Thursday, April 2, 2009
At a time when belt tightening is the order of the day, the Monterey Jazz Festival’s student showcase Next Generation Festival is moving in the opposite direction, offering more of everything. There are more opportunities to hear the prodigious young players and vocalists flocking to town this weekend from across the country. And there’s more music from the all-star panel of musicians serving as judges in the various student competitions.
That’s not to say that the NGF isn’t feeling the effects of the economic crisis.
“A group from Philadelphia backed out because they couldn’t raise the money,” says Rob Klevan, MJF’s director of jazz education. “A student from Nebraska said he couldn’t ask his parents to come up with the $800 to make the trip. The economy is affecting us, but we had the same number of groups auditioning this year as last year, mostly from the West Coast.”
Come bailouts or bankruptcies, the 5th Annual Next Generation Festival takes over downtown Monterey on Saturday with more than 800 students in some 60 groups. The festivities open Friday at the Monterey Conference Center with a free performance by the festival judges and an illustrious cast that includes piano great George Duke, bass master Ray Drummond, saxophone powerhouse Billy Harper, trombonist Ron Westray, versatile drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, reed player Paul Contos and vocalists Matt Falker, Jennifer Barnes and Michele Weir.
Adding to Friday’s instrumental firepower are the Monterey Jazz Festival Artists-In-Residence – saxophonist Sherman Irby and trumpeter Sean Jones – who are out west as an advance guard for Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (Marsalis is headlining the 52nd MJF in September.)
“We have a different format this year – we’re not having the Monterey County High School All-Star Band play at the kick-off concert on Friday,” Klevan says. “We want to hear the judges a little more, and get the honor group involved with the NGF the next day when all the student groups are playing.”
For students, the action starts bright and early on Saturday with the NGF Jazz Competition at Monterey’s Conference Center, where the big bands, combos, vocal ensembles and individual musicians vie for a coveted spot at the 52nd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in September. It’s a glimpse into the music’s future – a high energy, often dramatic spectacle that can even leave the judges shaking their heads in wonder.
Terri Lyne Carrington, an esteemed drummer whose credits range across the jazz, pop and R&B firmament, first served as a Next Generation judge last year. As a faculty member at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, she’s also scouting for students for Berklee’s summer scholarship program. She says she’s really listening for musicians striving to develop an individual sound.
“I don’t philosophically agree with judging, but it’s part of a process and I don’t have a better way to do it,” says Carrington, who’s releasing a new album in May, More To Say… , featuring George Duke. “For me, a voice on the instrument, phrasing and time feel are way more important than technical proficiency.”
The NGF offers myriad opportunities for students to develop their art with clinics, workshops, jam sessions, auditions and performances at the Portola Plaza Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and Monterey Live.
“The Cannery Row Company offered to support a stage from 10am to 5pm, which is new this year and should be just great,” Klevan says. “The more these groups play, the better. We invited the Monterey Blues Festival Student Honor Band to kick things off.”
Saturday concludes on the Conference Center’s Serra Ballroom stage when the winning high school vocal ensemble, combo, and big band offer a preview of MJF/52 (a change from the big band “play-off” in previous years). On Sunday, the action gets younger and older, as middle school and college big bands, and college vocal ensembles perform in the Serra Ballroom and Steinbeck Forum. The stakes are still high, as they’re also competing for spots at MJF/52.
Simply participating in the NGF is a triumph for young musicians, but many aim higher, auditioning for the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship to Berklee, and for spots in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, the festival’s national all-star high school band. It’s an exhausting weekend for the judges, players who already have crowded calendars. So why do they do it?
“I’m amazed to find the level of the talent,” says Duke, who just returned from a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of India with Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chaka Khan. “Jazz is really in good hands. I did worry about it for a while. It’s up to us to tutor when we can, but I wish I was playing like that at this age.”
MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL’S NEXT GENERATION FESTIVAL takes place April 3-5 at various venues in Monterey. For a complete schedule of activities and competition times, visit www.montereyjazzfestival.org