courtesy of Jones/ Jazz Festival

Review: The Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates 65 years with a national tour

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Jan. 31, 2023

Held in Monterey, CA, the Monterey Jazz Festival continued on tour, performing their third concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Jan. 20.

“Too Close for Comfort” was the first song played with cheek-to-cheek vocal duo Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling. With Bridgewater’s voice ablaze and Elling’s warm tone, the duo put a match to the highly anticipated night and kept the fire alight as the evening went on.

The first song not only showed each performer’s revered mastery and a reminder of how fortunate it was to sit in the same room of jazz legends but their sweet amity as a group let me feel a chumminess towards the artists.

Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone, was the centerpiece of the night. Having composed the piece herself, “Trane” gave the audience a glimpse of her virtuosity whilst keeping the same reverence towards John and Alice Coltrane. Benjamin’s effortless swirling runs paired with a trenchant ending successfully paid tribute to the simultaneously creating a sensation of her singularity.

The next piece played, “Strange Meadow Lark,” was written by one of the innovators of jazz and jazz pianist legend, Dave Brubeck. Christian Sands, the music director and pianist, met Brubeck at the age of 10 and played the piece with the composer himself.

Replacing the alto sax, Sands took an interpretive approach to the piano with a sense of deliverance from the sax into a whirlwind of designs that both come from Brubeck and Sands.

Yasushi Nakamura, bassist, and Clarence Penn, drums, fused all attention and interest from the audience within their solos. The piece wasn’t too slow where one can stray from the main idea nor too complex to the point of creating confusion but just right, to make you think, to evoke nostalgia or a recollection of old memories.

Three-time Grammy award winning jazz vocalist, Bridgewater, the madame of the evening, took to the stage for “Spain,” written by another jazz legend, Chick Corea. Bridgewater’s flair and finesse overwhelmed the evening and with this piece, it was a reminder, -not that anyone forgot, of her vocal bravura.

Bridgewater ceaselessly has made marks of her brilliance throughout the jazz world and this night was no exception. She made a remark about how “Spain” was the piece that young jazz musicians play to “prove themselves worthy.” After her performance, it was just another reminder of how out of reach it is to even be able to “prove” oneself because of her unreachable wizardry of a voice.

Alongside Bridgewater, Grammy-award winning vocalist, Elling, took the stage with “A Remark You Made.” This piece was dedicated to the jazz greats that influenced and inspired each performer. Melancholy but tuneful, the piece reminds us of loss, a loss that can be haunting and never to be forgotten, and acceptance, a peace that comes after loss with the hope that betterment takes its place.

Courtesy of Jones/Monterey Jazz Festival

Elling’s hefty dulcet voice makes the piece all the more colossal in its intent to not tug but yank at one’s heartstrings.

Jazz has a way of telling multiple stories in one piece, with each performer as a composer and a storyteller. As an audience member one can only imagine what must be going on in their head, especially considering these venerable musicians. It can seem that we’re too far from the capabilities of imagining but to accept their ideas and appreciate from afar.

It can also seem that jazz is now considered to be esoteric. The obscurity of improvisation, the abstract of creative freedom displayed in jazz does not easily feed in the ears of today. Though that may be true, jazz is built on the motivation to push boundaries and feeds off eccentrics. It is centered on the expectation that it itself will change and evolve but still pays homage to tradition and respects its roots.

The Monterey Jazz Festival highlights this motivation through these artists that have made their own boundaries and pushed the circle even further.

Feature image courtesy of Jones/Monterey Jazz Festival

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