Following the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s 19th annual festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival will mark its 60th year this September
by Rollie Atkinson
There’s almost a full year until the 20th annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival next June, but local jazz and music fans don’t have to wait that long for world-class, straight ahead jazz. Besides the occasional jazz sets in nearby hotel lobbies and art galleries, it’s not too early to check out the bigger offerings at the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF), taking place this year from Sept. 15-17.
It’s no longer a rare sighting to see a Healdsburg Jazz Festival t-shirt or hat in the Monterey crowd. And, as with past years, several of the musicians set to perform in September were just in Healdsburg for the June 2-11 series of performances.
The list of jazz performers scheduled for this year’s 60th annual Monterey Jazz Festival who have performed at Healdsburg in recent years is a long one. It includes Jimmy Heath and Joe Lavono who were just here in June and local favorites Joshua Redman, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Lewis Nash, Regina Carter, Roy and Hargrove.
Headlining the MJF’s 60th three-day festival is Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, joined by Dee Dee Bridgewater, Branford Marsalis, Gerald Clayton, Regina, Common and Angelique Kidjo.
Tickets have been on sale for a few weeks. Admission packages range from $410 for full weekend, full access tickets to $45 single day, outdoor grounds only admission. (Visit www.montereyjazzfestival.org for ticket purchases or additional information.)
The festival is held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the same location of the recently memorialized Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 during the Summer of Love.
The jazz festival features seven music venues including the large main arena. Grounds admission includes free range of all the non-arena performances without extra admission. During the weekend most of the arena headliners also perform on the smaller stages.
The fairgroundsoffers lots of shady trees, a large food concession area and jazz-related crafts, arts and music vendors.
The festival itself is not the only element of the weekend with a long legacy. Hundreds, if not a thousand, attendees have sat in the same arena seats for decades, some passing on their ticket rights to subsequent generations or young friends.
Many ascribe a distinctive atmosphere or mood to the festival. In fact, Gerald Wilson wrote a commissioned jazz piece for the 2007 festival titled “Monterey Moods.”
Like the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz also supports year-round jazz appreciation and education programs, including a national youth performers competition. Sunday afternoon in Monterey is devoted to the youth winners in performances on all the stages, including the main arena.
The Monterey Jazz Festival is one of the oldest continuing jazz festivals in the world. The first festival took place in 1958 and had a “modest” lineup that included Dizzy Gillispe, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday, Harry James and several more jazz immortals. One of the performers was drummer Benny Barth, a longtime Guerneville resident who passed away last year. Barth played with Wes Montgomery.
Brubeck and promoter Jimmy Lyons were the key founders of the festival. The pair convinced a contrary city council to rent the fairgrounds after Brubeck and his quartet did an impromptu performance in the city council chambers. Lyons went on the produce the annual festival until his retirement in 1992.
By comparison, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival would not be turning 60 until the year 2058.
CAPTION: Jazz singer Nikki Hill performed at the 2015 festival, appearing on the Arena Stage with Trombone Shorty.