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Monterey Jazz Festival features elder statesmen of jazz
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Monterey Jazz Festival features elder statesmen of jazz

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

The 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival
September 18-20
Monterey, California


The Monterey area is such a beautiful and accessible place to be during an Indian summer, and the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival is a perfect reason to visit this gorgeous stretch of thrilling California coastline and enjoy some really great music. The festival has a tremendous and pleasing lineup planned, including the elder statesmen of music, Pete Seeger, and Dave Brubeck.

A who's who of jazz and blues will perform over the three-day weekend this year, including Chick Correa, Kurt Elling, Regina Carter, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Hank Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kenny Barron, Esperanza Spaulding, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Lizz Wright, John Scofield, Russell Malone, George Duke, the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabacken Quartet, the New Orleans All-Stars with Cyril Neville and Henry Butler, Ruthie Foster, Susan Tedeschi, and many more. Visit www.montereyjazzfestival.org for the complete lineup and schedule.

The festival grounds' atmosphere is like that of a small village, and the feeling is very casual, friendly, slow and low-key. All nine stages, both outside and in, are just a short stroll from one another, allowing listeners the option of checking out a number of acts. The weather is pleasant; usually it's sunny and warm during the days and cooler in the evenings. The intimate outdoor dining area has picnic tables surrounded by food booths, which feature an array of international dishes. My favorite is the grilled salmon rubbed with exotic African and Caribbean spices.

Ticket prices for the grounds concerts are a good bargain at $35-$45 per day, or $110 for the weekend (especially when you consider that Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival has charged $50 per day this year). The Arena tickets are considerably higher priced, with packages starting at $225 for the weekend, but feature reserved seats in the Arena and include access to all the venues on the grounds. Some of the headliners, including Pete Seeger and Dave Brubeck, will only be performing on the Arena stage. Other Arena performers may also be heard at grounds venues, and I prefer these far more intimate and immediate stages to the highly coveted, cavernous and expensive arena. Large flatscreen television sets are set up on the grounds so that one can still watch what's going on in the Arena, with wonderful camera close-ups and great sound.

The festival draws about 43,000 jazz fans annually. The crowd spans all ages, with a hefty percentage of those having made the pilgrimage to Monterey every year, some for as many as 30 years or more. There is a good-natured camaraderie and unpretentiousness, and one can easily access and interact with the artists in passing just by walking along the lanes.

There are also arts and crafts for sale, though this seems to be the festival's weak link. While there are some nice things, there are a lot of items - especially imports - for sale that are not really remarkable, and the festival could definitely benefit by having more artists who are selling their own, fine, handmade goods.

Last year, the festival featured the eagerly awaited premiere of vocalist Kurt Elling's tribute to jazz vocalist and John Coltrane collaborator Johnny Hartman, "Dedicated to You," complete with the Ethel String Quartet saxophonist Ernie Watts and Elling's jazz trio. The beautiful CD of Elling's multi-faceted collaboration has just been released. It was recorded live in the stunning Allen Room in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in New York.

The 2008 festival also showcased the young rising star, singer/songwriter Spencer Day, and ebullient young Englishman (and a favorite of Clint Eastwood), singer/songwriter/pianist Jamie Cullum. Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell played a memorable duo with drummer Matt Wilson. Remarkable composer and conductor Maria Schneider led her star-studded and talented big band through an inventive and dynamic festival-commissioned piece. Festival headliners included the incomparable Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Cassandra Wilson, Terrence Blanchard, Joshua Redman, Tom Scott, and Nancy Wilson.

There is so much good music to hear each year, ranging from award-winning high school jazz big bands to some of the greatest icons of the jazz idiom.

Getting to Monterey is fairly inexpensive and easy. I recommend flying into San Jose and then taking public transportation, combining easy light rail and a two-hour bus ride to Monterey. The public ground transportation, one-way, remarkably totaled under $10!

The Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur coastline are two of the most breathtaking and picturesque destinations in the United States. Look for my article upcoming in the SGN about all the wonderful places to visit and things to do around this incredible area.

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