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Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years

Joel Roberts By

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Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years By William Minor and Bill Wishner
Angel City Press, 1997

The opening night of the first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958 featured performances by Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Harry James, and, just nine months before her death, Billie Holiday. The evening's highlight, however, came when Dizzy Gillespie, acting as the program's emcee, welcomed his hero, and occasional rival, Louis Armstrong to the stage. As thousands of fans gasped, Dizzy dropped to his knees and kissed Pops' hand in homage. This great moment, bringing together two generations of jazz, and two of the most important and beloved personalities in the music's history, is but only one of the many jazz memories recalled in a beautiful new book, Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years.

Calling itself, the "world's oldest ongoing jazz festival" — the peripatetic Newport Jazz Festival is actually four years older — Monterey has firmly established itself as one of the premier jazz events in the world, annually drawing tens of thousands of fans each autumn weekend. The festival welcomes musicians from all over the world playing all kinds of jazz-related music: blues, bebop, Dixieland, Latin, mainstream, avant-garde. It also sponsors an outstanding education program, which has helped many young musicians, such as Joshua Redman and Benny Green, get their starts.

In addition to providing a chronicle of the festival itself, Monterey Jazz also offers a more general overview of the last four decades in jazz. The heart of the book is the 165 rare duotone photos of festival performers, who include most of the major figures in recent jazz history: Mingus, Monk, Miles, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Duke, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, and many others.

There are dozens of performance photos, plus many wonderful candid shots of musicians hanging out backstage or relaxing on the festival grounds. We catch a glimpse, for example, of an unassuming (for once) Miles Davis sitting in the audience watching bluesman Buddy Guy's band in 1969. We also see Dizzy and Monk laughing uproariously together in the early '60s. As at so many of his stops around the jazz world, Dizzy was a particularly popular figure at Monterey. He appeared at the festival numerous times, acted as its artistic director, and even launched his (alas aborted) "Dizzy for President" campaign at the 1964 fest. He later withdrew his candidacy, saying that while he was "very qualified...I don't have the time."

The book also includes a foreword by that increasingly ubiquitous jazz commentator, Clint Eastwood, a festival attendee since the early days. Eastwood warmly recalls his many visits to Monterey, his filming of scenes for "Play Misty for Me," featuring Cannonball Adderley, at the 1970 fest, and the debut of his son, bassist Kyle Eastwood, at the 1994 fest.

All in all, a very attractive book that would make a fine holiday gift for the jazz lover on your list.


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