Some people's idea of celebrating the official start of Autumn is to relax at home with some food, a nice bottle of wine and to check out the many sporting events on the television. For 45,000 die-hard jazz fans, the 45th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival had all that and more. Great golf, good food, nice wine, and some top names in blues, jazz and Latin jazz musicians were on hand to add to this festive occasion, considered by jazz aficionados as "The Annual Rites of Autumn."
Friday night could easily qualify as a multi-theme opening affair. Family affair could have been one theme. The Heath Brothers brought down the house with a splendid set of swinging straight-ahead jazz. The band consisted of Jimmy Heath on saxophone, Percy Heath on bass, Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums, and adopted brother Jeb Patton who occupied the piano chair. Several of the tunes they performed were "A Sound For Sore Ears," the beautiful ballad, "You've Changed," and "Gingerbread Boy." An enthusiastic response from the audience followed every tune.
The second family-oriented set starred The Dave Brubeck group featuring the great pianist with his three sonsChris on bass and trombone, Dan on drums and Matt on cello. Dave spoke fondly about touring the world as a "Real Ambassador" of jazz: America's number one art form. He received a rousing response when he performed "Take Five," and "Blue Rondo A La Turk" which allowed each son an extensive solo. I overheard several people say, "This show was worth the price of admission."
"Fresh Perspectives" or "Jazz From A New Generation" were other themes as several young jazz lions roared on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove debuted his new group The RH Factor. Clarinetist Don Byron played his newly commissioned piece for the Monterey Jazz Festival entitled "Red" and saxophonist Joshua Redman showcased his new Elastic Band. Both Hargrove and Redman have performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival before with the Berkeley born Redman first appearing on the main stage while still in high school.
Another theme "Women Of Jazz" featured three beautiful, charming and talented vocalists. Paula West, Roberta Gambarini, and Lizz Wright performed in the Night Club. Each had the audience's undivided attention and performed original tunes in addition to giving new interpretation of many beloved jazz standards. With this appearance, they have established themselves nationwide as the potent jazz divas for the future.
Saturday afternoon presented yet another theme "Women Of The Blues." Kicking off the show on the main stage was Chicago's own blues stylist Big Time Sarah. Big Time Sarah belted out the blues with the Steve Freund Blues Band. The band consisted of Steve on guitar, Wendy Dewitt keyboards, Tim Wagar on bass and Kevin Logins on drums. She opened her set with "Big Boss Man" and heated up the stage with the tune "Fever."
Holding court on the Garden Stage was Lady Bianca. This popular vocalist from Oakland served up an entertaining set of blues on the following tunes, "Living For The Money,""Call My Lawyer,""You Make Me So Happy" and "I Need Some One To Love Me." Lady Bianca is a regular at both the Monterey Blues and Jazz festivals. Her supporting cast featured, Matt Baxter on guitar, and Tony "Steamroller" Coleman on drums. Marcia Ball vocalist/keyboards played an extremely lively set of originals that had the audience up and dancing throughout her entire set. "I Just Love You" and "Got My Red Beans Cooking" were a couple of the tunes served up during her set. Lavay Smith and Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers played material from her latest CD entitled EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT MS. THANG. This is a CD featuring an abundant entrée of swing, and jump blues. The title of her latest CD is very appropriate as it accurately describes the entire media buzz that she is receiving all over the country.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Saturday night at Dizzy Den's the award-winning Rene Marie held court to a packed house. Performing songs from her hit MaxJazz CD titled VERTIGO, the lovely vocalist held her audience spellbound as she wrung every note from the heart-wrenching Billie Holiday tune, "Strange Fruit." This song, which ended her set, caused the standing room only crowd to leap to their feet and applaud for nearly five minutes! Vocalist Etta James was the highlight for me for the entire weekend. If you have or haven't seen her perform live before, she is very playful and animated on stage. You can expect her to give 110% of herself during each and every performance in either a festival or club setting. I joined a capacity crowd on hand to watch her set in the Jazz Theater.