Monterey Jazz Festival 2003
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Tim Jackson, the guy who runs the Monterey Jazz Festival, took on a challenge when he took his gig 12 years ago. Apparently, he was not intimidated. He was tasked with keeping alive a venerable tradition--MJF is the longest running jazz festival in the world. He has managed to do not only that, but, year after year, to also bring the event to new heights.
Jackson seems to be following a simple two-part plan. Part One: Bring together some of the most accomplished, most creative and most serious jazz musicians in the world--the players who are carrying the torch of the jazz tradition for their generation. Part Two: locate a hot trend, invite some up-and-coming players, and let the audience hear some of jazz''s new directions.
And then, Jackson does something weird, something off-beat and unexpected--he hits the lineup with a little bit of genius.
This year, the all-time greats are represented by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Jon Hendricks, Dave Douglas, Eddie Duran and The Crusaders. The cutting edge is represented by players like Jason Moran and John Stetch, and, perhaps most interestingly, by a "New Grooves" jazz-dance party Friday night, for which the seats are being ripped out of Dizzy''s Den, and to which young music fans are being specifically invited. (Both of these lists barely scratch the surface.)
But the brilliant stroke, for my money, is the bringing together of three sets of players who have charted singular careers that have occasionally overlapped.Shakti: The guitarist John McLaughlin was something like a jazz superstar when he got together with the Indian tabla master Zakir Hussein to form the band Shakti in 1975. After playing for several years with Miles Davis in the band that practically invented fusion, McLaughlin scored critical and popular success with his own psychedelic fusion band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. A couple of albums with Carlos Santana followed--furthering McLaughlin''s reputation as the king of jazz-rock.
Shakti was a radical departure--an acoustic band in an electric era, World Beat before there was any such thing. In Shakti, McLaughlin and Hussein found common ground in a new place where complex classical Indian music and complex soulful jazz could meet. The re-emergence of the band (now called Remember Shakti) this year in Monterey is an event in itself.
Oregon: It may just be that McLaughlin was inspired to hook up with a tabla player because he heard the music of Oregon, an unlikely quartet that enjoyed cult-band status in the early ''70s. The band was led, if it was led, by the classical guitarist Ralph Towner, and included the brilliant oboist Paul McCandless, the equally brilliant acoustic bassist Glen Moore, and the incomparable tabla player Colin Walcott. (All of these players were also members of the Paul Winter Consort, a thoroughly unique post-classical/jazz pre-New Age outfit.)
With its unusual instrumentation and proto-World Beat vibe, Oregon was a bizarre creature in the jazz world; nevertheless, complex compositions and flights of improvisation identify it as a jazz band, if a rare variety. Again, the reunion (albeit without Walcott, who died in 1984) is rather historic.
The Towner/Burton Nexus: The vibraphonist Gary Burton, like McLaughlin and Oregon, occupies his own place in the jazz world. Again, there is a classical influence to his playing, and again he is an internationalist--in Monterey this year he will perform with the pianist Makoto Ozone, a frequent collaborator and a fellow teacher at Boston''s Berklee School of Music. Burton will also perform with Ralph Towner, with whom he has played, on and off, in duo settings and with various bands, for three decades.
Towner, in yet another setting, will premiere this year''s commissioned MJF composition, "Monterey Suite," with Burton and the MJF Chamber Orchestra.
It''s not really the whole world of jazz in a weekend, it''s just a small piece of it; but it''s a very cool piece, and it has its own flavor, a Monterey flavor, a 2003 flavor, and the taste of the whole 46-year tradition that lets it all keep happening.
A New Jazz Generation
MJF is clearing out the chairs to make Friday night a hip locals'' dance party. By Eric Johnson
At the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco a couple of months ago, Alan Evans stepped onstage and up to a mic and said, "We''re Soulive," but it sounded like, "We''re so live," which is about right. This is a band that has built a sizeable audience largely because of its live shows. The band''s reputation has spread through an underground network of cassette-tape traders. Soulive is the new-millennium jazz world''s answer to the Grateful Dead.
As the three players take their seats--Evans behind his drum kit on stage left, his brother Neal at his Hammond B3 facing him from stage right, and guitarist Eric Krasno on a stool between them--it starts to feel like an unusual jazz show. A cloud of smoke floats toward the Fillmore''s grand chandeliers, and the crowd is already moving. Guys in Dockers and tie-dyed T-shirts clutch their halter-topped dates. Dreadlocked hippies weave among stylishly dressed 20-somethings and kids in rave gear. The audience is diverse, but these people have one thing in common: They''re all pretty young. And the minute the band drops into its first number, something happens that is rare these days for a jazz concert: Everyone starts dancing.
The tune starts off as a funky shuffle. Krasno, 25, wearing his trademark porkpie cap, comps relaxed chords on a hollow-bodied Gibson. Neal Evans, 27, sporting a fancy neo-Mohawk, lays down a rich, rhythmic wash of sound on the B3. Alan Evans, 24, head shaved and in classic black, plays an aggressive, insistent groove.
For 15 minutes, they just keep going. The tune builds slowly. If not for the stripped-down simplicity, it could be straight funk. If not for the Hammond, the unmistakable sound of the hollow-bodied Gibson, and the dazzling virtuosity exhibited during solos, it could be contemporary dance music. But it is clear, before the first number is over, that this is jazz.
If not for the fact that the music rocked, hard, and that there were a thousand people dancing their asses off, it could be your father''s jazz.
Neal Evans, as it happens, is a wildly original player--a percussive keyboardist who uses the B3''s legendary range to create gorgeous, layered lines without compromising the groove. It becomes clear as the night goes on, as he steps out for his solos, that he is taking the old Hammond to new places. (He also puts a Clavier and a Roland sound module, both stacked on top of his organ, to inventive use.)
Eric Krasno is equally committed to the groove; on most tunes, for most of the time, he is nailed to his stool, playing classic jazz rhythm guitar. But he is also equally inventive: when he solos, he is as likely to quote Jerry Garcia as Wes Montgomery. Alan Evans, at the center of this dance band''s sound, is a forceful player whose insistent staccato and rapid-fire, imaginative fills keep even the laziest, prettiest song from languishing.
The Soulive experience is designed for dancing. Each song builds in intensity, peaks, and leads into the next. The songs are long, the sets are long, and the compositions are uncomplicated, but the band keeps it interesting by exploring each tune''s possibilities. At times, when Neal Evans has the organ fully cranked through his effects box, and Krasno is bending his Gibson''s neck, and Alan Evans is pumping explosively, it becomes clear why the "New Groove" label had to be invented to describe what Soulive does.
"I don''t really think of Soulive as a jazz band," Alan Evans says. "I played straight-ahead jazz when I was growing up. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, and I still do. But if you looked in our CD players today, you''re more likely to find rock or hip-hop. It''s gonna be 50 Cent or Led Zep or Soundgarden.
"It''s because we''re an instrumental band, and we have the B3, and we signed with Blue Note--that''s why the ''jazz'' label got attached. But as far as I''m concerned, we''re just playing soul music."
In fact, Soulive''s jazz pedigree goes a little deeper than that. Alan''s and Neal''s father was a jazz drummer, as was their uncle and grandfather. Discussing his influences, Alan lists the jazz-drum-gods Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Max Roach, as well as other jazz greats like J.J. Johnson and John Coltrane. "They don''t have to be drummers," he says of his idols. "You can pick up musical ideas from a lot of cats and apply them to your playing."
But he also cites the inspiration of rap bands like Run DMC and Public Enemy, and popular rockers like Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder. He mentions Led Zeppelin twice. And even his jazz influences are broader than those of musicians a few years his senior.
"I think it''s just being a product of our generation, of the stuff we grew up listening to," he says. "I remember as a child hearing Miles at the Fillmore, hearing Mahavishnu Orchestra. That was some trippy shit. To me, there was no difference between that and the Dead and Hendrix. And it all finds its way into our music."
Before Soulive came into being four years ago, Alan Evans had already had a taste of crossover success playing with the Greyboy Allstars, an acid-jazz band that developed a following among Deadheads and club kids--along with some adventurous jazz aficionados--in the 1990s. He went from there to the MJF alum Karl Denson''s Tiny Universe, fronted by the Greyboy''s sax player. Meanwhile, he continued playing with his brother (the two, of course, had played together since they were five and seven years old).
In 1999, the Evans brothers started putting Soulive together, at that time with a vibes player. One night in early March, the vibraphonist abruptly quit and the trio showed up to a gig without its third member. Eric Krasno, a fan, was at the show, and he agreed to sit in. At the time, Krasno was fronting his own band, Lettuce, another acid-jazz outfit that was helping to define the sound which was beginning to be called "New Groove." After the gig, Alan invited Krasno to come over to his studio and jam.
"We just started hitting it, and it was fresh," Alan recalls. "And I was recording it. And by the end of the night, we pretty much had our first album done. So we were a band."
By the end of the summer, Soulive was touring up and down the East Coast, playing in clubs and opening big rock shows for Phish and the reconstituted Grateful Dead. And the tape decks in the audience were rolling.
While the band has been schooling an army of rock fans in the ways of jazz, Soulive has also been welcomed by its peers. Jon Scofield, an early admirer, appeared on a 2001 live album. The band members have become friends with big-name jazz players, including two of the stars of last year''s New Grooves show in Monterey, Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman. Soulive has shared the bill this summer with Hargrove''s hip-hop-flavored outfit, RH Factor (which performed its premiere show at MJF 2002), and Redman has sat in with Soulive at a couple of shows this summer.
Like Hargrove''s RH Factor and Redman''s Elastic Band, Soulive is pushing the limits of what is called jazz. For this Saturday night''s show, they will be joined by the Canadian group Metalwood, another of the New Groove upstarts.
Metalwood approaches this new brand of jazz-rock fusion from the opposite direction--in fact, the band started out as a side project, assembled so four accomplished acoustic jazz players could mess around with some ''70s-era fusion.
Brad Turner, trumpet player, keyboardist and composer for the band, says he and his band mates--bassist Chris Tarry, saxophonist Mike Murley, and drummer Ian Froman--simply wanted to walk in the footsteps of players like Herbie Hancock.
"We''re definitely jazz musicians," Turner says. "Ian had never really even played a backbeat, except maybe in high school, playing Rush tunes."
While Turner and his cohorts gravitated mostly towards the straight-ahead acoustic sound, together they''ve explored funkier, harder-edged realms. Still, Turner says, "we do not want to sacrifice any of the improvisational or harmonic concepts of jazz."
What started as a lark has become a second career. All of the players still gig separately, but they have released four albums together--including the newly released Chronic, on Telarc.
"I never imagined that this band would be anything more than a way to have fun," Turner says. "Now, I''m just looking for ways to exploit the depths of the players, and to explore the more remote corners of this form of music that reached its crest in the 1970s, and then got kind of watered down."
Soulive''s Evans feels that all of these explorations are consistent with jazz history.
"The lines between jazz and rock and funk are really fading," he says. "It''s all becoming music, and it''s moving forward. That''s what jazz has always been about. That''s what the music''s history shows us. It''s the freedom. And cats are feeling really free these days."
A Regular Genius. By Brett Wilbur
Future Shock: When the author, (left) at age 12, met Herbie Hancock in Africa, she had no idea that she''d be watching him perform almost 20 years later at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The Hancock family (below) with the author''s mother.
When I first met Herbie Hancock, nearly two decades ago, I had no idea who he was, although I hummed his music every night while I did my homework.
It was the end of sixth grade in June 1984. "Rockit" was the top song on Q107--my favorite rock station. The Police was my favorite band, and Sting was my favorite man.
My dad, a doctor working for the Agency for International Development, needed to take a month-long tour of East Africa. He decided to take me and my mother for a two-week safari.
We took an ancient, sputtering plane over the brown grasslands of the Maasai Mara National Reserve to Samburu. The next morning, our guide drove us through the reservation. The landscape was filled with zebras, nodding elephants, a rhino, and everywhere, baboons.
"We will go to the leopard''s den and wait until dusk," our guide said. "Then she will come out to drink." But the leopard did not leave her den. We drove away to spot some giraffes, then returned for one last attempt.
A jeep was stuck in the mud in front of the leopard''s den. The driver was spinning the wheels. Our driver pulled a bit closer, opened the doors to our jeep, and the three passengers sprinted to us.
Not knowing the proper etiquette one follows after being saved from being a leopard''s dinner, I was happy that our new friends invited us to be their guest at the Samburu Lodge that evening.
We made our proper introductions at the table. Gigi and Herbie Hancock and their 14-year-old daughter Jessica were from Beverly Hills. Herbie said he was a musician. His name did not even register. The three of us looked at the three of them blankly.
"Do you know the song, "Rockit?" Herbie asked me. "Da, da, duh da da da da, da da, da da da da da da duh..."
I nodded, and elbowed my parents. I couldn''t believe that this nice man sitting across from me at this rustic table had written such a famous song, and I was excited, for a moment, until I looked up at the table across from us.
"Oh my God, it''s Stewart Copeland, the drummer from the Police!" I said in a muffled shriek. Jessica looked up. It was him! Lanky, homely, but who cares--he knows Sting!
"Dad! We have to meet him," Jessica pleaded.
Herbie just smiled and walked over to Copeland''s table. The two shook hands, and Copeland invited Herbie to join him. As they got into an animated discussion, Jessica and I stood up and inched closer. Herbie smiled and beckoned us over.
We said hi, in the whispery voices of pre-adolescent girls, and Stewart grunted, nodded, and turned back to Herbie.
Jessica and I discovered that we had the same safari itineraries, and a few days later, we went horseback riding on Mt. Kilimanjaro. When I left Africa the next week, I took home a whopping case of Rift Valley Fever and the Hancocks'' phone number.
The next spring, my mom took me to California and we looked up the Hancocks. Jessica and I went to Disneyland, and I spent the night at her house, where we stayed up late secretly watching The Hunger while Herbie jammed in his recording studio. The next evening we went out to dinner on Melrose, where Herbie good-naturedly kicked the piano player off his instrument and went to town.
"Ack, he''s showing off," Gigi said, rolling her eyes, but smiling. We ended our trip promising to stay pen pals.
Two years ago, I ran into Herbie at an autograph table at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Herbie invited me to join him and Jessica for dinner the next evening.
Over dinner at the Highlands Inn, we filled each other in about our lives. As Herbie gave me advice on coping with my then recent divorce, and I watched him order not one, but two desserts, I once again forgot about his genius status in the music world. To me, he''s just a guy we saved from a leopard''s den.
Clint''s Blues. By Eric Johnson
Talking Blues: Kansas City pianist Jay "Hootie" McShann (left) chats with director Clint Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood is a little bit like every other red-blooded American male. Many of us dream of being rock stars. Clint dreamt of playing the piano--the blues piano.
Like a lot of guys, Eastwood was distracted from this dream by his day job. In his case, being a movie star and Academy Award-winning director and producer left only enough time for him to noodle around (he is, reportedly, a rather accomplished amateur pianist). But all in all, his dream of leaning over a keyboard was frustrated.
That''s probably why music has played such a prominent role in his movies, from Play Misty For Me to Bird (his feature about the jazz great Charlie Parker) to Straight No Chaser (his documentary about Thelonius Monk).
And it is probably why Eastwood jumped at the opportunity to make a film about the blues.
It might have helped that the idea came from Martin Scorsese, and that it was linked to an ambitious project featuring full-length movies by seven directors, which will be broadcast on PBS beginning next week. And that it was backed by an Act of Congress declaring 2003 the Year of the Blues.
The story of the project, collectively called The Blues, is classic Hollywood. As told by series producer Alex Gibney, it begins: "Marty and I were talking one day," continues "Marty had been talking with Eric Clapton," refers back to Woodstock (Scorsese was an editor of the film version of the concert) and then leaps further back, to the moment a century ago when W.C. Handy "discovered" the blues while on a train ride in the Deep South.
Scorsese, inspired by Clapton, decided to make a documentary, and came to Gibney (an award-winning documentarian) and his partner, the director Marc Levin. Gibney felt the project needed to be expanded, that the subject was too big for one film. "Marty liked the idea, and we were off and running," Gibney recalls.
The first task was to compile a list of directors. "We had three criteria," Gibney says. "We wanted feature-film directors, who had made documentaries, and had a passion for the music. When it came down to it, it was a short list."
The directors include Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, The Buena Vista Social Club) Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Stormy Monday) Scorsese, Eastwood and three others. All, according to Gibney, were encouraged to bring their own ideas to the project, And that, he says, is the hallmark of the series.
"We were able to get these guys because Marty was the guarantor of creative protection," Gibney says. "And because they really know the music, the series is very personal and impressionistic. It comes out of the knowledge and passion of the directors."
In Eastwood''s case, the personal touch began with his choice of material. At the outset, the project was loosely organized around geographic areas, and Scorsese asked Eastwood to make a film about Memphis. But Eastwood had another idea.
Eastwood''s movie, Piano Blues, which will premiere Saturday, focuses instead on the instrument that was the director''s first love. It features historical footage of Fats Domino, Charles Brown and Otis Spamm, and contemporary footage of Marcia Ball, Dr. John and Dave Brubeck.
And in one scene, sitting on a piano bench alongside the great Ray Charles, playing along, is Clint Eastwood himself--living a dream.
Piano Blues premieres Saturday at 5:30pm in the Jazz Theater at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The seven-part series will be aired on PBS beginning Sunday, Sept. 28.