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At Long Last, Monterey Jazz Festival's Archives Show Up on CD

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Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) is the most famous musician in jazz history, so it's not surprising that he has a lot of CDs out. Most of the dozens released in the past several years, however, are either of the barrel-scraping variety - endless repackagings of the same classics - or obscure dates released on even more obscure foreign labels.

Imagine, then, something different. A live concert from right here in the Bay Area, performed in 1958, recorded with crystal clarity and featuring Armstrong and a crack sextet working their way through 17 tunes, Satchmo growling, guffawing, telling jokes, singing in that impossible gravel basso and blaring trumpet notes that sound as if they're emanating from Zeus in a brothel on Mount Olympus.

A CD like that would be a bit of a miracle. Well, welcome to the miracle, courtesy of Monterey Jazz Festival Records, a new joint venture by the festival and Concord Music Group. Armstrong's “Live at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival" is the marquee release in the first batch of discs that draw from the festival's 49 years of archives. Two of the others, like the Armstrong, are monumental: The “Miles Davis Quintet Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival" finds the horn genius at a pivotal moment, messing with the guts of standards with new band members Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums and George Colemen on tenor. Then there's “Thelonious Monk Live at the 1964 ..." featuring some of the most ferocious piano playing ever laid down by the grandmaster of jazz architecture.

The final two, “Dizzy Gillespie Live at the 1965 ..." and “Sarah Vaughan Live at the 1971 ..." are merely hugely entertaining. There's also a compilation CD with live Monterey stuff from Diana Krall, Dave Brubeck, Joe Henderson, Pat Metheny and more.

The question that naturally springs to mind about the venture is: What took them so long? After all, the festival has had a policy of taping all its major-stage shows since its beginning in 1958. That translates to thousands of hours of music, all sitting in a vault at Stanford University.

The short answer is that the Monterey Jazz Festival isn't a record company. “We know how to produce jazz festivals. We don't know how to produce records," festival General Manager Tim Jackson says.

Jackson says the idea of doing something with the archive started percolating in his mind when he took over booking the festival from co-founder Jimmy Lyons in 1992.

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