The venerable Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 60th birthday over the weekend.
MONTEREY, Calif. – “If you mention you’re playing the Monterey Jazz Festival, people light up,” explained Seattle drummer John Bishop, sipping a latte on the festival grounds Sunday morning before his gig with flamenco-inspired pianist Chano Dominguez.
Bishop was delighted to be in Monterey, and so were the animated crowds this past weekend, as the festival celebrated its 60th birthday with an eclectic lineup that included Chicago rapper Common and mandolin master Chris Thile, as well as tributes to the 100th birthdays of Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.
The continuity from past to present to future was neatly captured on an opening set by drummer Matt Wilson’s Carl Sandburg-inspired project, Honey and Salt, which featured Seattle pianist and vocalist Dawn Clement.
“As wave follows wave,” recited the swinging, loose-armed drummer, “so new men take old men’s places.”
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Pianist Joanne Brackeen zig-zagged through lickety-split lines; robust alto saxophonist Tia Fuller and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen shared a splendid, celebratory set; and bassist Linda May Han Oh offered shapely, thoughtful pieces that drew the listener in.
Those acts performed on stages scattered around the Monterey Fairgrounds, while marquee attractions such as keyboard man Herbie Hancock played the main arena. On Friday, Hancock delivered an intense, funky, hard-edged electric set that included snatches of new music as well as old favorites such as the Headhunters’ popping “Actual Proof” and the hip-swaying “Cantaloupe Island.” Hancock closed the festival Sunday with a set of free-ranging acoustic grand piano duets with pianist Chick Corea.
Monterey’s annual commission went to bassist John Clayton, who along with his son, pianist Gerald Clayton, and his longtime associate, drummer Jeff Hamilton, served as artists in residence. The bassist served up a majestic big-band epic, “Stories of a Groove: Conception, Evolution, Celebration,” which spurred the swing-loving crowd to a standing ovation. So did Saturday’s rollicking tribute to Sonny Rollins featuring tenor saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman and a show-stealing, 90-year-old Jimmy Heath.
From another part of the spectrum, Common captured the crowd Sunday with a…