Three Generations of Pianists, a celebration of piano jazz, spotlighting a family of greats from Jason Moran through Dave Brubeck, highlighted the 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival at Monterey County Fairgrounds in Northern California. And surprisingly, celebrated folk legend Pete Seeger got the loudest cheers for his eyebrow-raising appearance.
As always, Monterey was a movable feast with music taking place in four venues simultaneously. Practically every musician featured on the large outdoor Jimmy Lyons Stage could be seen in other spots on the grounds. Couple this with the fact that many outstanding players are signed to perform only at the smaller indoor spotsâ€”Dizzy's Den, Bill Berry Stage and the Coffee House Gallery, as well as the outside Garden Stage, and it becomes a scramble to see even those who are your favorites.
The Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars capped off Friday on Lyons stage with a rousing set of mainstream jazz at its best. As happened last year, a group of greats had been assembled to perform at the festival on tour. Fronted by vocalist Kurt Elling, this year's quintet featured Kenny Barron, piano, Regina Carter, violin, Russell Malone, guitar, Kiyoshi Kitagawa, bass, and Jonathan Blake, drums.
Those in the know caught the All-Stars' full set Saturday night indoors at Dizzy's Den. (It's always better to hear a small group in a club.) Things started deliciously with Elling and Carter trading licks on the venerable chestnut "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." Another gem was a Barron-Carter duo on Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," with the two poetically interweaving the melody. Guitarist Malone, his steady backing always apparent, was particularly impressive with his driving solo on his original "What If."
Kurt Elling's limber tenor, takes Sinatra phrasing, pushing it further into the jazz sphere. His sly surrealistic bent also came out in his spewing of Daliesque visions. This was aural modern art some appreciated, but it did have the band shaking heads in bemusement. Further, Elling introduced what he said was a politically incorrect version of "Soul Food." It was funky, indeed soulful, and it rocked. The group finished in a party mood with a calypso tune. It brought hand-clapping and dancing from the crowd.