Legends Help Monterey Jazz Fest Turn 50 Jazz writer Ashley Kahn offers his observations of the three days of nonstop music that marked the 50th annual Monterey Jazz Festival in California. The giants of jazz came to play at Monterey, which featured performances by Gerald Wilson and Sonny Rollins, among others.

Legends Help Monterey Jazz Fest Turn 50

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Unidentified Man #1 (Singer): (Singing) One, two, three, four….


The 50th Monterey Jazz Festival wrapped up last night and organizers this year brought back some of the legends who performed at the first festival on the California coast.

Music journalist Ashley Kahn was there through last night's final set and he joins us. Good morning.

Mr. ASHLEY KAHN (Author "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records"): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So tell us about it.

Mr. KAHN: Well, it was three days of nonstop music, and unseasonably, it rained - but in no way did it get in the way of the music. I should mention that what we're hearing right now was one of the highlights of the weekend, which was Gerald Wilson.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KAHN: So, you know, the tough part of this was actually deciding what to miss, because there were so much overlapping music like Sonny Rollins here, Dave Brubeck there, Ornette Coleman played, Diana Krall…

MONTAGNE: Which suggests what's happened in this long history of this festival - that is some really, really fine musicians have showed up at each festival. And is that why it's managed to keep going so long?

Mr. KAHN: Well, I think there are several reasons. It's intimate. I mean, the crowds are smaller here than at most festivals so there's a real connection between the artists and the audience. And there's always been this idea of bringing new music out. Gerald Wilson debuted a specifically for the 50th called "Monterey Moods."

Mr. GERALD WILSON (Jazz Artist): This is a number called "Allegro."

(Soundbite of song "Allegro")

Mr. KAHN: And many of these historic performances over the years have been recorded and then later released on CD form. In fact, there's five CDs that just came out that have never been heard before of great performances given by Miles Davis; Thelonious Monk; Sarah Vaughan - so it's really part of the legacy of the whole jazz tradition at this point.

MONTAGNE: Though, what many people think of Monterey and music, the famous Monterey Pop Festival, which began in 1967 comes to mind. It had a big anniversary itself this year. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, those are the sort of names that are connected with Monterey. But was there an actual connection between the two festivals?

Mr. KAHN: Actually, there was. One of the people who helped found the Monterey Jazz Festival back in '58 was Ralph Gleason, founder of Rolling Stone magazine. Gleason always wanted a broader type of feel for what would be happening in Monterey. You know, they decided to have a separate rock festival that year in '67 - only happened once. This year, when the rock band Los Lobos played as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival, they were very focused on mentioning that they were very proud to be on the same stage that Jimi Hendrix had played on 40 years ago. And the idea of broadening the range of what is considered jazz has become part of Monterey in the sense that their blues and R&B and solo acts that played there such as Otis Taylor played there this year.

(Soundbite of music by Otis Taylor)

MONTAGNE: Ashley, probably one of the most anticipated performances of this past weekend was Sonny Rollins.

Mr. KAHN: Absolutely. I mean, he was set up for being the closing set of the closing night of the festival and he really came through with his, you know, much more contemporary sound - it's a very electric-type of jazz that he's playing these days. Here's what he sounded like last night.

(Soundbite of music Sonny Rollins)

Mr. KAHN: Now, Sonny has a very direct connection to Monterey. He was one of the original performers there in their 1958 year. And he told me last night why he thinks this festival is so unique.

Mr. SONNY ROLLINS (Jazz Artist): The natural environment is what gives Monterey something special. You know, look at this beautiful picture, I mean, when I look at it and see the ocean, it's such a beautiful scene around here that plays maybe a roll that could be overlooked.

Mr. KAHN: Do you have anything special planned for tonight?

Mr. ROLLINS: Well, every time I play, actually, I'm hopefully surprised by what comes out.

(Soundbite of music by Sonny Rollins)

Mr. KAHN: And by the way, Sonny Rollins turned 77 this month and he sounds and looks great.

MONTAGNE: And Ashley, in a way listening to Sonny Rollins, it's indicative of something and that's Monterey is still a place where the giants of jazz will come to play.

Mr. KAHN: That's true. I mean, another great example was Ornette Coleman, who gave a great performance in the middle of what is a great year for him. He's won a lifetime Grammy this year, Pulitzer Prize, and we're going to hear from him right now from his set yesterday afternoon.

(Soundbite of music by Ornette Coleman)

MONTAGNE: Ornette Coleman at the Monterey Jazz Festival. And Ashley, thanks very much.

Mr. KAHN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Ashley Kahn was at the 50th Monterey Jazz Festival over the weekend: The big 50s. He is the author of "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ORNETTE Coleman (Jazz Artist): (Singing) Monterey, Monterey…

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: To hear more music from the 50th Monterey Jazz Festival, including full concerts by Dave Brubeck, Gerald Wilson and other artists, visit npr.org/music.

This is NPR's MORNING EDITION. I'm Renee Montagne.

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