Monterey Notebook 2005, Part 2: Saturday Afternoon
3:45pm - The Arena
Straw hats run neck-and-neck with baseball caps as the headwear of choice in the Arena, where the huge, milling crowd resembles nothing so much as a massive block party. But it all becomes orderly in time for Larry Carlton's set with the Sapphire Blues Band.
Casually dressed and flanked by a four-man horn line on one side and a bulky Hammond organ on the other, Carlton blends pure Chicago blues with dollops of fusion and a dose of Steely Dan in his set. He also takes time to revisit the pop hit "Minute By Minute." But it's the blues numbers that are most impressive.
For the slow-burn vibe of "Night Sweats," Carlton plays a clear, vocalistic line that sowly builds heat; then he wails, the notes suddenly tumbling out in an uncontrollable blue sob. Keyboardist Greg Mathieson kicks it up a notch, and then another, with a molasses-thick break that leaves him red-faced. And Carlton brings it home has drummer Moyes Hayes pounds the path flat.
Tenor saxman Mark Douthit makes his mark on the fusion numbers, playing from somewhere between uptown and downtown before engaging Carlton in some spirited interplay. Local jazz/blues/soul singer Ledisi will join the band soon, but I'm off to...
4:30pm - Dizzy's Den
Branford Marsalis is midway through an on-stage conversation with journalist Yoshi Kato, and he's talking about roaches.
In response to a question about the future development of jazz, Marsalis argues that today is a great time to be a jazz musician, precisely because the music is so unpopular now. When something is trendy, he explains, the "roaches" come out of the woodwork, jumping on the bandwagon for all the wrong reasons. But tough economic times drive the roaches away like a sudden light in the kitchen, leaving the musicians who really want to work alone on the scene. "Its amazing how many young cats come up, make two jazz records that don't sell, and then their third record is a funk record," he quips.
Speaking expansively on a range of topics, Marsalis also gets into hip-hop/jazz fusions, which he finds unsuccessful. "It doesn't work well," he says, arguing that the static beats of hiphop and funk are incompatible with the more organic needs of jazz. He points out that on his own funk records, he uses the band's name rather than his own to avoid muddying the waters, and he never refers to such efforts as jazz.
Later, Marsalis reveals his thinking on duo recordings, which he says are too often treated like quartets with two players missing. He talks about writing specifically for the duo format. If working with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, for instance, Marsalis would use his knowledge of Watts' drum tuning to write pieces that Watts could play, rather than just writing generic drum parts as so many others seem to do.
Moving on to education, Marsalis discusses a generational gap he has perceived: he believes that current student musicians play better than his generation did, but they're more focused on being part of the jazz scene than simply being musicians. And the conversations he hears today are more often about gigs and selling records than about the intricacies of music.
Marsalis also gets fired up on the subject of bootlegging. He refuses to join industry anti- piracy campaigns, saying, "hell, I learned to play by bootlegging music! We all did!" He declares that it is the industry, not "12-year-old girls," who are the true pirates. After endlessly repackaging the same records over and over, "They're suing kids, and they wonder why they're in trouble?"
Continue: Part 3