In 1997, Bill Minor wrote Monterey Jazz Festival: 40 Legendary Years, a detailed history of the first 40 years of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Now at the time of the 50th festival, The Art of Jazz celebrates the occasion with a breezier look at Monterey’s legacy, written by Keith and Kent Zimmerman.
Each of the five decades is covered with a five-page essay (with space for four to six photos), a full-page photo, 10 pages that simply list the performers at each year’s festival (often just the bandleaders and all-star guests) and 10 other pages showing the cover of each year’s official program. The 260 pages go fast and can be easily read in less than two hours.
The essays cover Monterey’s official history with its founding by Jimmy Lyons and Ralph Gleason in 1958, the early, innovative years, the decision to largely ignore fusion and electronics by the early 1970s, the artistic slump of the 1980s with the same veteran artists appearing year after year, and Monterey’s major comeback as a modern jazz festival with the ascension of Tim Jackson in 1992.
But the articles miss a great deal due to lack of space. Monterey Jazz Festival 50 Years would have been much more valuable if it had revealed what typically happens behind the scenes of each festival, told what goes into the programming, included inside stories behind the most significant performances and had reminiscences from the staff, musicians and veteran fans. Perhaps it should have also included a discography of the performances from Monterey that have thus far shown up on record.
Monterey Jazz Festival 50 Years is a decent coffee-table book, but the definitive history has yet to be written.