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.

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