TRUSTY OLD FEST: As a 20-something-year veteran fan of the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF), I can attest to the fact, and the strong impression, that a different, special vibe hovered at the Monterey County Fairgrounds last weekend, for the MJF. It may relate to a kind of sweet vindication, cultural solidarity, survivor bliss, or some other unnamed emotions. There we had festival number 52, after all, going strong (though with a slightly smaller audience count) in a dire year when N.Y.C.-jazz’s mecca-had its own festival ixnayed and Jazz Times, one of the most important magazines in jazz, was left for dead for a couple of months, before a magazine group rescued the operation. Yet the MJF, the world’s oldest continuous-running jazz festival, sallies and soldiers forth, with great and varied music flowing on its multiple stages on the fairground compound.
Santa Barbara has always had a close-ish relationship with the MJF in that it’s the nearest world-class jazz festival, and is arguably, by now, America’s greatest model of a jazz festival (avant-garde fans might argue for more representation, but even that marginal voice is at least modestly addressed by director/miracle-man Tim Jackson). Sometimes, the “straight” and the progressive stir nicely in a single package, as in this year’s commissioned piece, Jason Moran’s “Feedback”-based on samples of feedback from Jimi Hendrix’s famed performance on this very stage in 1967. From the middle-depth historical annals, a thrilling-and half-accidental-supergroup came about through the cancellation of the ailing Hank Jones. John Scofield joined the band with Joe Lovano, Brian Blade, and John Pattitucci, a sure festival highlight, as the compounded pairings of Scofield/Lovano (in great, 20-year-old Scofield band-of-note) and Blade/Pattitucci (in Wayne Shorter’s band) added up to big expressive magic.
Anyone who thinks that jazz is dead or moribund is ear-dead, and/or buying into a pack of lies fed by corporate culture. The jazz industry is teetering, it’s true, and the towering legends are phasing out by dint of time’s clock, but plenty of exciting and progressive sounds are being made. Jazz musicians must fend for themselves and operate underground more than ever, but the music is alive and thriving via subcultural channels. This uplifting message was solidly delivered in Monterey this year, even despite the presence of the old schoolmasters, including Dave Brubeck, who has been playing here for 50 years, since his best-seller Time Out, which he toasted here. Speaking of jazz artists who are stopping in Santa Barbara this month, the archivist-minded Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (catch them on Sun., Sept. 27, at the Arlington) put on a stunningly clean-machined set in the arena, surveying music of old-school icons Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and Kenny Dorham, and reminding us what a seriously bad mamajama Wynton Marsalis continues to be as a trumpeter.
But some of the greater excitement came from more fledgling artists, with the bassist/vocalist/powerhouse and genre-hybridizing beauty Esperanza Spalding symbolically and literally opening the festival. Other young names and sounds heard in Monterey to keep a watch out for: the stunning and musical young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, gutsy New Orleans pianist (and melodica ace) Jonathan Batiste, and increasingly important pianist Vijay Iyer, with intellectual and visceral spark plugs fully firing.
Monterey’s summary message was that jazz’s death has been greatly exaggerated. Long live America’s greatest indigenous art form.
SWINGING SOLVANG: The Solvang Jazz Festival comes to us every September, swinging with the unmistakable tempo of drummer/organizer Stix Hooper. This year kicks off with shows on the night of Friday, September 25, at the Hotel Corque, where Latin reedman Justo Almario will be the guest soloist with the Eugene Maslov Trio. On Saturday, Take 6 will do their vocal thing until it’s time for Kamasi Washington to heat up the Solvang Festival Theater with his big-band tribute to trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Hubbard was a participant in the first Solvang Jazz Fest back in 2007, and it is fitting that the young event pay tribute to this fallen and lamented master. For tickets and information, visit solvangjazz.com.