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Vocalist Kandace Springs made her Monterey Jazz Festival debut in 2017, a year after releasing her first full-length album to critical acclaim. She will return in 2021.

No musical genre depends more upon a more changing live environment than jazz, given its moment-to-moment improvisation, between both players and audience members. That spontaneity was lost through the lockdown, so when the Monterey Jazz Festival announced on June 9 that the show would indeed go on this September, it felt like a collective sigh echoing throughout the musical community.

For many organizations, businesses and individuals, the shutdown came quickly and completely, and MJF was no exception.“We lost 50 percent of our team members literally overnight,” says Executive Director Colleen Bailey, “and so we had to reinvent ourselves very quickly.”

The nonprofit had two weeks to turn its annual Next Generation Jazz Festival into a virtual event, but somehow, they pulled that off.

“Jazz has always placed such a premium upon being live and up front that the whole virtual thing was foreign to most of us,” Bailey says. “We’ve all had to learn to do lots of new things.”

Ironically, the whole virtual experience allowed the organization to reach many more young players than ever before, resulting in a collective youth summer music intensive involving MJF, Youth Orchestra of Salinas (YoSal), Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz and the Monterey Symphony. The same deep virtual reach has also created the most diverse and inclusive Next Generation Jazz Orchestra in MJF history.

“Going all-virtual with the selection and audition processes allowed us to reach previously unrepresented demographics,” Bailey says.

Owing to time, financial and safety concerns, this fall’s MJF iteration will be a scaled-back affair with 50 percent of the usual ticket sales, and the featured venue will be the Jimmy Lyons Arena, in lieu of all the satellite stages and buildings of years past.

“Everyone’s going to have to recalibrate a little bit,” says Artistic Director Tim Jackson, “but with Herbie [Hancock], Pat [Metheny] and George [Benson], we’ll still have plenty of star power.”

Those jazz legends will be joined by younger rising stars like vocalist Kandace Springs, Afro-Mex L.A. fusionistas Las Cafeteras, Grammy-nominated composer/arranger/big band innovator Miho Hazama and her NYC-based mini-big band m-unit, and the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra directed by Gerald Clayton, along with artist-in-residence, pianist Christian Sands.

“It will be so great to have our community back together again,” Bailey says. “But don’t think for a minute that this scaled-down 2021 version is what we will look like going forward. We’re already deep in the planning process for a much larger 2022.”

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