NPR

Reflecting on 50 Years of Monterey Jazz

The Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates 50 years of great music this weekend. Musician David Was reflects on the festival and reviews a new set of archival Monterey CDs featuring Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

More Photos
Transcript

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick in Kansas City.

Madeleine, we talked a bit yesterday about Kansas City as a jazz town, and I had no idea how crazy things really used to be here in the '20s and '30s. Listen to this - the craziest thing I've heard about. Every Monday, musicians would start jamming at four o'clock in the morning and they didn't finish until the next day - 20 straight hours of music. They called it Blue Monday Parties.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Wow. Our blue Tuesday - just...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: ...Or blue all week.

CHADWICK: (Unintelligible) in blue Tuesday all week. So this town is way too fast for me, I know that. But I heard this from a local jazz historian I met up with a couple of days ago at Jardine's Jazz Club. He's Chuck Haddix, and he loves telling stories about this place.

Mr. CHUCK HADDIX (Resident musician, Kansas City, Missouri): And then you had these massive battles of the bands where Duke Ellington would come to town, and he would battle like the Count Basie Orchestra. And they were trying to outplay each other, and the winner would be judged by the caterwauling, stomping and hollering of the audience.

BRAND: Duke Ellington battling Count Basie?

CHADWICK: Not exactly the local sock hop, huh?

BRAND: No. Well, don't worry, Alex, there's still some amazing jazz to experience. This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of America's enduring cultural institutions. It's called the Monterey Jazz Festival. It kicks off tomorrow.

And here is commentator David Was.

Unidentified Man #1: Dizzy Gillespie.

(Soundbite of cheering)

DAVID WAS: More than just a wine-soaked party by the sea, this swinging 4H Club meeting every September at the county fair grounds has been a forum for vanguard performers much appreciated by bay area hipsters and true jazz fans everywhere.

Unidentified Man #2: That's close enough for a jazz.

(Soundbite of cheering)

WAS: Some of the magic has been captured by the Concord Music Group, which, in affiliation with Monterey Jazz Festival Records, has just released six CDs of live performances with profits going to jazz education programs worldwide. Tape has been rolling since the festival's inception in 1958 and the vault reportedly had some 2,000 hours of music to choose from. The outdoor jazz festival phenom was initiated in Newport, Rhode Island, four years prior the Monterey affair and represented the music's graduation from smoke-choked dens of inequity to the more wholesome open air of the coastline. Early Monterey festival directors included writer Ralph J. Gleason and John Lewis from The Modern Jazz Quartet, who commissioned large-scale works in the manner of symphony orchestras. Another novel innovation was that the artists were actually remunerated for their work. No more shady club owners claiming they had to pay off the cops or that the musicians had exceeded their bar tab.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The first crop of recordings from the festival features some of the best small ensembles from the 1960s, including the newly formed Miles Davis Quintet, with then unknown 23-year-old Herbie Hancock on piano. A gentle reading of "Stella by Starlight" shows the trumpeter at its slyly swinging best and the young pianist's command of harmony and dynamics already well formed.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Davis' brother in brass, Dizzy Gillespie's live set from 1965, is marked by his trademark warmth and wit and the Afro-Cuban influences he'd absorbed and introduced to jazz audiences. "A Night in Tunisia" finds Dizzy in pyrotechnic, high note-shrieking form, propelled by Big Black on conga.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: 1964 was a banner year for new jazz and even featured iconoclastic pianist Thelonious Monk's face on the cover of Time Magazine. He appeared at the Monterey festival four months later, and after hanging his overcoat on a live microphone, performed trademark songs like "Straight, No Chaser" at once delighting the hip West Coast crowd and affirming the words he'd spoken to Time Magazine: don't play what the public want, you play what you want and let them pick up on what you're doing, even if it takes them 15 or 20 years.

BRAND: Thelonious Monk recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1964. Our commentator David Was is half of the musical duo Was (Not Was).

CHADWICK: And we're back at Union Station in Kansas City where we've been hearing a lot of Kansas City jazz this week. There's also a serious classical music scene here, so serious in fact, the city is spending $326 million to build a new performing arts center near downtown. The musical director for the Kansas City Symphony is Michael Stern. He's conducted all over the world. He's the son of the legendary violinist Isaac Stern. Since Michael Stern got here two years ago, ticket sales for the symphony have gone up a lot. So I asked him about his musical view from the middle.

Mr. MICHAEL STERN (Music Director, Lead Conductor, Kansas City Symphony): What I discovered was that this place was uniquely positioned - largely because of its geographical location but also because of the really special relationship between the community and the organizations that they wanted to sustain - to do something significant here not only to give concerts, but to really fight for music in different culture as a daily part of our lives.

CHADWICK: There's more of my conversation with Kansas City Symphony musical director Michael Stern at our Web site npr.org and we're going to end today with Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony in the finale of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

(Soundbite of song, "Concerto for Orchestra" by Bela Bartok)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick in Kansas City. We'll be back here tomorrow.

BRAND: And from NPR West, I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular