Monday, September 30, 2013

The Gary Burton interview

Gary Burton by Jimmy Katz
I’ve admired Gary Burton for years without knowing much about him beyond his music – the crystal-clear, horizonless sound of his vibes; his many recordings with Chick Corea; his gift for finding and working with guitarists including Larry Coryell, Pat Metheny, and most recently Julian Lage.

I know a lot more about him now that I’ve read his autobiography, “Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton,” published earlier this month by Berklee Press. It’s quite the page-turner, considering the genre (autobiography), the subject (a clean-living jazz musician), and the fact that Burton has followed a relatively untroubled, unencumbered path through the life he chose for himself.

A self-described “poster child for success,” Burton seemed to do everything right except for one thing: be fully himself. “I convinced myself I wasn't gay, [that I] had this extra sensitivity, this aesthetic that allowed me to appreciate the attraction of men ... This carried me through two marriages. After my second marriage ended, somebody asked me a big question: 'What do you plan to do for the second half of your life?' That got me thinking that I wanted to fix whatever wasn't right in the first half. That brought me square to this issue.” Out among his friends and family since the 1980s, publicly out since 1994, Burton has suffered no negative consequences of being openly gay. To the contrary, he claims his career is better than ever.

In “Learning to Listen,” Burton takes credit for his considerable accomplishments and gives credit where it’s due. A teacher for much of his life (at Berklee College of Music, which he attended without graduating), he honors his own teachers: Evelyn Tucker, who taught him to play marimba and vibraphone as a child (and encouraged him to start “making things up”); Loren Blake, who taught him jazz piano and harmony; Nashville guitarist Hank Garland, who turned Burton from an incipient “jazz snob” into someone whose ears stayed wide open to all kinds of music; Alfred Lee, his classical piano teacher at Berklee, who taught him ear training, sight reading, and how to find inspiration in classical music; trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, who taught him how to improvise.

From George Shearing, Burton learned about harmony, the value of short solos, and the importance of being able to play in all key signatures. (It was Shearing who convinced Burton to stop using the vibrato in the vibes.) From Stan Getz, Burton learned to rethink his concept of the jazz solo – to focus less on innovation, more on feelings, dynamics, and expression. From the great singer Lena Horne, he learned how to phrase and interpret melodies.

Currently on tour for his new album, “Guided Tour,” with his latest group, the New Gary Burton Quartet, the vibes master, multiple Grammy winner, bandleader, composer, educator and author comes to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on Oct. 2 and 3. I spoke with Burton by phone in September for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This blog post includes those parts of the interview that didn’t make it into print for reasons of space, or because they wandered into nerdier topics like the book-writing process itself. 

Despite the fact that Burton was leaving the next day and hadn’t yet started packing, he was warm and gracious. He acted like he had all the time in the world.

PLE: Is “Learning to Listen” your first book?

Gary Burton:  It’s my second. My first was a how-to about traveling on the road [“A Musician’s Guide to the Road,” Billboard, 1981.] I consider [“Learning to Listen”] my one and only actual real book. I worked on it pretty hard for the last three years. Up to that point, I would get into it every now and then in brief spurts of activity, but didn’t really focus my attention on it until more recently.

I’m sure if I had worked with a professional writer and followed the usual format of doing interviews and having someone else do the writing, I could have done it with a lot less effort on my part. [But] I wanted to have it in my voice.

I’ve been thrilled with the reviews and reactions I’ve been getting so far. I expected it to be appreciated by jazz fans, but I wasn’t prepared for the strong reaction to the writing itself. I always thought of myself as someone who could write correctly and clearly, but when I read professional writers’ work, I’m in awe.

For many musicians, their recordings are their legacy. Why did you feel so strongly that you needed to write your autobiography, and that you had to do it yourself?

The behind-the-scenes story of your life –  its ups and downs, and who you are – doesn’t come across in records. When I got into my 60s, I started thinking seriously, “Do I have a story that’s worth telling?” I think there’s enough in the book to be enlightening to people.

Then there was the gay story. Other people have come out over the years more and more, but every time someone does it, it’s a different take on that story.

I also wanted to address the creative process, which has fascinated me all my life as a player and as a teacher. I wanted to see if I could answer those questions people are always asking – like “How do you know the right note to play?” and “How does it work?” I wanted to demystify it. I thought that was worth putting into words.

You talk about having an “inner player.” Does everyone have one?

Everyone has an inner player, even if they don’t talk to it. You can’t play without one. Think about it. Consciously, if you try to think of everything you need to do, it’s like keeping ten plates spinning in the air. You can’t possibly think fast enough or completely enough to make those split-second decisions as the song relentlessly pushes forward. [You can't be thinking] “How loud should I play the note?” or “What stick should I hit it with?”

We can’t think about nouns, verbs, pronouns, and sentence structure while we talk. It would stop us in our tracks. I’ve always assumed – I’m not a neurologist – that the same brain function works with language and music performance.

You had two careers for many years. Did you ever sleep?

I’m fast at getting my work done. I’m a quick study. Even when I was a student, I always managed to get my homework done during breaks between classes, so by the end of day I could go home without any homework.

You write about keeping lists of words and phrases suitable for song and album titles. Talk about being prepared!

The same thing happened to me that Pat [Metheny] runs into all the time. You finish a record, and then the record company is on you: “We need titles now! Can you get them to us by Monday?” I learned that good sources for tune titles were poetry and magazine advertising. Ad copywriters use a lot of strong buzzwords and catchy phrases. So one day I started leafing through magazines and making lists. I’ve used many of the words and phrases I’ve written down. Pat has used quite a few of them. “Guided Tour” [the title of the new album] was one.

What were your source materials for this book? Did you keep journals? Did you draw from memory? Did you talk with people?

I started making notes to myself about 15 years ago. Just writing things down on index cards. Anytime something crossed my memory – “That gig was wild,” “Here’s an interesting thought about creativity” – I wrote it down. Over time, I ended up with a couple hundred index cards. Writing them jarred my memory as well. Once you start working on retrieving memories, more and more of them come back.

As I started writing about the first half of my life, I was constantly surprised by other memories cropping up. Then I went to people I knew from those years. My mother had a treasure-trove of old newspaper articles and photographs she had saved from when I was a kid. She sent them all to me. Then I went to people like Pat Metheny, Chick [Corea], and Steve Swallow, people I’ve played with since the 1960s and ’70s. I would tell them stories I remembered and see if they rang a bell with them. In some cases, they would say, “No, it wasn’t that way. Stan said this, and then we did that.” That helped me to fine-tune.

I sent the book to a handful of people from my past, and also a few current people, to get their feedback. My first girlfriend, Jeanine Blessing, whom I mention in the book, has known me since 1963. She had a lot of suggestions for different sections – like “This isn’t clear” or “Shouldn’t you talk more about that part?” Neil Tesser, my editor, longtime friend, and a jazz writer, fact-checked a ton of stuff. I’d mention something that happened at a festival in 1973 and he’d come back with “No, according to a review I found, that was 1972.” He was also good at calling out parts of the book he didn’t understand, where he wasn’t sure my point was coming across, and places where I repeated myself. I couldn’t imagine writing this book with an editor who wasn’t a jazz writer.

I didn’t want to just talk about my career in terms of “then I made this record and that record, then I played in this band and that band.” I also wanted to include in-depth portraits of people who were important to me, people I learned from and who were my inspirations. I started out with a list of people – Duke [Ellington], Lionel [Hampton], Pat [Metheny] Chick [Corea], and Sam Barber – who had made a big impression on me or been directly involved in my career experiences. Neil suggested, “Don’t write about what people can read elsewhere. Focus on the stuff only you know about them.” The box idea [putting individual profiles in boxes, like chapters within chapters] was mine.

What did you leave out of the book?

Probably a dozen anecdotes I decided weren’t as strong as the ones I chose, or were too similar. We’re about to do a second printing, which gave me the chance to make corrections and changes, so I just read it again from cover to cover. I found half a dozen little things, odds and ends.

I softened up some stuff. In my first version through, I was even more critical of Astrud Gilberto. I toned that down. I used to be even more strident.

I wanted to be blunt and honest about people. One thing I dislike about so many jazz biographies is “everybody is wonderful, everybody plays great.” People are afraid to be critical.

Even so, you weren’t especially harsh in your criticism. Except that you called Joe Henderson a prick.

He was one of the most evil people I’ve ever met. I knew his reputation even before I signed up for that thing [a “Young Lions” tour of Europe with Jimmy Owens, Cedar Walton, Roy Haynes, and Henderson]. Someone once came and took lessons from him. The guy’s saxophone was in bad shape. Joe volunteered to have it tuned up and repaired. Instead, he hocked it. Typical Joe. Typical junkie. The moral compass gets twisted.

I didn’t want to be unnecessarily mean, but at the same time, I felt it was part of the story to talk about the human aspects of these genius people. Their frailties and weaknesses and lapses. This is not to say they weren’t geniuses. I talk about Miles [Davis] and his colorful behavior. I hope I also come across as showing that he was one of the amazing musicians I’ve ever encountered.

What did you take out of the book?

Only some of my wording. I can’t think of any actual stories I left out. I did have an affair with a musician I didn’t want to put in, out of deference to him. I’ve been asked, “You’re an openly gay jazz musician. Have you ever had any jazz musician boyfriends?” Yes, once. But that didn’t add anything to my story.

You were lucky in your family. I love the story about your grandfather buying a record player so he could listen to your first record. Did he ever buy another record?

No. He bought a little tabletop vinyl box and only played that single record. Every time I would visit him after the ’60s, I would walk in and there would be this thing on the dining room table.

He came to visit me once in New York. He had never been to a city before, and he lived in a farm town of 500 people. When he was in his early 70s, he decided he wanted to see a little bit of the world before it was all over. My sister flew out with him. He had never flown before on a commercial plane. He spent most of a week visiting me at my studio apartment.

I was with [Stan] Getz in those days, and I would take him with me as I did errands around the city – a record signing event at Macy’s, something with Stan, a PR event. I had to keep my eye on him. He would just walk into the street and wander off down the sidewalk. He had a wonderful time.

And your parents were so supportive of your interest in music, without being at all pushy.

My family was great all through that. They have also been great with the second big issue in my life, when I came out. Not only my personal family, but my ex-wife and her family have been huge fans and supporters. And the kids. I’m still best friends with all my in-laws, and with my kids. They both live in L.A. near their mother.

Jonathan [Chong, Burton’s husband since July] and I are out there three to five times a year on business of one kind or another. We always make extra days for my family.

Are your parents still living?

Father died at 84. It’s been 15 years. Mother is 97 and in a nursing home in Princeton [Indiana]. Up until a year ago, she lived in her own place. Then she had a fall and needed someone to take care of her.

We all go out to Indiana every year for a long weekend – my brother, sister, nieces, nephews, and grandkids. We started doing that every year when she turned 90. We just did it in May.

You write very lovingly about your father – how he took you to see Lionel Hampton play, how he drove you to music harmony lessons in another town, an hour each way. If you could talk with your father today, what would you say to him?

To Dad: the big thank-you. At the time, it never occurred to me he was making such a big sacrifice and commitment. He was enthusiastic and seemed to be having fun from the sidelines. When I got my driver’s license and started driving myself, I realized how much time and effort he had put into being supportive.

I always felt I never thanked him and my mother enough for their support. They never pushed me into music, like the classic stage parents dragging their kids around. To them, music was something fun for the family to do. When I got more into it, they let me know, “If that’s what you want, we’re there for you.” They never put any barriers in my way.

The biggest moment was probably when I came back from band camp and said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to med school. I’m going to play jazz.” They didn’t blink. There wasn’t a hint of surprise or negative reaction on their part. Or maybe I just didn’t notice it.

I do think if I had told them at that age that I thought I was gay, they would have had a lot of difficulty with that. This was 1958, 1959 in rural Indiana ... It's easier to come out if you've already launched your life and career.

Have you and Charlie Haden ever spoken about your experiences as children in a family band?

I know Charlie reasonably well. We served on the Grammy committee for four or five years running. And he was also in a family band as a child. Country music. We were surrounded by country music in southern Indiana.

We’ve talked about a lot of other things, but never about that. He’s quite ill now.

One thing that stands out in your book is your openness to all kinds of music – starting with your first recording, with Hank Garland in Nashville, and continuing through your whole life. Also, your openness to learning from others, and experimenting. Where do you think this comes from?

I don’t know for sure. I have observed that improvisers are very adaptable. Classical musicians can’t suddenly decide to play rock or tango or whatever. The music has to be written out for them to read. But improvisers – if we can relate to something we hear, we can usually play along with it and figure out something that will work.

Jazz musicians fall into one of two camps. There are the ones who stick to a narrow genre, make that their thing, do it brilliantly and beautifully, and everybody loves their playing. Wes Montgomery, Milt Jackson, and Oscar Peterson all did their thing, did it great, and were hugely successful. Then there are those who are musical travelers and restless spirits, always looking for something different, overturning the nearest rock to see what’s there. Stan Getz, Chick [Corea], Pat [Metheny] – they’re the creative type. That’s been my thing as well. I’m easily fascinated by anything and want to get involved in it.

I’ve learned tons from each of those diversions. I’ve been playing tango for twenty-some years on a somewhat semi-regular basis. I’m as well-known in Argentina for my tango concerts as I am for jazz.

Do you dance the tango?

I wish I could. I love watching the dancers. Here’s something you may find out about jazz musicians: almost none of us are decent dancers. During the years we could have learned to dance, we were playing in the bands.

Jazz musicians probably think of dancing as not all that hip. I tap danced as a kid and I was pretty good at that. I have found occasional jazz musicians who were tappers along the way. It was common for kids to take tap dance lessons 50-60 years ago.

Is there anything you’d like to say to jazz purists?

I’m pretty anti-putting-things-in-boxes. Every time I hear somebody say, “Jazz fell apart after the 1950s,” or lost its way, or whatever, I just shake my head and think, “This is surprising, because the people who say that revere [musicians] who were iconoclasts. Their favorites are Duke [Ellington] and Thelonious [Monk] – people nobody understood at the time, who were constantly challenging audiences to keep up with them.

Some musicians today want to stay in the past instead of looking ahead, trying to challenge themselves and move things forward. The nature of the art form, of all art forms, is you get classicists and people who break new ground. There’s room for everybody. I personally don’t have much interest in staying put or going backwards, certainly.

People have often approached me about a reunion of the first quartet [with Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow, and Roy Haynes]. [My response has always been] “No, I have a new thing I want to do!” I don’t want to go back and do something over. But now that I’m at a certain age, I have indulged a little bit in reunion projects. It’s part of the nostalgia of becoming a senior citizen.

You’ve been playing with Chick Corea for more than 40 years.

I was convinced we were going to be finished with that 25 years ago. We play every year, do some touring every year, and make a record every five or six years. After 15 or 20 years, I was thinking, “We must be near the end of this now. We’ve been doing this so long we’re going to start getting bored with each other. We’ll move on. This duet thing has run its course.”

The next thing I know, we’ve been doing it for 30 years. Then we had our anniversary world tour. Now we’re up to 41. I gradually said to myself, “I think this may go on for the long haul.”

I have a similar thing with Pat Metheny. I started playing with Pat the same year I started dueting with Chick. He joined my band. We don’t play every year, but we get together every so many years. The next year we’ve put aside to do something is 2015. We don’t know exactly what that will be, but we work through the calendar approach and put some time aside.

The last time was a revival of the band Pat was in with me in the 1970s. We toured with that off-and-on for two years. So it won’t be that next time.

I’ve seen you and Chick at the Dakota [in Minneapolis] at least twice.

We have a history of doing a lot of our rehearsing in front of audiences. We get the tunes to the point where we can get through them without falling apart, and then we start performing.

The music gets shaped by those performing experiences. You can rehearse all you want in your living room, but once you play in front of people, you’ll notice things you never noticed when you were alone. Like “This introduction doesn’t seem strong enough” or “That ending is too abrupt” or “That part went on too long.”

Me and Chick, we always take the music on tour first for a few weeks or some run of dates before we go in and record. Then we wait until the record comes out, six months or so, and tour more extensively to promote it.

The Dakota is a wonderful place to try things out. Small, intimate, and friendly.

At 70, you haven’t retired. But you write thoughtfully and realistically about jazz and performance and aging. You’ve had six heart operations, with consequences including loss of focus and no more perfect pitch. What do you see in your own future?

There will come a point where I will feel that I’m too compromised. My abilities are weakening, I’m not as physically or mentally as sharp as I used to be. Chick and I have talked about this. He’s two years older than I.

When it comes to the point where the body doesn’t function as it should, where you can’t think as clearly, rather than continue on and see your music narrow and shrink, there’s a time to step back. I know that time will come. It could be anytime in the next 20 years.

I will say I don’t work as much as I used to. I’ll do this tour for a month and then I’m off. My online course with Berklee [Jazz Improvisation] takes a little time each week. I definitely program in a lot more off time to stay home, relax, and take it easy. I go on tour for two or three weeks, then back home for a month or so.

When I was with George Shearing, I was away from home 312 days our first year on the road. Not many people do that anymore.

Chick is starting to program half a year on, half a year off. For health reasons, to make more time to write, and so on. This is new for him. He’s just starting this year.

Do you think “Guided Tour” will be your next Grammy winner?

Who knows? You listen to it so much you lose your sense of realistic touch with it. When I make a new record, I put it away for six months, then try to listen with fresher ears. I wait to hear comments and read reviews.

“Guided Tour” came out first in Europe, and the reviews we got in Britain, Germany, and Italy were really terrific. Way more than one of my usual records. So I’d say this is one of my more important records.

One thing I’m most proud of about my career, the reason why my Grammys mean a lot to me, is they’re spread out over five decades. That says to me that my career wasn’t one period of success followed by a long fade. I’ve managed to sustain it at a high level all this time.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Monterey 56 Artist Bios

I’m pleased and still rather stunned that I was asked to write the artist bios for this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival program. With the Festival’s permission, here they are.


In 1996, jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote, “For the past ten or fifteen years, jazz, like much of the rest of American culture, has been running in place … But a savior has been slowly materializing.” His name: Joe Lovano. Even Balliett couldn’t have known how influential and indispensable to jazz the saxophonist would become. A generous and genial leader and collaborator, composer, improviser, GRAMMY winner, educator, and longtime Blue Note artist (out last January, Cross Culture with his quintet Us Five is his 23rd album on the label), Lovano grew up surrounded by music (his father was Cleveland tenor saxman Tony “Big T” Lovano), went to Berklee (where he now holds its first endowed chair), and embarked on a lifetime of seeking, innovating, and risk-taking. As Monterey’s 2013 Artist-in-Residence, he’ll be all over the Festival, playing five sets of music, meeting journalist Dan Ouellette in Dizzy’s Den for the DownBeat Blindfold Test, and hanging around the grounds. On Saturday he’ll join trumpeter Dave Douglas for Sound Prints, a new ensemble formed to explore the immeasurable impact of Wayne Shorter. “ ‘Sound Prints’ is in reflection of Wayne Shorter and ‘Footprints,’ ” Lovano explains. “Wayne, for all of us, opened a lot of doors and showed us the way to be ourselves.”


Trumpeter, composer, educator, and two-time GRAMMY nominee Dave Douglas is a 21st-century artist, Jazzman 2.0. Inexhaustibly prolific, inventive, and varied, he plays, he writes, he records (40 albums as leader so far), and he has his own label, Greenleaf, which also releases CDs by other artists he admires. He once had 15 different bands; his current groups include the plugged-in Keystone, Brass Ecstasy, and his latest quintet. He recently completed a ten-year tour as artistic director of the Jazz and Creative Music workshop at Canada’s Banff Centre and signed on as jazz artist in residence at London’s Royal Academy of Music. He co-founded and directs the annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) in New York City. He planned to spend 2013, his 50th year, playing in all 50 states; he realizes now this was a crazy idea and calls it an “ongoing project,” but keep an eye out for Dave where you live. Our showcase artist, he’ll play twice at Monterey: on Friday in the Night Club with his own quintet, and on Saturday in the Arena with Joe Lovano in a new quintet called Sound Prints, an exploration of the influence of Wayne Shorter. Of Shorter, Douglas says, “What a hero.” Paying it forward, Dave also performed prior to the festival at the Glen Deven Ranch Center for Art, Science and Insiratin in northern Big Sur, and the Gardener Ranch in Carmel, both benefit concerts to raise money for the Festival’s Education Program and the Big Sur Land Trust Youth Camps.


Big bands are inconvenient and expensive. If the musicians are any good, scheduling concerts and rehearsals can be like corralling cats. They’re costly to book and the travel bills are high. In some venues, they don’t even fit on the stage. So – why bother? Because there’s nothing like the sound of 20 top-tier players swinging and wailing at the same time. Formed in 1985 by Jeff Hamilton (who had played with Oscar Peterson and Woody Herman), saxophonist Jeff Clayton (Count Basie), and bassist, conductor, arranger, and six-time GRAMMY nominee John Clayton (Count Basie, Ray Brown), the Los Angeles-based Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra has kept the bar high for almost 30 years. And though it may have been inspired by admiration for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band, there’s nothing nostalgic about it – except that it reminds us of the years before bop, when jazz was the most popular music in America. Friday evening on the Jimmy Lyons Stage, CHJO will play new music commissioned in tribute to Dave Brubeck, the Festival’s great friend who passed away in December. This will be a night of Arena-filling music and warm memories.


As Wayne Shorter neared his 80th birthday on August 25, both the jazz and mainstream press dusted off the word “still.” Shorter was “still vital,” “still influential,” “still relevant.” (We might add that the sun is “still shining.”) The New York Times asked, “How is it that a nearly 80-year-old musician is seen as the essence of an evolving music?” Maybe because Shorter – philosopher, puzzler, practicing Buddhist – doesn’t believe in endings. From his days with Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and Weather Report, he has shown by example how to live in the music, the moment, and the music of the moment. The greatest living composer in jazz, one of its finest saxophonists and improvisers, an eight-time GRAMMY winner and NEA Jazz Master, Shorter heads what is arguably the best small jazz group playing today: the brilliant, fearless, and trusting Danilo Pérez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). The Flying Wallendas of jazz, all masters of “comprovisation,” they create new music every night, unscripted, unrehearsed, with no set list. (To Shorter, the meaning of jazz is “I dare you.”) Their latest album, Without a Net, is Shorter’s first on Blue Note for 43 years. Will they play it Sunday night on the Jimmy Lyons Stage? Not a chance.


When you consider the connections between guitarist George Benson and Nat King Cole, Benson’s latest album on Concord, Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole, seems ... unpreventable. Nineteen forty-three, the year Benson was born, was the same year Cole crossed over from jazz to pop with “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” The first recording Benson made, as a precocious eight-year-old accompanying himself on ukulele, was “Mona Lisa.” Benson, like Cole before him, found popular success and a storm of criticism by turning away from straight-ahead instrumental jazz and becoming a singer. Produced by Tommy LiPuma, Benson’s Breezin’ (1976) was the first jazz record to go platinum; the single “This Masquerade” became a Top 10 hit and won the GRAMMY for Record of the Year. On Saturday afternoon, the NEA Jazz Master, 10
-time GRAMMY winner, and international superstar brings his Inspiration Tour to the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Backed by an exceptional quintet, he’ll perform songs Cole made famous. A legendary improviser and great entertainer, Benson hasn’t graced Monterey since 1996. If you’re still peeved at him for Breezin’, trust us on this. No one since Cole himself has sung these songs so well, with so much heart.


For those who think saxophonist Ravi Coltrane’s path was preordained – following his über-famous father’s giant footsteps into jazz, playing the same instruments – not so fast. Jazz wasn’t on Ravi’s radar for years. His father died before Ravi turned two, and his mother, Alice, didn’t push him in one direction or another. Growing up, he listened to pop music; in high school, he played clarinet in the marching band. He was 17 when he started paying close attention to jazz, 21 when he went to CalArts to study the soprano and tenor saxes. “I could barely play two notes when I started there,” he recalls. “I wasn’t thinking about music as a career.” The first time his father’s former drummer Elvin Jones called him for a gig, Ravi said no. Then he spent years as a sideman, learning to carry the weight of his name. When he emerged as a leader, he took his time, releasing an album every few years. Spirit Fiction (Blue Note, 2012) is his latest, boldest, and most self-possessed, co-produced by Joe Lovano, our 2013 Artist-in-Residence, who is also Ravi’s mentor and bandmate (in Lovano’s Saxophone Summit).


You could almost make a big band from the jazz octogenarians who are out there playing – legends like Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, Jim Hall, Kenny Wheeler, Phil Woods, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Jimmy Heath. And bluesy bopper Lou Donaldson, who continues to school generations of jazzers who wish they had a tenth of his stamina and tone. Not long ago, Donaldson told a group of University of Louisville students that when he could no longer play “Cherokee,” he would throw his saxophone off a bridge. Striding through jazz history, trailing a string of albums for Blue Note, he has known most of the greats and played with many: Clark Terry, Milt Jackson, Art Blakey (A Night at Birdland), Jimmy Smith, Thelonious Monk. On Sunday afternoon at Dizzy’s Den, Donaldson will sit down with fellow NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson and award-winning journalist Willard Jenkins for a sprawling, story-filled conversation. Sunday night in the Night Club, he’ll take a tour of his repertoire with his band, organist Akiko Tsuruga, guitarist Randy Johnston, and drummer Fukushi Tainaka. Later that night, he’ll return to Dizzy’s to close out this year’s festival with his friend of many years, Dr. Lonnie Smith.


Bassist and composer Dave Holland has always known how to put a band together, and it always starts with the people. “That’s the first thing,” he says. “Not the instruments particularly, but the way the players play the instruments.” Formed two years after he left the Miles Davis band in 1970, the first Dave Holland Quartet included Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altschul. A partial list of members of his many ensembles reads like a Who’s Who of great improvisers: Jack DeJohnette, Steve Coleman, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Nelson, Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Billy Kilson, Steve Wilson, Mulgrew Miller. Holland’s latest supergroup is a quartet he named Prism – one becoming many, unified by music. On guitar: the esteemed Kevin Eubanks, back on the scene after leading the Tonight Show band for 15 years. On piano and Fender Rhodes: the protean Craig Taborn (whose own acclaimed quartet plays the Night Club on Saturday evening). On drums: the brilliant Eric Harland, a first-call player and member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet. Their self-titled debut has been called Holland’s “most visceral recording for many years” (Jazzwise). Their sound: electric, explosive, rock-inflected. Once more, Holland shows how it’s done.


Guitarist Charlie Hunter grew up in Berkeley and later moved to New Jersey; drummer Scott Amendola grew up in Jersey and moved to Berkeley. They met some 20 years ago, during San Francisco’s acid jazz days, and formed the GRAMMY-nominated jazz-fusion cover band T.J. Kirk, which appropriated classics by Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk and turned them all into funky dance-floor tunes. The two have played together off-and-on ever since, recording three albums for Blue Note including Natty Dread (1997) and, most recently, Not Getting Behind Is the New Getting Ahead (2012), self-released by Hunter and featuring his compositions. In July they went back into the studio for a second duo set, this time of Amendola’s music. Like Not Getting Behind, the new record will sound like it was made by a trio – guitar, bass, and drums – due to Hunter’s custom-made solid-body seven-string guitar (four guitar strings, three bass, built by Jeff Traugott in Santa Cruz) and his preternatural ability to play melody and bass lines at the same time. (You try it.) Add both musicians’ virtuosity, a shared appetite for eclecticism, and Hunter’s insistence that “the music has to groove no matter what,” and Dizzy’s Den will be jumping on Saturday.


Bobby Hutcherson first heard the siren song of the vibes while walking by a Pasadena record store at age 12. Through the open door came the sounds of Milt Jackson playing “Bemsha Swing,” and young Hutcherson realized he was stepping in time to the music. He bought the album (Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Giants), wore it out, and started saving up to buy his own vibraphone, the vaudeville novelty instrument Lionel Hampton had rescued from almost certain oblivion. Sixty years later, a respiratory condition has curbed his longer solos, but he still plays luminous, daring, cerebral music, the kind that inspires kids like Stefon Harris to take up the mallets. An NEA Jazz Master with a distinguished career that includes hundreds of Blue Note recordings, famous collaborations with Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy (Out to Lunch), Andrew Hill, and McCoy Tyner (to name a few), and four years with the SFJAZZ Collective (he’s a founding member), Hutcherson is both revered and beloved. As Joe Locke has said, “His art never fails to hold a mirror to the beauty of our own shared humanity.” His performance at Monterey is a tribute with great respect to the late pianist Cedar Walton.


The last time their names were officially linked was 1986, for the contemporary jazz classic Double Vision. Reunited on the rebooted OKeh label, pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn are back with Quartette Humaine, a tribute to Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond they’ll bring to the Jimmy Lyons Stage on Sunday afternoon. So, what have they been up to for the past 27 years? James has divided his time between the all-star contemporary jazz group Fourplay and a successful solo career, with many collaborations and recordings. Sanborn has won three more GRAMMYs and released a series of Billboard-charting albums and singles. What brought them back together? A midnight jam session at the Tokyo Jazz Festival during which they revisited some old tunes live. They recruited drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus and made an all-acoustic, straight-ahead jazz album, an unexpected treat from a pair known for their smooth sounds and polished studio efforts. James explains, “You can’t just go back and do the same thing again.” Sanborn concurs: “It’s usually a mistake, with the exception of Godfather Part II.”


In 2007, during her last appearance at Monterey, Diana Krall closed the Arena on Saturday night. Lost in the music, she sang and played past her scheduled end time. People who could stay snuggled further under their blankets. Those who had to leave were followed by her sound, a smoky-silky breeze wafting over the fairgrounds. Krall has one of the most distinctive voices in music today, and she knows how to use it, whether on the standards that have made her a top-selling jazz artist or the vintage 1920s and ’30s songs she chose for her latest #1 album, Glad Rag Doll, which came out on Verve in 2012. Sexy, swinging, dark, and sly, they sound as if they were written yesterday. Produced by family friend T Bone Burnett, Glad Rag Doll is a departure from the music that brought her fame, two GRAMMYs, and several Canadian Juno Awards, but it’s still totally Krall: the voice, the intonation, the exquisite timing, the breath you can almost feel on your cheek. Perfect late-night-at-Monterey listening, so plan to stick around.


Her voice is sumptuous, her range expansive, from clear high notes to a smoky baritone. But you might not know the songs Carmen Lundy will sing in the Night Club on Friday. A vocalist JazzTimes calls “easily on par with Cassandra Wilson, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves,” Lundy won’t be pulling from the Great American Songbook. Instead, she has written her own songbook: 80 originals to date. “I felt that I needed to bring the world songs that didn’t exist before me,” she says, on why she started composing in her early 20s. Lundy has spent a lifetime going her own way. As a college student, she convinced the University of Miami to make her the first vocalist in its jazz department. A jazz singer for more than 35 years, she’s based in L.A., not New York. With her twelfth album, Changes (Afrasia, 2012), the extravagantly talented Lundy (she’s also an educator, actress, and visual artist) is getting the attention she has long deserved: four stars in DownBeat, dates at prestigious clubs and festivals including Montreal and Monterey. What she says of her new record holds true for her live performances: “I’m looking to connect with you spiritually. I’m trying to make sure we understand each other.”


If we were all Bobby McFerrins, we wouldn’t need musical instruments. Restlessly inventive and a true free spirit, McFerrin is sui generis. He’s a singer, composer, one-man band and choir, beatboxer, Pied Piper, and Peter Pan, tied up in a kinetic, elastic package topped with dreads. His path through music is a Candyland game, circuitous and colorful. Born into a musical family, McFerrin started out playing clarinet and piano, then realized one day that he was a singer. He stuck close to jazz until his a cappella tune “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” reached No. 1 and won four GRAMMYs including Record of the Year. Others would have followed with more of the same, but McFerrin moved on – to collaborations with Chick Corea, Yo-Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock, and many more, serving as creative chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, leading his own improvisational Voicestra, guest conducting for symphony orchestras, releasing several live and studio recordings, creating an Instant Opera at Carnegie Hall. Even for someone as mercurial as McFerrin, his latest album on Sony, Spirityouall, is a curveball. A personal statement of faith with a warm, down-home feeling, it’s a mix of traditional spirituals and originals, all with lyrics, backed by a band. Plan to sing along Saturday night in the Arena.


What we call “world music” (defined by fRoots magazine as “local music from out there”) is commonplace today, but it wasn’t always. Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) is seen as a turning point because it made South African music styles mainstream. A decade later, Buena Vista Social Club (1997) opened a door to Cuba, a nation so near America’s shores yet mysterious and forbidden. Produced by guitarist Ry Cooder, a musical itinerant who had already collaborated with India’s V.M. Bhatt and Mali’s Ali Farka Touré, it sold eight million copies, won a GRAMMY, and led to an Oscar-nominated film by Wim Wenders and sold-out concerts in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall. Recorded in a run-down studio in Havana, the music was romantic, exuberant, and irresistible. It still is. Sadly, some of “Los Superablos” (the Super-Grandfathers) have passed – Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer – but several original stars of the recording and film will be at Monterey including Latin GRAMMY-winning vocalist Omara Portuondo, singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa, and trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal. Joined by a younger generation of Cuban musicians, they will turn the late-night Jimmy Lyons Stage into a sepia-toned time machine.


He made his Monterey debut last year in the Night Club, where the packed house of rapt listeners included Dee Dee Bridgewater seated cross-legged on the floor. This year, Gregory Porter moves to the Jimmy Lyons Stage as Friday night’s Arena opener. Rarely has a male jazz singer generated such buzz or enjoyed such a meteoric rise. Raves, GRAMMY nods, and critics’ poll wins are piling up. The Huffington Post crowned Porter “the brilliant new voice of jazz.” JazzTimes put him squarely at “the intersection of Kurt Elling and Sammy Davis Jr.” He has a big, beautiful baritone, mad interpretive skills, and serious songwriting abilities; most of his songs are originals. His mother was a minister, so he grew up singing in church; at home, the L.A. native and former football player listened to everything from Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson. Today he lays claim to the in-between space where jazz meets soul and gospel. After two GRAMMY-nominated releases on the indie label Motéma, his third album, Liquid Spirit, came out earlier this week (Sept. 17) on Blue Note. You’ll wonder about his headgear – part Kangol, part balaclava – so we’ll tell you what he told the Financial Times: “It’s my jazz hat … my jazz blankie.”


It’s a classic American tale: a band gets together, makes a handful of recordings, never quite breaks out, and eventually breaks up. Then one day they’re rediscovered by some crate-diving record producer. For The Relatives, it only took 30 years. Formed in Dallas in 1970 by reverends and brothers Gean and Tommie West, they cut a few singles, opened for the Staple Singers and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, enjoyed regional success, and disbanded in 1980. In 2009, Austin-based archival label Heavy Light released a compilation of their earlier music. A sold-out reunion show paved the way for Lincoln Center, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits, an invite to record with Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, and their own record deal with indie label Yep Roc. Their first full-length album, The Electric Word, came out in February. Though decades have passed since their first 45s, the Relatives have remained true to their original sound: a hot, howling blend of call-to-Jesus gospel, gut-bucket funk, and psychedelic soul that some have called “the Mighty Clouds of Joy on acid.” Making their Monterey debut on Saturday, they could be the surprise hit of this year’s festival – the Trombone Shorty of 2013.


Monterey regulars know where to go for the Festival’s final notes. At Dizzy’s Den, the concluding concert Sunday night starts and ends later than anything else. Do we save the best for last? You be the judge, because this year’s Dizzy’s closer is Dr. Lonnie Smith, reigning master of the demanding Hammond B-3 organ, surely the most soulful instrument ever made (and an endangered species; they don’t make them anymore). Wrapped in his trademark turban, cloaked in music history – five decades on the bench, more than 70 albums, years with George Benson and Lou Donaldson (Donaldson will join him at Dizzy’s), sojourns at Blue Note and Palmetto – the 71-year-old mad scientist is full of fresh ideas. He recently launched his own label, Pilgrimage; his first release, The Healer (2012), is a trippy, cinematic, funkified and fiery collection of live tracks. Along with the B-3, which he describes as “all the forces of nature at your fingertips,” the Doc has added two new instruments to his arsenal: the Kelstone (a horizontal stringed guitar) and his walking stick, a “percussive cane” made by Slaperoo. Expect the music to reach fever pitch. Then stumble into the night, dazed and sanctified.


Outside the Bay area, where she has spent her entire life, Mary Stallings is the best-kept secret in vocal jazz. But San Franciscans know there’s a treasure in their midst; it’s why SFJAZZ gave her the 2006 Beacon Award, which honors a local artist who has played a vital role in preserving jazz traditions and fostering the growth of jazz. Since her first jazz record, Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings, came out on Fantasy in 1961, Stallings has been on and off the scene, touring with Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie, semi-retiring in the 1970s to raise her daughter, returning in the 1990s with a string of recordings for Concord, making music with A-list pianists like Monty Alexander, Geri Allen, and Eric Reed, who arranged and co-produced her latest, Don’t Look Back (HighNote, 2012). Self-assured yet humble, sophisticated and bluesy, born with a marvelous voice and the gene for swing, she’s someone you go to when you’re serious about hearing jazz. As Ben Ratliff has written, “She is not for babies. She is not to be wasted on the young.” Her intimate Night Club engagement Saturday will be Stallings’ fourth appearance at Monterey. Prepare to be held in the palm of her hand.


What Dr. Lonnie Smith calls the “perfect marriage” – the union of Hammond B-3 and jazz guitar that traces back to Wild Bill Davis and was glorified by Jimmy Smith – is reinvented in Anthony Wilson’s trio with Larry Goldings and Jim Keltner. The son of composer, bandleader, and beloved Monterey artist Gerald Wilson (who usually shows up at the Festival whether he’s playing or not), the GRAMMY-nominated guitarist has shaped a career as a formidable soloist, sensitive accompanist, composer, arranger, and longtime member of Diana Krall’s quartet. Master of many keyboards including the mighty B-3, Larry Goldings has released scores of recordings as leader and sideman in virtually every genre. For those who listen only to jazz, Jim Keltner’s name might not ring a bell, but the rest of the world knows the fabled session drummer’s work with John Lennon (Imagine), George Harrison (The Concert for Bangladesh), Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and a host of others; he was also a member of Steely Dan, the Steve Miller Band, and the Traveling Wilburys. The trio opens our Hammond B-3 Organ Blowout on Sunday evening in Dizzy’s Den. That afternoon, also in Dizzy’s, famous names will be dropped when Keltner converses with journalist and author Ashley Kahn.

Finally: the great pianist and NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton was scheduled to appear at Monterey but died unexpectedly on August 19. Here’s what we missed.


Pianist Cedar Walton makes a life in jazz look easy. Take lessons from your mom, play at after-hours jazz clubs during college (and meet Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane), move to New York, hit the ground running, and keep going. For more than 50 years, Texas native and hard-bop hero Walton has been a sage and savvy presence in jazz: a sought-after sideman, fine composer, accompanist, bandleader, and prolific recording artist who worked with Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Ron Carter, and Abbey Lincoln before launching his own first band, Eastern Rebellion, in 1974. Today’s young artists are drawn to him; Terence Blanchard, Joshua Redman, and Jeremy Pelt have all played with him at various times. Does Walton tell them what to do? “If I was 40 or even 50, I would probably tell them,” he told Ethan Iverson during an interview. “But now I’m at a place where they know it all.” On Sunday night, Walton will perform in the Night Club with his core trio of David Williams on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Earlier that day, you’ll find him in Dizzy’s Den, conversing and reminiscing with fellow Jazz Master Lou Donaldson and award-winning journalist Willard Jenkins.