Friday Night

It was a good night at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Clear skies, balmy almost with no need to bundle up in the arena. Not quite a full moon still, but still bright and luminescent. Now that’s what I’m talking about, well, besides the music, the people, the vibe. It was fun, laidback, and sophisticated. What I would expect from a world-class jazz festival on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. This Friday opening night for the 56th edition was great from start to finish.

I got on the festival grounds early, around 4:30pm, which is quite atypical for me. But I was invited to attend the rehearsal for the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra’s Tribute to Dave Brubeck and so I arrived midway into it and watched my friend John Clayton expertly lead the band through its process of nailing down the details. Other folks who work the festival were in the room, and we exchanged hellos, and that as anyone who goes to this festival knows, is how Friday night is. A whole lot of hellos, great to see you again as everyone reacquaints themselves with one another after a year has gone by.

The opening set with Roberto Fonseca on the Garden Stage drew a large and appreciative crowd. It’s one of the best placements an artist can get because it’s the only set throughout the whole weekend that has no competition from any other artist. Just the food, vendors and merchandise tent contend for patrons. It was the opening bookend of a night that featured two stellar Cuban bands, ending with Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club for a rousing conclusion that stirred up the sawdust around the front of the arena while people swirled and swiveled to the vibrant music. Fonseca’s set did not inspire dancing, alternatively it was more a spiritually uplifting inner journey. Two highlights of the set for me were when an African kora, a beautifully decorated large gourd with strings like a harp, plucked and arpeggiated rapidly, was integrated into the mix, and then a solo piano section from Fonseca that had him using only his right hand to articulate musically, while he lifted his left in the air as he gazed into the heavens for inspiration. It was really cool and I could feel his heart soar in the melodies.

And so I was off and running, stopping to say hello a multitude of times, but actually making it to every set but one. Sorry about that Carmen Lundy, another night perhaps. After a pit stop at the KUSP 88.9FM Central Coast Public Radio’s caravan of buses at the rim of the Jimmy Lyons arena stage to check in with my buddies there, I found my seat in the arena to experience the opening greeting by festival Artistic Director Tim Jackson and to hear the heralded jazz vocalist Gregory Porter. Virtually unknown when he appeared at the festival last year, Porter has risen rapidly to a new post as the next best male jazz vocalist on the scene. And Jackson knew to bring him back and put him on the big stage. He did not disappoint, rather he had the crowdin his hands, asking them to participate vocally in a song about love not being lost, and then clap along with another. Porter also appeared later in the evening in Dizzy’s Den, where he repeated what seemed for the time I was there the same set he performed earlier. For that reason I left the den for more surprises, as that is what I expect from jazz music.

Just for a moment I want to share with you why jazz music means so much to me, as I am a fan of many other kinds music. But because of growing up in Monterey and having the jazz festival an integral community organization, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to explore and appreciate its many mystical qualities while covering and promoting the few but great jazz venues we have, both in Monterey and Santa Cruz, not to mention the San Francisco/Oakland arts intersection. As it has been from the beginning, the Bay Area is crucial to bringing an audience to Monterey, and there is a strong bond between the two locales as many city folk from the north have second homes or vacation regularly in this jewel on the California coastline. And so the tremendous talent that comes through the Northern and Central Coast region is truly staggering and life affirming.

Jazz is an expression of freedom, of individuality and abandon. While it takes a concentrated effort and studious attention to detail to become a master, once apprised of the skills the sky is the limit to where the music can go. And at Monterey Jazz Festival, there is a cross section of disciplines, from straight ahead, to fusions of numerous approaches to expression. While the original innovators that most people think to illustrate the art form are gone, the current generation of veterans are well represented at this year’s festival and Friday had a few of them shining brightly.

Saxophonist Joe Lovano, the festival’s 2013 Artist in Residence, fronted the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors at the Garden Stage. Yes, I caught Lovano playing his sax while walking through the grounds, but no, I did not sit and engage, although I did spend some time with his Us Five group in the Nightclub at the end of the evening. I’m really looking forward to his performance tonight, Saturday, when he and trumpeter Dave Douglas, the Monterey Showcase Artist, join forces to perform a Wayne Shorter composition, a commissioned piece for this year. I did listen to Douglas and his Quintet for a time and as always enjoyed the heck out of his great playing. His drummer, Rudy Royston, put on a stellar solo at the end of the set, which got a rise out of me. Just to keep things from dragging on here, I will not wax poetic about every solo, only if I am so moved as to be inspired to write a tribute to it. Because I was flitting here and there, meeting up with folks and actually making it many of the night’s offerings, I don’t have long winded descriptions.

So let’s move on to the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra’s set in the arena for a moment. Having visited the rehearsal earlier, I had the pleasure of hearing conductor, composer and bassist John Clayton’s beautiful bowed bass solo twice. The preview at rehearsal was nice, but on stage in performance he played so emotionally the word that comes to mind is sublime. The Los Angeles-based band also features his brother Jeff on alto saxophone, and he is one who has such beautiful tone and feeling to his playing. Just sweet and lowdown as they say. Drummer Jeff Hamilton drives this ensemble with great verve, and is not one to be buried beneath the swell of all the horns in this band, but he is an integral player in the swinging outfit that I always enjoy hearing. The tribute to Dave Brubeck was sentimental and engaging. Thank you Tim Jackson for employing Mr. Clayton in this task he performed so well.

Folks, ran out of time. To be continued with next post. Thanks!


13 Comments

  1. Rick Chelew

    HI Beth,

    Thanks for the run-down of last night. I hope to make it to see Bobby McFerrin after finishing up with Andrea’s Fault at Point Lobos (in the rain??)Pray for clear skies! See you there!

    • Hey Rick. Sorry I missed seeing you there, but wasn’t Bobby great? I really enjoyed his set. And thankfully the skies cleared. The weather was quite nice on Sunday. More to come soon. Thanks for checking in! B

  2. roy jordan

    congratulations on launching your blog:
    “where it’s at in the golden state” beth!
    your descriptive review of:
    “friday night at 2013 monterey jazz festival” actually gave me sensations of being on the mjf production team again.
    looking forward to experiencing the remaining mjf events through your blog!

    • Thanks Roy. Glad you’re tuned in and I will be posting more commentary and photos today. Needed some R&R this morning before getting down to the next installment. This is the beauty of having my own blog! Yay! B

  3. Wonderful to see the Festival through your eyes Beth. Thanks, Phil

    • Thank you Phil! I’ll be opening the eyes up here soon, as they’ve been at half mast most of this morning with the festival now in the books so to speak. I’ll be in touch soon about the cards and more. Cheers!

      B

  4. Lori Carter

    Hi Beth~~~ So excited to get to read your take and see your photos again on a regular basis!! I’ve always loved your insight!!! Thank you~~~ and YAY!!

    • Thank you Gypsy! I appreciate your support and look forward to bringing you more good news!

  5. Michael Horne

    Love it Beth, looking forward to more!

    • Thank you Michael. Working on it. I expect the more to be live within a couple days. Come on back!

  6. Hi Beth,

    To coin a phrase, “it seems like yesterday” I hopped in your bug and we drove up to the “Fillmore West” to listen to the groups of the day jam after midnight. If I remember correctly, Market St. was a cavernous hole and with my mental state I kept thinking I might fall in like Alice, but I’ve lasted another 45 years and I’m still kickin’. We’ll just keep getting up in the morning and doing what we want to do and be thankful we still live in a country we can do that. I know if you would have told me 45 years ago we’d be able to still do that, I would have laughed out loud.

    Lots of Love
    Cousin Craig

    • That is a precious memory Craig. Thank you for sharing that here. So glad we are both here to relive those moments and to stay in touch. Once I’m whole and feeling mentally frisky, I will start to recount the stories of my life and I’d love for you to follow it and make comments that only a blood relative can do in regards to the tales. I may even have to pick your brain for a few things I’m all fuzzy about, especially the Ovesone et al clan in Iowa. Did you say you did some ancestry hunting? Not sure whether that was you or not, but I’m curious to do that after watching the program Who Do You Think You Are? Anyway, Mr. Butterfly Man, I’m happy to hear from you and let’s keep it going. Love, your cuz Beth

  7. Sorry for the misspell on the name. Oveson, or Ovesen? I’m thinking Oveson.

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