50 Years At Monterery: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan

Mark Corroto By

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Is Monterey, California a perfect location to hold a jazz festival? The answer for the past 50 years has been a resounding "yes." Conceived by Ralph Gleason and Jimmy Lyons, the notion that jazz should and could be presented on a large scale to West Coast audiences was a challenging one. The American government had just about burned out on the concept of supporting jazz (abroad) as a cultural ambassador of freedom and democracy, and let's face it, jazz has always been—maybe always will be—an East Coast thing.

Gleason and Lyons' first concert, in 1958, featured trumpeter/vocalist Louis Armstrong, fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie playing an acapella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner, drummer Mel Lewis, reed player Jimmy Guiffre and Jim Hall, singer Enestine Anderson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, trumpeter Harry James, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. It is reported that after expenses, the festival cleared $600. Certainly, motivation enough to assemble again. And again, for the next fifty years.

Ten years ago, Clint Eastwood, the former mayor of Monterey, released on his Malpaso Records imprint a 3-disc sampler of Festival performances from 1958 through 1996. This taster was a jumble of tracks divorced from the spirit of the festival. Fast forward to the golden anniversary and the newly formed label Monterey Jazz Festival Records (in partnership with Concord Records). The five albums reviewed below have been assembled from 2,000 hours of archived tapes.

While you dream of previously unreleased tapes of saxophonists John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman, and of pianist Duke Ellington, these inaugural Monterey releases whet your appetite for things to come.

Louis Armstrong

Live At The 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Louis Armstrong reminds us that jazz musicians might be artists, but they are entertainers first. In 1958, the jazz world was moving in multiple directions with the rise of bebop and the demise of the big touring bands. But Armstrong stuck to his guns, playing "Tiger Rag, "St. Louis Blues, and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South. Of course in his hands the music is/was never a cliché. His passion never seemed to fade, and given the chance to play for the large Monterey audience he shines. By 1958, he was a movie star and he tells the audience about working with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly. The audience hangs on every note, blown or sung, and laughter abounds.

The excellent audio captures Trummy Young's trombone, Peanuts Hucko's clarinet and guest vocalist Velma Middleton quite nicely. For a live venue the recording is excellent. This music is pure entertainment, as Armstrong holds court and directs each scripted (and unscripted) joke, note and laugh. It is easy to appreciate how he almost single-handedly carried jazz from its birth to its near death in the 1970s.

Miles Davis Quintet

Live At The 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Before Wayne Shorter replaced George Coleman on tenor saxophone to complete the revolution that was trumpeter Miles Davis' second great quintet, the band famously recorded at Antibes, the Philharmonic Hall, and made the disc My Funny Valentine. They also made an appearance at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival. Fans of Davis have no doubt read of his harsh treatment of Coleman in his autobiography, but this disc proves otherwise. Coleman was (and is) a rock solid tenor saxophonist. This outing, all previously unreleased, must have taken the breath away from jazz fans. Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane had split and Davis' return with the 18 year-old drummer Tony Williams, plus the two-handed piano genius Herbie Hancock, was the latest shift in his ever-shifting world. Williams' distinctive pulse saturates this recording, and from the opening notes the energy burns. The band speeds up the popular "So What, signaling this new generation would be taking no prisoners. Likewise, "Walkin' gets the hip bebop groove we wouldn't hear much more of again from Davis during the rest of his career. With Williams driving the track, Coleman takes one of those muscular flying tenor solos that is both forward thinking and blues filled. Davis must have been pleased with this session, for he agreed to return to Monterey in 1964.

Thelonious Monk

Live At The 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Perhaps the least interesting of this batch of discs is the 1964 concert by pianist Thelonious Monk and his quartet, augmented by the Monterey Festival Jazz Workshop quintet directed by reed player Buddy Collette. Monk had played the festival in 1963, and had made the cover of Time magazine in 1964, but his music might have still been perceived as a challenge to many listeners. It's possible that the Festival organizers tried to "sweeten" his music with the backing horns.

The first four tracks, totalling forty minutes of performance, feature a familiar set of originals. The surprise ingredient here was the appearance of the very young bassist Steve Swallow playing acoustic with the band for the first time. The final two songs—"Think Of One and "Straight, No Chaser —add the workshop musicians for extended improvisations and solos. Certainly it is Monk's music, but the head-solo-head approach clouds the music a bit too much, diluting its impact.

Dizzy Gillespie

Live At The 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


The liner notes indicate that Dizzy Gillespie played the Monterey Jazz Festival 19 times. From his introduction of Louis Armstrong in 1958 to his many appearances over the years, seemingly nobody tired of his music nor his habit of introducing the band—to each other! This show from 1965 finds Gillespie's quintet expanded to add Big Black on congas. With Kenny Barron on piano, Gillespie shares the front line with his heir (maybe at that date not apparent) James Moody.

The band is charged up and takes each track with unflagging energy. Gillespie, like Armstrong before him, is a pure entertainer. His solos are crisp and textbook, and he provides a steady stream of commentary. He parlays a light vocal on "Poor Joe into a comedy sketch that takes on both the drunken festival goer and race relations. Does anyone ever tire of Gillespie playing his "Night In Tunisia"? The beefy rhythms of "Ungawa are perfect background for his mute. Fans and star moved in perfect partnership to the rhythm of this show.

Sarah Vaughan

Live At The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


The headliner of the 1971 festival featured a reunion of sorts. Vocalist Sarah Vaughan and producer Norman Granz, who introduces her, had worked many times together. Vaughan's career spanned the war years through the late 1980s. Her appearances at Monterey were seven. In 1971 she was 47, and her voice was beautifully aged. Listen and hear her influence on Dianne Reeves, Carla Cook and Diane Schuur. She is accompanied by Bill Mays (piano), Jimmy Cobb (drums), and Bob Magnusson (bass), covering the jazz classics "Tenderly and "I remember You, plus a nod to the times with the Beatles' "And I Love Him.

Vaughan also indulges us with her trademark vocalese on "Scattin' The Blues, probably the vocal acrobatics many in the Monterey audience paid their admission to witness. In the hands of a master improviser like Vaughan, scatting is a thing of joy to hear. The disc ends with a jam session that includes a collection of Jazz At The Philharmonic musicians—trombonist Bill Harris, trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry, saxophonists Eddie "Lockjaw Davis, Zoot Sims and Benny Carter, guitarist Mundell Lowe, pianist John Lewis, and drummer Louie Bellson.

Tracks and Personnel

Louis Armstrong 1958

Tracks: Introduction by Dizzy Gillespie; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; (Back Home Again In) Indiana; Blueberry Hill; Tiger Rag; Now You Has Jazz; High Society Calypso; Bucket's Got A Hole In It; Perdido; Autumn Leaves; After You've Gone; These Foolish Things; Mack The Knife; Stompin' At The Savoy; Undecided; St. Louis Blues; That's My Desire; When The Saints Go Marching In.

Personnel: Louis Armstrong: trumpet, vocals; Trummy Young: trombone, vocals; Peanuts Hucko: clarinet; Billy Kyle: piano; Mort Herbert: bass; Danny Barcelona: drums; Velma Middleton: vocals.

Miles Davis Quintet 1963

Tracks: Waiting For Miles; Autumn Leaves; So What; Stella By Starlight; Walkin'; The Theme.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; George Coleman: tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Ron Carter: bass: Tony Williams: drums.

Thelonious Monk 1964

Tracks: Blue Monk; Evidence; Bright Mississippi; Rhythm A Ning; Think Of One; Straight No Chaser.

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone; Steve Swallow: bass; Ben Riley: drums; Buddy Collette: director, saxophone, flute; Lou Blackburn: trombone; Jack Nimitz: baritone saxophone; Bobby Bryant: trumpet; Melvin Moore: trumpet.

Dizzy Gillespie 1965

Tracks: Introduction; Trinidad, Goodbye; The Day After; Poor Joe; Dizzy's Comedy Sketch; A Night In Tunisia; Band Introduction; Ungawa; Chega De Saudade (No More Blues).

Personnel: Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet vocals; James Moody: flute, tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron: piano; Christopher White: bass; Rudy Collins: drums; Big Black; congas.

Sarah Vaughan 1971

Tracks: Introduction by Norman Granz; I Remember You; The Lamp Is Low; 'Round Midnight; There Will Never Be Another You; And I Love Him; Scattin' The Blues; Tenderly; All-Stars Introduction; A Monterey Jam; A Monterey Jam (Encore).

Personnel: Sarah Vaughan: vocals; Billy Mays: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Jimmy Cobbs: drums; The Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars: Bill Harris: trombone; Roy Eldridge: trumpet; Clark Terry: trumpet, vocals; Eddie "Lockjaw Davis: tenor saxophone; Zoot Sims: tenor saxophone; Benny Carter: alto saxophone; Mundell Lowe: guitar; John Lewis: piano; Louie Bellson; drums.

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