“The people came and listened
Some of them came and played” — Eric Burdon and The Animals
The people have come and listened, and continue to come since Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and many others welcomed the first crowds to the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. The cast of musicians that have come and played is a “Who’s Who” of jazz from these legends right up to last year’s featured artists including Winton Marsalis, John Patitucci, George Duke, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and many more. The festival’s official site has a list of the performers appearing in 2010.
Three years ago, at the 50th anniversary of the festival, fans that were present in the intimate setting of “Dizzy’s Den” enjoyed a unique zen-like experience. The Monterey Jazz Quartet, four of the best contemporary performers in the business, were on stage together recording a live album for Monterey Jazz Festival Records. Dave Holland (bassist) commented, “There was really an electric atmosphere from the audience,” and goes on to describe a “kind of circular energy that goes on between the musicians and the audience. It’s a very powerful thing when it really takes off.” It’s a very powerful thing for sure, when the musicians are in sync with their instruments and each other and the music along with a “oneness” with the audience.
This project began in August of 1996 when Jason Olaine (now GM for MJFR) unsuccessfully attempted to get Dave Holland and Cuban-based Gonzalo Rubalcaba (piano) together. It all came together in 2007 as plans were being made for the golden anniversary of the festival. The Monterey Jazz Festival Records label was to be christened at the festival as part of the celebration. Chris Potter (tenor saxophone) and Eric Harland (drums) were added to the mix and each member of the quartet brought two compositions to the project.
“Treachery” (Eric Harland) is the opening track and deserves credit for getting the audience in the mood and involved with the music. Harland says, “We had four really fun days of rehearsals at the hotel before the Festival. And we needed it. Everybody had written challenging music.” Challenging compositions seemed to be just what this quartet was waiting for. Inspired and thoughtful writing accompanied by bountiful opportunities for improvisation allows the individual artists not only to shine, but to show their skills as a team. They also had common traits.
Paul deBarros writes in the liner notes, “All four players share at least three common characteristics…a penchant for rhythmic complexity (and the dexterity to deal with it), the idea of jazz as conversation, soulfulness.” The soulfulness is immediately noticed in the second track, “Minotaur” (Chris Potter) in the emotional tenor sax work featured in this piece.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba brings as one of his two compositions the tune “50” — his tribute to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Festival. “50” lightens the mood and features each artist as they say “Happy birthday, Monterey” individually and collectively — a real crowd pleaser.
After a moody and, again, soulful “Veil of Tears” (Dave Holland), Chris Potter’s “Ask Me Why” wraps up the CD with another great tenor sax feature. deBarros provides the back story to the last track. When the song was introduced, the audience asked back, “Why?” and Potter replied, “Can’t tell you.” His secret? He and his wife had just found out that they were pregnant. His joy shines through especially in this track.
Fortunately the tape was rolling and we can all share that special moment that MJF fans had when the Monterey Quartet gave the festival a fantastic birthday gift. Add this CD to your collection and if you can, visit the festival. There’s still time to make arrangements for 2010. This performance personifies the lyrics of Eric Burdon and the Animals:
“If you wanna find the truth in life
Don’t pass music by.”