Monterey at 50: Five Concerts by Masters Released

Greg Thomas By

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In August 2007, Monterey Jazz Festival Records (in collaboration with the Concord Records Group) released five new CDs from its vast archives of live dates from the 50-year history of the Monterey Jazz Festival. The magical, natural setting of this coastal city south of San Francisco is a favorite of musicians, fans and critics alike. That scene of wonder served as the milieu for countless classic performances, such as those captured on these recordings by Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. Taken together, they document slices of the variety of styles and approaches innovated since jazz became recognized as a distinct musical art form in the '20s.

Louis Armstrong

Live At The 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


The very first year of the festival, which was launched by jazz critic Ralph Gleason and then- popular radio disc jockey Jimmy Lyons in 1958, featured traditional jazz artists, the most famous being Louis "Pops" Armstrong, the father of the musical vocabulary that became known as jazz. In his group's set of 18 tunes, Pops shows no diminishment of his powerful trumpet playing. As always, he was in good humor and his gravelly singing voice was in fine form.

Dizzy Gillespie served as emcee of the opening night of the festival in September 1958 and introduced Armstrong as "the greatest, the king." Truer words have rarely been spoken. Armstrong and his bandmates begin with a rendition of Pops' theme song, "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," evoking a longing for home. They alternate among heated, swift tunes such as "Indiana" and "Tiger Rag," with Satchmo blowin' those famous high C's for days and softer numbers like "Blueberry Hill," a Calypso groove on "High Society," and features for pianist Billy Kyle ("Perdido"), clarinetist Peanuts Hucko ("Autumn Leaves") and bassist Mort Herbert ("These Foolish Things").

Armstrong's repertoire became a cause for consternation among some jazz critics, but if one focuses on the artistry at play on this recording, on the nuances of the very style that birthed jazz, such arguments about Armstrong settling for a less-adventurous course as compared to his earlier innovations become moot.

Miles Davis Quintet

Live At The 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Miles Davis' transitional group comprised of George Coleman (tenor sax) and one of the best, most fluid and sympathetic rhythm sections in the jazz pantheon—Tony Williams (drums), Ron Carter (bass) and Herbie Hancock (piano)—play a set of standards in the Davis book: "So What," "Stella by Starlight," "Walkin'" and "Autumn Leaves." The full impact of the rhythmic elasticity of Davis' marvelous mid '60s quintet and the compositional influence of Wayne Shorter was yet to be, but the high octane energy effusing from the rhythm section flows in and through Davis' and Coleman's improvisations not so much as a cushion, but rather a font of challenge and antagonistic cooperation.

Thelonious Monk

Live At The 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


By 1964, the year of the set presented by Thelonious Monk with tenorist Charlie Rouse, a young Steve Swallow (bass) and long-time Monk mate Ben Riley (drums), Monk was more accepted as the true innovator he was. Monk's quartet is at the height of its powers here and his may be the best among the five CDs, worthy of the kind of repeated listening that engenders new vistas and insights provided by classic music.

The entertainment quotient of the recordings by Pops, Diz and even Sarah Vaughan was quite high, by way of their humor during and between songs and Monk was entertaining too, especially if straight up swing and blues and bop is your bent. "Evidence" is a clear example, for after the statement of the melodic theme, Monk comps shards of the theme as the sui generis Rouse romps the blues into submission. "Bright Mississippi," as one writer put it, deconstructs "Sweet Georgia Brown" to its basic elements, but what they put on top of it is sophisticated and eternal. One of Monk's greatest attributes, evidenced on most of the tunes here, is the way he anchors the solo sections with restatements of the theme and lays out selectively, opening the space up with fewer inputs, giving the remaining musicians more musical options.

Dizzy Gillespie

Live At The 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Dizzy Gillespie gave ample space and options to his sextet mates in the 1964 date at Monterey, featuring James Moody (sax and flute), a virtuosic Kenny Barron (piano), Christopher White (a virtuoso in his own right, but, importantly, also the foil in a hilarious send-up with Diz slyly suffused with racial and social commentary), drummer Rudy White and a bad cat on congas, Big Black.

The front line of Diz and James Moody seems inadequately mic'd at times, but they come through strong enough, especially Diz on the tender tribute to Lady Day, "Day After," and an exciting rearrangement of his most famous standard, "Night in Tunisia." He even ranks on the French by renaming it, "A Night Fast Out of Algeria." Diz gallops a tight and winding solo, Moody follows with double time and screams and White takes a long solo. Long and inventive too is conguero Big Black on "Ungawa." Perhaps too long, but it just shows how Diz shared the spotlight.

Sarah Vaughan

Live At The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records


Sarah Vaughan's 1971 set showcases her song selection at the time and her peerless lower register and operatic highs in one sassy, divine package. American Songbook chestnuts "I Remember You" and "Tenderly" are given serious treatments with a touch of the ironic wink of the eye. Her rendition of "'Round Midnight" is simply an interpretive masterpiece, one to put up against any other vocal version of Monk's classic. Quickie, less-than-two minute fast versions of "The Lamp is Low" and "There Will Be Another You" serve as interludes to mid-tempo swing and her, to use Grady Tate's description, singer's style of scatting on several selections, including on all-out jam session blues with generational giants the likes of which are forever gone: Benny Carter, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Zoot Sims, Roy Eldridge, John Lewis, Mundell Lowe and Bill Harris and of course Vaughan herself.

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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