land. (The tour begins January 10 in Santa Cruz and ends April 28 in Anchorage. Check the schedule to see if it comes to your town.) The latest incarnation is, in short, awesome: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash. At Dizzy’s, Dee Dee (who gets hotter by the minute) sang a breathtaking “Don’t Explain” with Benny, Christian, and Lewis, after which the band played Bobby Hutcherson’s dynamic “Highway One.”


Our Sunday started late in the day with a Dizzy’s Den conversation between Jack DeJohnette and journalist/author Ashley Kahn. The topic was DeJohnette’s life in music; the questions came from other artists at the festival with whom Kahn had spoken. Kahn began by saying what a challenge it was to name an improvising musician with whom DeJohnette hadn’t played and noting that the drummer had been in the lead position of every jazz style since the 1960s.

Jack DeJohnette and Ashley Kahn
Words from DeJohnette: “Music chose me … When I was 4 or 5, we had a Victrola. I’d wind it up and drop the needle on 78s of Count Basie, Duke, Slim Gaylord … I used to listen to them before I could read well … In those days, it was the thing for kids to take piano lessons. A friend of my grandmother was a teacher, and she found out I had perfect pitch … At ages 5 and 6 I was giving recitals, and even then I’d want to improvise. My teacher would say, ‘Jackie, that’s not on the page!’ ”

After hearing Vernel Fournier on Ahmad Jamal’s “At the Pershing,” DeJohnette bought his first set of brushes. When his grandmother passed away and left him some money, he bought a car, a set of drums, and a portable Wurlitzer keyboard. “That put me on a good path,” DeJohnette recalled. “The keyboard let me get work in places without pianos.” He never took drum lessons because “the drums came naturally to me … I learned from listening and watching, and I started to practice 5 or 6 hours a day.” He finally made a choice – drums over piano – when he moved to New York City in the 1960s, paying $27 to send his drums by Greyhound bus (without cases, which he couldn’t afford). Renting a room at the Y for $2/day, he thought, “I’m going to be a drummer” and he never looked back.

How did he find his path? “You find your own voice, and the village of other musicians reinforces it.” When he plays, does he see colors or shapes? “Sometimes I feel colors … Sometimes I’m transported somewhere else – I’m in the library of cosmic ideas.” Which album first defined his sound? “Special Edition” with David Murray and Arthur Blythe (1980), something I’ll probably have to go out and buy.

Meklit Hadero
From there, we wandered, winding down. The temperature had dropped; it was chillier than usual, and you could tell by the audience sizes at the various venues that some people had given up and gone home. We heard a little of the Jack DeJohnette-Bill Frisell Duo in Dizzy’s Den, walking in on a lengthy solo by DeJohnette full of silence and thunder. On the Garden Stage, the fresh and exciting Ethiopian-born, San Francisco-based vocalist Meklit Hadero braved the cold in not enough clothes, her breath blossoming white in the air around her. (Another festival discovery for me.) In the Arena, Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour gathered once more to wow us, starting with a spare but greasy duet between Dee Dee and Christian on “It’s Your Thing.” Dee Dee was wearing the highest heels and the thickest eyelashes I had ever seen. A few moments of Chester Thompson streaming live on a computer in the press room and it was over.

Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour
Why does Monterey always seem so long at the start, so evanescent at the end? The setting – grass and trees, sun and stars, the timeless feel of an old WPA-era fairgrounds (built from 1939-40) – lulls you into believing that time has slowed. The ambience – relaxed, casual, easy-going – adds to the illusion. And then you’re exiting through the gates for the last time, at least until next year, and it's bittersweet. Do I sound overly sentimental? Sorry, but that’s an unavoidable side effect of this gem of a jazz festival. Go once (I dare you) and you’ll want to return again, and again.



Singer José James  does 'the Minnesota thing' and makes music his way (link takes you to
Five New Singers at the Monterey Jazz Festival (link takes you to NPR's A Blog Supreme)
Ten must-see events at the 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, from one person's point of view
The 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival stays true to the music

Click here to view John's photo set on Flickr