Thursday, April 3, 2008
Don’t let the name fool you. While the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Festival showcases talented high school and college musicians, the event also offers plenty of opportunities to catch some of the reigning generation in action, from the festival’s 2008 artist in residence, bass master Christian McBride, to the all-star panel of festival judges, which includes keyboard star George Duke, powerhouse drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and tenor sax great Billy Harper (see sidebar, pg. 22).
But all this talk of generations obscures one of the beautiful things about jazz, an art form in which it’s not unusual for a band to feature musicians born decades apart. Part of the festival’s mission is help extend bridges between well-traveled veterans and the aspiring young players looking to follow in their footsteps.
The event takes over much of Monterey this weekend with performances at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Conference Center, the host Portola Plaza Hotel, the Golden State Theatre, and Monterey Live.
Much of the action centers on the festival’s 38th Annual National High School Jazz Competition, where big bands, vocal ensembles and individual soloists compete for a chance to perform at the 51st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in September. All of the Next Generation competition events are free and open to the public.
While the majority of the students hail from Western states, the festival boasts an increasingly international profile, much like jazz itself. Among countries represented for the first time are Japan, Australia, Bermuda, and the Czech Republic.
“We do auditions for our event from out of the country, and several groups wanted to come even though they weren’t accepted as finalists,” says Dr. Rob Klevan, the MJF education director. “Some were so close that we invited them, like the 35-piece band from Tomisato, the Mad Hatters, who won the national jazz high school band competition in Japan. When we go to Japan with our Monterey High School All-stars, they’re one of the programs that hosts us, so we’re returning the favor and putting their kids up in our homes.”
The festival officially kicks off on Friday night at the Golden State Theatre with free performances by the MJF County All-Star High School Band, the MJF Middle School Honor Band, and the MJF Honor Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and by the impressive crew of judges. The action continues across the Berklee College Latin Jazz All-Stars, an ensemble representing the cream of Berklee College of Music, which selects Jimmy Lyons Scholarship recipients during auditions at the festival.
The High School Jazz Competition starts at 9am on Saturday in the Conference Center, and the winners of the vocal and combo divisions and the finalists for the big band division will be announced early Saturday evening. At 8pm the three Big Band finalists compete for the top prize, a spot on the Arena/Lyons Stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Sunday’s competitions feature the country’s top middle school, college, and regional high school big bands performing in the Conference Center’s Steinbeck Forum. In addition to the competitions, the festival offers an array of educational clinics with top professionals such as vocalist Rosana Eckert, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and Christian McBride.
McBride will be everywhere throughout the festival, even making an appearance before it officially starts. He kicks off the festivities in style Thursday at the Golden State Theatre with the Christian McBride Situation. At 35, the bassist is one of the most widely recorded and respected musicians of his generation. A supremely flexible player, he can be found performing bass duets with classical/bluegrass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, backing Queen Latifa, recording with Bruce Hornsby and accompanying jazz legends such as McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson and Benny Golson. That’s when he’s not leading the Christian McBride Band, his incendiary quartet featuring the brilliant pianist/keyboardist Geoff Keezer, drummer Terreon Gully and saxophonist Ron Blake.
But since Blake took a gig in the Saturday Night Live Band, Gully relocated to Atlanta and Keezer settled in San Diego, getting the group together has become a logistical nightmare. Instead of passing up work when people come calling for the quartet, McBride has started performing with temporary units he calls the Situation, which allows him to join forces with musicians he rarely gets to play with.
“If somebody wants the Christian McBride Band, I can’t do it without Geoffrey, Ron and Terreon,” McBride says. “If one of those guys can’t make it, I’ve decided I’ll perform as the Christian McBride Situation, so I can keep those gigs, and I can work with some musicians I enjoy listening to and maybe haven’t had the opportunity to play with yet.”
That’s how he’s rolling tonight, with a particularly intriguing cast of players, starting with tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis and DJ Sundance, who joined him for a four-night run at Yoshi’s last year. Ellis competed in the high school competition years ago with the acclaimed Berkeley High Jazz Band, then went on to make a name for himself with eight-string guitar wizard Charlie Hunter. While McBride played on the saxophonist’s acclaimed debut album State of Mind (Milestone), they first shared a bandstand at Yoshi’s, and Ellis thrived in the impromptu, groove oriented pieces.
“When I was coming up as a young player, I heard about Dave through Josh Redman, and he was one of the cats I looked up to,” McBride says. “I figured the Situation gig was a good chance to work together. The thing about Dave is his amazing musicianship. He’s a guy who takes his time to evaluate what’s going on and adjusts.”
The real wild card is Sundance, a rare DJ who is capable of collaborating with improvisers like trumpeter Dave Douglas and bassist/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello in a live setting. He’s also worked with hip-hop stars Talib Kweli and Mos Def. His interest in jazz can be traced back to his father, the great alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, while his brother is the widely respected drummer Gene Lake.
“There’s some strong blood in that family,” McBride says. “It’s great to see how guys like him and DJ Logic were able to make the turntable a work of art, make it an instrument. He’s perfect for the Situation, because the bulk of the music is 100 percent improv. We never call any songs, we just pick a key and go.”