Thursday, September 18, 2008
Some younger people think of jazz as an acquired taste that appeals to music snobs their grandparents’ age. They might picture taking in a jazz show as a purely intellectual endeavor devoid of the manic energy of a rock show or the dance-inducing bass of a rap performance. I know because I used to be one of those people, but let’s obliterate that misconception with a quick scene from last year’s festival.
It occurred in a packed Dizzy’s Den, where the New Orleans-based brass band Bonerama performed as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s New Grooves series. During a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” the group’s four trombone players furiously yanked the telescopic slides on their instruments back and forth like a firing line unloading their rifles. The crowd responded with the sort of ecstatic dancing that would not be out of place at the concert of a jam band.
This year’s New Grooves show features Grammy award-winning bassist Christian McBride, along with the New York City quartet Rudder. Meanwhile, Lyon’s Lounge presents performances by British DJ/producer Quantic and the Bay Area hip-hop DJ squad 4onefunk.
At first listen, jazz aficionados might wonder why these artists are playing MJF. The answer can be seen in this year’s MJF Artist-in-Residence, McBride’s tune “Clerow’s Flipped,” which flips between funk blasts and wandering jazz. And his “Technicolor Nightmare” begins with a guitar riff straight out of the hard rock arena before giving way to a jazzier section where he sounds like he’s playing bass with a bow.
The other New Grooves act, Rudder, sounds far removed from the jazz world on the opener of their 2007 self-titled debut. The song “Squarefoot,” is an instrumental New Wave-sounding rock track. “Stablemaster” comes on like a more eclectic take on Medeski Martin & Wood’s funky jazz.
Quantic and the four-man DJ crew 4onefunk have a more tenuous connection, at least on tracks I’ve heard. Quantic’s “Dub del Pacifico” is a mishmash of dub reggae and what sounds like Latin American folk music– complete with an accordion sample. 4onefunk dives deep into hip-hop on their “G Funk on the C,” which has fuzzed-out bass, scratching and samples over a big beat.
MJF Marketing Associate Timothy Orr says these new groups all fit into his definition of the genre: “Jazz is basically about the expression of the individual through soloing, improvising.”
Orr adds that these acts– mixing jazz elements with rock, hip-hop and electronic music components– are just another example of jazz taking on new shapes. He cites jazz fusion with rock in the ’60s and with jam band music throughout the ’80s and ’90s. “Jazz is a very flexible, adaptable music, and New Grooves is a celebration of that,’’ he says.
He explains that the New Grooves program and Lyon’s Lounge acts are another attempt by the renowned festival organizers to insure that an interest in jazz is perpetuated. Orr shares his passion for introducing jazz to younger fans with McBride. The bassist believes that just taking kids to see jazz artists is the best way to make sure jazz has a fan base in the years to come. “The music will speak for itself,” he says. “We don’t need to preach to them.”
Another way the Monterey Jazz Festival instills youthful interest in jazz is with its Next Generation Festival. Five months ago, the best young jazz players descended on Monterey for that program. This weekend, the 10 best acts from the Next Generation Festival will be performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival, including a 20-piece all-star group called the MJF Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. Popular jazz saxophone players Joshua Redman and Dave Koz are both former MJF Next Generation Jazz Orchestra members. “These kids sound like they have been playing for 40 years,” Orr says of the program’s latest batch of players. “It’s crazy.”