Thursday, September 20, 2012
The Monterey Jazz Festival is adding the 55th notch to its anniversary belt, making it the longest consecutively running jazz festival on the planet. And just as time flies, the Monterey Jazz Festival’s professional touring band is flying along with it.
Known as the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, the group brings a taste of the world-class festival across the country. The North American leg of the tour kicks off in January at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz and finishes April 28 in Anchorage, Alaska.
But on Saturday (at 11pm, Dizzy’s Den) and Sunday (9pm, Jimmy Lyons Arena), festival attendees will be treated to the debut of the 55th incarnation of MJF on Tour. The sextet – featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Chris Potter, Benny Green, Lewis Nash and this year’s MJF artist-in-residence, Ambrose Akinmusire – is MJF’s equivalent to an all-star professional sports team.
Dee Dee Bridgewater is many things: a three-time Grammy Award winner, Tony Award-winning actress, Memphis native, France transplant, MJF veteran (she’s been a frequent performer at the fest since 1973) and even the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Goodwill Ambassador. But “jazz singer” is the label she’ll most likely be remembered for. One reason: Bridgewater’s 2009 Eleanora Fagan (1915 – 1959): To Billie with Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater, has been deemed one of the finest Billie Holiday homages ever released.
Philadelphia bassist Christian McBride may have the smallest ego of any jazz musician who ever lived. He’s appeared on nearly 300 recordings as a sideman, in contrast to only 10 as a bandleader. The New York Times was flabbergasted by McBride’s level of humility: “For some reason this is the first time Mr. McBride has led his own ensemble at the [Village Vanguard] in more than a decade.”
The first time sax prodigy Chris Potter performed New York City’s legendary Village Vanguard in the early ’90s, there were men sitting in the front row that made the 20-year-old more nervous than he already was: Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody. Shortly after the show got underway, Playboy’s 2008 Jazz Artist of the Year fell into a groove and became just as relaxed as he is when he’s playing in his living room. Soon after that evening Moody tapped Potter to perform on one of his albums.
You have to be beyond talented to score a gig as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Pianist Benny Green met the requirements when he was just 24. And you have to be better than a prodigy to be chosen by Oscar Peterson as the first recipient of Toronto’s Glen Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. Green made the cut for that too.
Lewis Nash is a percussion chameleon. From Willie Nelson and Linda Ronstadt to George Michael and Ron Carter, he’s tried his hand at just about every musical genre. Nash is also prolific: He’s played on more than 400 albums over the years, which was more than enough to convince Modern Drummer magazine to name him Jazz’s Most Valuable Player in 2009.
MJF Artist-in-Residence, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, rounds out the conglomeration of jazz geniuses. As one of the Los Angeles Times’ 2011 “Faces to Watch,” Akinmusire was described as “remarkably fluid” and “patiently imaginative.” That same year, on the other coast, the New York Times named his powerful When the Heart Emerges Glistening their top CD of the year. After serving as clinician, performer and competition judge during the Next Generation Jazz Festival last March, and as a mentor at the Festival’s Summer Jazz Camp in June, Akinmusire will complete his yearlong residence on Sunday with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra (1:10pm, Jimmy Lyons Arena). You can also catch him on Friday at 10:30pm performing with his quintet in Dizzy’s Den.