Going Way Downtown To Dixie
Annual music festival brings local and national Dixieland musicians to Monterey for a weekend of roots jazz.
Thursday, February 28, 2002
Photo: Got Brass? From left to right, trumpeter Hart Smith, banjo player "Fast Eddie" Erikson, clarinetist Bob Phillips and trombone player Carl Reilly get ready to swing the weekend away, starting Thursday night at the Dixieland Monterey festival''s All-Star Dance Party.
America''s only indigenous art form (with the exception of quilting) will be celebrated at the 22nd annual Dixieland Monterey Jazz Festival this weekend.
"I''m really living it up," says local pianist Bob Phillips, referring to the fact that he''s arranged to fly in internationally famous musicians from across the country. "This year we''ve instituted a lot of new ideas to raise the awareness of local people. A lot of festivals stick strictly to jazz up until the 1920''s, but we''re much more generalized. We have a feeling young people won''t be interested in learning how to play it if it''s like a dead language."
The All Star Dance Party kicks off the festival on Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Doubletree Hotel in Monterey from 7:30-11:00 pm in the De Anza Ballroom. The party is dedicated to the memory of Patti Hoss, Vice President of the Monterey Jazz Festival and 10-year board member of Dixieland Monterey.
At the dance party, Phillips will be joined by a host of players, including the legendary Fast Eddie Erikson on banjo and guitar, saxophonist Paul Contos--head of the CSUMB Jazz Department, guitarist Bruce Forman, and vocalist Madeline Eastman.
Erikson, a local favorite, is known for his rapport with the audience.
"He''s such a spontaneous entertainer with a great singing voice and personality," Phillips says. "He''s exceptionally funny onstage--the world''s best musician, entertainer and comedian combined."
Festival organizers hope the dance crowd will include the younger set. "I''ve noticed younger people coming just to dance--it''s like a retro thing," Phillips says. "They wear funny clothes and come to see what the old folks are doing. They look pretty good when they''re out on the floor."
Throughout the festival Phillips will be leading four bands that he''s assembled, including a band comprised of Phillips'' own family members. Another family band is made up of the relatives of the late Monterey legend Jake Stock, with whom Fast Eddie Erikson and Phillips rocked Cannery Row for over 20 years. Another big band will showcase the work of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and the fourth band is Phillips'' baby, called Trad meets Rad.
"It''s traditional goes radical," Phillips spells out. "I''ve got my favorite musicians--Ali Ryerson on flute, Brad Terry on clarinet, and world-class musician George Young on saxophone," he says, explaining that Young just moved here from New York City. "He''s recorded thousands of sessions with all the legends--Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald. We''re giving them the best of the best."
He says the band mostly plays "hot jazz," encompassing a variety of musical styles.
Don Pellerin, director of youth band activities for the festival, explains that hot jazz as basically synonymous with traditional jazz or Dixieland jazz, a combination of music from a mix of cultures in turn of the century New Orleans.
"Regretfully, it started in houses of ill repute," Pellerin says. "The bordellos used the music to attract the single men coming off ships from all over the world."
Now Pellerin hopes hot jazz will lure listeners away from the type of "raucous sounds" characterizing contemporary music.
"Jazz is a very exhilarating style of music," Pellerin says. "It''s happy--even the blues are fun. More and more younger people are coming. They like it once they hear it. The problem is no one plays it."
Starting with a mission to "spread the joyous sounds of traditional jazz," Pellerin collaborated with Salinas High music teacher Joe Johnson four years ago. The resulting Salinas High Hot Jazz Ensemble joins four other youth bands during the festival for performances, and a Roots of Jazz youth clinic Saturday morning at 9:30am.
Letters sent out to all local schools invited young musicians to attend the event. "Students can hear the very best musicians, and play with them," Phillips says. Performances begin at 11:30am Saturday throughout the conference center.
Another festival highlight is the UC Davis Gospel Choir, led by director and pianist Calvin Lymos. The choir offers two Sunday morning performances: the 9am "spiritual session" is free, and the 10am show is for badge-holders only. Seventy members of the 100-member group will be coming to Monterey and performing church hymns played in a jazzy contemporary style.
The gospel-jazz connection is only fitting, Pellerin says, since jazz was traditionally performed in churches at funerals, then at wakes. A multi-ethnic and international group, the UC Davis group is the type of interactive experience Pellerin wants to reclaim with music.
"Television killed the big band," says Pellerin, who will also be performing during the festival on clarinet and saxophone with his band, the Bye Bye Blues Boys. "People forgot about dancing and sat home watching football."
Pellerin is heartened by the musical interest he sees developing in young people today. His own granddaughter is part of the UC Davis choir.
"People are seeking out something that''s not harsh on their ears," he says. "It''s not that rock ''n'' roll musicians are bad, but the youth should learn some new styles of music. The more you learn about these things, the more discerning you become."
Festival performances will be held at the Doubletree Hotel, Monterey Conference Center and Fisherman''s Wharf. All-Event Festival Badges are $60. Thursday''s Dance Party is $20 per person; $35 couple. Day Badges are $25 for Friday, $40 for Saturday, and $25 for Sunday. Events take place Friday from 3pm to 11:30pm; Saturday from 10am to 11:30pm; and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
Students under 18 will be admitted free, college students receive discounts. Badges are available at Gadsby''s Music in Salinas, Thunderbird Bookstore in Carmel, or Bay Books in Monterey. Call 443-5260 for more information or visit www.dixieland-monterey.com.