Monterey Jazz Festival: 40 Legendary Years
It is difficult to think of a major figure of the past four decades who has not appeared at the Monterey festival. Some jazz masters, indeed, were fixtures at Monterey. Dizzy Gillespie, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Dave Brubeck were among them. They and dozens of others are represented in this three-CD retrospective. Nearly three-and-a-half hours captures the merest fraction of music played at the festival, but the set offers more than highlights; it provides a feeling for the quality that predominated, with remarkably few lapses, under the stewardship of Jimmy Lyons and into the new Monterey era overseen by Tim Jackson.
Jackson and his co-producer Orrin Keepnews concentrated on performances not previously issued. Thus, there is no sample of Charles Mingus' explosion of passion in 1964, nothing of the 1965 concert that ignited John Handy's career, none of Jimmy Witherspoon in 1959, Jimmy Guiffre's trio the same year or the adventures of Joanne Brackeen in 1980. But most of that is available elsewhere, and this "new" material includes much that deserved to be liberated from the festival archives.
Brubeck's improvised response to a low-flying airplane at the '58 festival was a landmark in the annals of coolness and humor under fire, and it followed a superb three-chorus solo by Paul Desmond on "For All We Know." The first year of Monterey also had Gerry Mulligan and Art Farmer in joyous interplay and Billie Holiday, as her life was winding down, surprising the audience with her strength. In 1964, Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" with Monk and a nine-piece band, was dominated by a Bobby Bryant trumpet solo alternating between uncertainty and brilliant thematic improvisation. In 1973, Gillespie shared "Manteca" with his young imitator John Faddis, but Mickey Roker's drum solo put them both in the shade. In 1975, Gillespie played a moving blues tribute to writer Ralph J. Gleason, who had died that year. "Up With the Lark," also from 1975, emphasizes the empathy between pianist Bill Evans and bassist Eddie Gomez.
In 1983 Sarah Vaughan used her nervous little girl speaking voice to introduce "If You Could See Me Now," then settled into a virtuoso performance full of deep chest tones. Shirley Horn's 1994 "I've Got The World on a String" swung as hard as any instrumental on the album and had perfect piano accompaniment by Shirley Horn.
Joe Williams sang "Goin' to Chicago" with Count Basie hundreds of times, but not often with more force, irony and swing than at Monterey in 1977. It was also a good year for the little-known tenor saxophonist David Schnitter, who broke it up with Art Blakey's quintet in his solo on "Along Came Betty." Tenor players have some of the best moments in the collection; Dexter Gordon in his final period of vigor in 1978, Stan Getz in 1979 with the Woody Herman band in "What Are You Doing The Rest of your Life," Bob Berg with Chick Corea in 1995 in a soaring solo on "I Loves You, Porgy," Sonny Rollins in 1994 propelled by drummer Billy Drummond in "Keep Hold of Yourself," Joshua Redman and Craig Handy, both in 1996. Herbie Hancock's reprise of "Cantaloupe Island" was notable for his piano and Handy's tenor solo, but Dave Holland's bass lines had so much depth and power that he owned the performance.
In 1983, Wynton Marsalis' group exceeded even Monk's own eccentricity in their version of "Think of One." Still forming and a bit self-conscious, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart had moments of excitement in 1992 on "My Shining Hour."
There is a good deal more, all of it worth hearing, much of it top flight. The production flows with a sense of style and logic. Considering the unevenness of its sources over the years, the sound is of more than acceptable quality.