Moments of Silence
The jazz world lost three greats in 2007.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Drummer Max Roach, who passed away on Aug. 16 at the age of 83, played the first MJF with a blazing quintet featuring 20-year-old trumpeter Booker Little, tenor saxophonist George Coleman, Ray Draper on tuba and bassist Art Davis (who also passed way on July 29). In 1973, Roach guided a jam session honoring Charlie Parker, joining Bird alumni Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis and Ray Brown. And it was Roach who inaugurated a new festival institution in 1994 when he joined Dr. Herb Wong in a fascinating two-hour on-stage conversation. That was the year he made his West Coast debut with his stunning percussion ensemble M’Boom, a group so difficult to present (due to the expense of traveling with so many instruments) that every performance was a major event. With his probing intellect and rhythmic genius, Roach was a seminal force in jazz for half a century, from his first recordings with Charlie Parker in 1947 that defined the fierce new style known as bebop. While Roach rejected the term “jazz” as denigrating, no musician did more to uphold the music’s honor, always playing with truth and passion.
Tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker was similarly committed to searing honesty in his music. With his passing on Jan. 13 at the age of 57, Monterey lost a good friend, and a player who never failed to offer galvanizing performances that defined jazz’s power to uplift. He first performed at the festival in 1993 with the Brecker Brothers, the funk/fusion group he co-led with his older sibling, the prodigious trumpeter Randy Brecker. Ten years later, Michael Brecker joined bassist Charlie Haden on his haunting American Dreams project. In between, he appeared as special guest in 2000 with the Pat Metheny Trio, and in 2001, with the debut of Directions in Music, the thrilling ensemble he created with pianist Herbie Hancock and trumpeter Roy Hargrove to celebrate the 75th birthdays of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. For festival manager Tim Jackson, that performance was particularly memorable. “It was right after 9/11, and they came into Kuumbwa to rehearse,” Jackson recalls. “They were mostly coming from New York, and to be with those guys after such a traumatic event, to listen how they brought it together and conceptualized the music was really moving.”
Pianist/keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s passing on Sept. 11 at the age of 75 is a grievous loss for the jazz world. He made his festival debut in 1966 with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, which was riding high with Zawinul’s hit tune “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” one of the first jazz tunes to feature electric piano. The brilliant, Austrian-born musician went on to play a seminal role with Miles Davis on groundbreaking fusion albums such as Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way (Zawinul wrote the gorgeous, atmospheric title track). In an inexplicable oversight, he never played Monterey with Weather Report, the hugely influential fusion band he led with saxophonist Wayne Shorter for much of the 1970s and ’80s. By the time he returned to Monterey in 1998, it was with the Zawinul Syndicate, an ensemble that embodied his world jazz vision, incorporating themes and rhythms from India, West Africa and the Caribbean. He may not have been a regular presence at the festival, but as with Roach and Brecker, Zawinul’s influence will be felt throughout the weekend.