Jazz, Alive and Well and Playing in Monterey

At the 48th annual Monterey Jazz Festival last weekend, more than 500 artists performed on seven different stages to a huge crowd of fans. Musician and NPR contributor David Was sampled the offerings and returns confident that, contrary to some nay-sayers, jazz lives.

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DAVID WAS reporting:

The Monterey Jazz Festival just wrapped up its 47th year of swinging by the sea, weathering the ebb and flow of interest in this indigenous American music and somehow continuing to prosper.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Musician and DAY TO DAY contributing writer David Was.

WAS: Bay-area beatniks and Central Coast hipsters came in veritable droves this year to absorb an array of soul shouters and honking horn players, all under a welcoming September sky at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which is usually more 4-H than 4/4.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The venerable figures that graced the stage for the first festival in 1957 included Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday. This fall, it was left to elder statesmen like Sonny Rollins and Tony Bennett to carry the torch for tradition.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TONY BENNETT: (Singing) I remember you.

WAS: Festival attendees can traipse through the 40-acre site and hear music in every corner, from a Starbucks-sponsored indoor lounge to the main arena stage where the headliners perform. The siren smells of kettle corn and barbecue waft throughout and compete for business with vendors of African masks and Miles Davis T-shirts.

(Soundbite of music; cheering and applause)

WAS: And, of course, there's plenty of free-flowing booze as befits a proper bacchanal. Let's face it: The Monterey Jazz Festival is as much about music as Mardi Gras is about religious observance. This, my friends, is an outdoor picnic with a 3-D stereo system. As bass player Christian McBride said, prefacing his set, `This is like we're playing in your basement. Sit down, chill or dance. Do your thing, because we're gonna do ours.'

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: McBride was one of the genre-stretching artists at the festival and was joined on stage by the scratch and split beat-making of DJ Logic, who laid down some tasty '70s funk rhythms for sax man Ran Blake to solo over.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Artist in residence Branford Marsalis electrified the arena stage audience with his propulsive sense of swing and harmonic daring. His music alone disproved the casual dictum that jazz is dead.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: For my money, 75-year-old tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was the hero of the proceedings, pushing his band of younger cats like an alpha lion and looking glorious in his white beard and red pants.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: And Clint Eastwood's bass-playing son Kyle led a combo with hard-swinging assurance.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Clint himself hung around briefly on Saturday night, donning the squaresville traditional red blazer that board members are forced to wear, looking more like a Shriner than a Hollywood sophisticate. As he left, a wag cried out, `Hey, Clint, they kicking you out?' Dirty Harry flashed that menacing half-grin and replied, `They're kickin' me out with a fine-tooth comb.' I'm still trying to figure that one out. In the meantime, Clint, just play "Misty" for me.

CHADWICK: Writer David Was is half of the musical duo Was (Not Was).

(Soundbite of "Misty")

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us. DAY TO DAY continues in just a moment.

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