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Live Reviews

53rd Monterey Jazz Festival: A Distinctive New Orleans Flavor

By Published: October 8, 2010
Native son Harry Connick, Jr. is a prime ambassador of everything New Orleans. On Sunday night, a packed crowd at Lyons Stage was ready for him. Taking the stage with his 11-piece jazz band—brass on the right, bass mid-stage, strings on the left—the veteran singer/pianist put on a well-honed show, most recently performed in New York and at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl.


Eugenio "Raspa" Rodriguez, of Septeto Nacional de Cuba

The evening started with Connick in a Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
vocalist
mode, beginning with a percussive "Bésame Mucho." Over the last few years, Connick's voice has gained timbre and jazz nuance, putting him squarely in the "Ol' Blue Eyes" tradition. His set list also included the very relaxed and listenable "All the Way," and "You Don't Love Me."

Then, at the halfway point, Connick staged a Mardi Gras party. He brought on trombonist Lucien Barbarin, from down in the Bayou, who joined honk-and-stomp saxophonist Jerry Weldon and ragtime trumpeter Kevin Bryan in the spotlight.

The party began. Connick—singing, tap dancing and boogieing across the stage—showed that he was into the celebration, singing a jambalaya of tunes: the coy "How Come You Treat Me Like You Do"; the spirited "Take Me to the Mardi Gras"; and "Down in New Orleans." It wasn't high art, but the audience loved it.

. Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
b.1930
piano
was up next and, despite opting to leave to hear some trio sounds in the Jazz Gallery, it was tempting to turn back, as the hypnotic strains of the pianist's classic "Poinciana" began filtering through.

Performance Highlights in Small Venues

After a fervid introduction by MC Ricardo Fernandez in Spanish, Septeto Nacional de Cuba took to the stage in Dizzy's Den, unleashing it passionate music. Lead vocalist Eugenio "Raspa" Rodriguez," one of the precursors of son, the forerunner of salsa, led the seven in songs, which mixed indigenous Cuban styles including rhumba, guaracha, and the sad, pretty bolero. The rest of the group joined in with Rodriguez, and it wasn't long before the infectious rhythms had people up and moving their hips—both inside and outside the den.

Instrumentally, Enrique Collaza took intricate solos on his Cuban Tres (three-string) guitar, and Augustin Garcia delighted with his pulsating infusions on trumpet. This was good-time music from across the gulf.

On Friday night, Nellie McKay
Nellie McKay
Nellie McKay

piano
brought the house down in the Nightclub. Having read about this clever, versatile singer, it wasn't preparation enough, for an impressive, sly and sardonic style, wrapped in a shy little girl's voice—a Blossom Dearie
Blossom Dearie
Blossom Dearie
1926 - 2009
piano
for a new millennium.


Nellie McKay

McKay started out by entrancing the audience with selections from her Doris Day
Doris Day
Doris Day
b.1922
vocalist
tribute, Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve, 2009): a wistful "The Very Thought of You"; and a breathy "Do, Do Do." Moving from her piano bench, she began strumming her ukulele, and want into her razor-sharp satire of feminism, "Mother of Pearl," which left the hip audience hooting and hollering.

George Wein
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
, the 84-year-old pianist and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, appeared in an all-star group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage. The set featured the flawless Ken Peplowski
Ken Peplowski
Ken Peplowski
b.1959
clarinet
on clarinet and tenor, his dazzling duet with guitarist Howard Alden
Howard Alden
Howard Alden
b.1958
guitar
on "You" a delightful exercise in breakneck synchronization of sound. Wein closed the set with a heartfelt rendition of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."

Not just a jazz novelty act, Hawaiian Jake Shimabukuro plays a custom-built, four-string ukulele, with all the flexibility of a Fender electric guitar. On Saturday night at the Garden Stage, he coupled a flamenco-tinged piece with his hauntingly beautiful version of The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
' "In My Life"; the man's range is amazing.

The Coffee House Gallery Pianists

Always a festival favorite for lovers of the piano trio, the intimate Gallery's nightly lineup featured a range of top pianists.

Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts
b.1963
piano
' group played Friday, and featured bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
b.1977
drums
. In his first set, Roberts turned the venerable Russian folk song, "Dark Eyes," into a rhythmic samba while, finishing on a high note, the pianist introduced "New Orleans Parade" with a panoply of early jazz styles brought into creative play. Marsalis' drums were featured prominently, as they were the entire hour.


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