The 64th Monterey Jazz Festival, like a bride preparing for her nuptials, wore something old and something new. The loan and the blue are found in the music. While the arena seats were rearranged to accommodate a 50% reduction in the number of participants, allowing more room to breathe easily, it felt like the same old festival. There was dancing, there were loud revelers, there were serious jazz enthusiasts, and there was a sense of relief to be back in a place that gives customers and staff a feeling family, and its artists a place to express themselves freely.
“For the first time, having live music on the Jimmy Lyons stage in two years, having the opening night with Herbie (Hancock) and Pat (Metheny) was really special because they have such a history here at the festival. and they’re friends of the festival, and it warmed my heart and they gave some great performances, ”said festival artistic director Tim Jackson backstage just before the introduction of Saturday’s first performance, Miho Hazama and m_unit. “They were eager to play, they were in a good space, they wanted to be here. From an artist’s point of view, everyone is just happy to be here.
On the pitch, as condensed as it is, people gathered around the courtyard stage between arena sets and throughout the day on Friday to hear the Mimi Fox Organ Trio and on Saturday for the Giveton Gelin. Quartet, maybe half sports masks. Generally speaking, there was a majority of people wearing their masks as they walked the festival footprint. In the arena, once seated, many chose to relax and remove their masks. After all, festival-goers had to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test.
“Everyone is cooperative in this regard,” said John McCleary, a festival veteran with his wife Joan. Both local residents have a history with the festival that dates back 45 years. In Joan’s case, when she was a young girl, she attended the first festival with her parents. “I wouldn’t mind at all if they demanded that everyone here be vaccinated. There are times outside when we can be maskless. “
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, it’s almost a daily read of tea leaves and / or science to know how to successfully present a big event and protect everyone involved. It is interesting to note that the long history of the festival has always been marked by changes in one form or another. It’s just the nature of the beast. So either you ride with it or not. Those who came to appreciate and support the festival were riding with it. Joy and good vibes prevailed, most tangibly in the closing tunes of the Jimmy Lyons Stage sets on Friday (Hancock) and Saturday (Ledisi) when a fair number of people left their seats to dance dizzy the blues front and center. No one cared and everyone was smiling as they squirmed and jumped.
“I wanted Herbie to play this encore just because I knew people were eager to move. I could feel it, ”Jackson said.
When asked if some of the new changes could be applied to next year’s event, Jackson, with his 30 years of experience hosting the Jazz Fest, said every year has its challenges. and he’s hoping at least that with the vaccine mandates in place after another year of promising progress to build on, anyone can do without the masks and maybe the audience size will grow.
“I think every time you rock the tree a little bit, which we had no choice but this year, we had to reinvent ourselves, you watch and you watch, listen and evaluate,” Jackson said. Then after the festival, we’re kind of going to take a look and say, “OK, did that work, did that work? Or maybe it would work if we adjusted that. With a big festival like this, it’s flawed science, you know.
The musical performances on Friday and Saturday were all excellent. From the refined fusion of electric and acoustic jazz with Hancock and Metheny, to the cerebral and well-crafted works of Miho Hazama, this year’s commissioned artist. With its “Exoplanète Suite” inspired by its wonder of the universe and its small place in the immensity of it all, there was a lightness in the beautiful arrangements that traveled in time and the meter with an interesting mix of instruments. which included vibraphones, a small string and brass sections, and the standard rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. It was one of the unforgettable moments of the festival.
The music of A Gerald Clayton Experience followed, the five musicians brought together at the last moment by Clayton to deliver a truly spontaneous jazz experience. Clayton’s work at the festival continues to grow and his story continues to gain traction, from years of studying at the High School Jazz Competition to being leader and conductor of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. And Ledisi’s afternoon closing set delivered the energy that the usual Saturday afternoon blues set delivers, rocking the house with a mix of styles ranging from rock to blues to blues. jazz and R&B. She is a force of nature, and her style, wearing black leather and large square pop art earrings, was representative of her strong personality and abundant energy.
At the back of the arena on Saturday, there was a party of a different kind. The Montage Health Foundation, in partnership with the Monterey Jazz Festival, had a private hospitality tent where a lunch was offered, as well as arena seats for the CHOMP doctors who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to look after of the increase in the number of cases due to COVID-19.
“The purpose of this event is to give our doctors a chance to revitalize themselves, to connect with their colleagues, to connect with their loved ones in a beautiful atmosphere with good music. Just a little respite. It’s one way to give them a little nod of our gratitude and appreciation, ”said Deme Jameson, Director of Physician Excellence at Montage Health.
“Yeah, actually, we didn’t have enough time slots for all the people who wanted to come,” said Kevin Causey, Director of Development for Montage Health. “With the tent, we were able to bring in 50 people. Only today. We would have liked to take the tent for the whole weekend but we didn’t want to be greedy. There were other people who wanted to be able to use it.
Festival general manager Colleen Bailey was also present at the marquee before the start of the Saturday afternoon music program. She was there to greet guests and offered her take on Friday night’s show, claiming the two performers blew her out of the water.
“People were saying they were the best they had seen in a long time,” Bailey said. “And they both brought something new and fresh. I’m sure they were inspired after being without an audience for so long to be able to get that instant feedback that you only get when you attend an event like this. So it’s really positive.
“And I also think people really appreciate the legroom they have this year, having a little more room. I’ve heard a lot of people say that even though it’s only 50% capacity, it doesn’t look like it. It was full last night. And the energy was amazing, and because we were isolated in one place, everyone was there. And it felt good. “
Ledisi’s choice of the song “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone was a perfect addition to her lively set with her feeling of elation that will likely continue in next year’s preparations for what will be another new day for the beloved Monterey Jazz Festival 65th year.