Birdwell Blog

For the Love of the Monterey Jazz Festival
In California #011

In normal times, September would be the month of the Monterey Jazz Festival. But like so many of the events we look forward to in summer, it has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. By no means can we make up for all the excellent music that would have wafted around the mossy, oak-covered Monterey County Fairgrounds. But we can remember.

The Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world. Founded in 1958 by jazz disc jockey Jimmy Lyons, it has presented nearly every major jazz artist—from Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis to contemporary artists Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Common, Regina Carter, and many others.

Monterey has famously featured artists committed to confronting injustice on and off the stage. At the inaugural festival in 1958, jazz patriarch Louis Armstrong spoke out forcefully in support of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who were prevented from entering a racially segregated Arkansas school in 1957 before the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1964, trumpet legend Miles Davis played his second concert ever with his epochal quintet featuring Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock. Miles referred to it as “time, no changes,” incorporating elements of free jazz without totally surrendering to the approach.

Throughout the ‘70s, a regular roster of jazz giants headlined at the festival, including Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and Helen Humes.

In 1982, the Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its silver anniversary with a kick-ass lineup that included Carmen McRaeDave Brubeck Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, Ernestine AndersonTito Puente Latin Jazz Big Band, Poncho Sanchez & His Jazz Band, Gerald Wilson & the Orchestra, Mel Lewis Orchestra, Joe WilliamsWoody Herman & Ira Sullivan Quintet, and Etta James Band. But the golden anniversary, in 2007, was maybe even more kick-ass, with headliners like Diana Krall, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Los Lobos, and Issac Delgado. Clint Eastwood, a jazz lover who sits on the Monterey festival board, delighted the crowd when he appeared onstage in cap and gown to receive an honorary doctorate from Boston's Berklee College of Music.


As Jazz Times puts it, “When everything’s clicking at the Monterey Jazz Festival the weekend feels like far more than a densely packed series of performances. By both serendipity and design, Monterey creates a free-flowing dialogue between musicians and eras, so that a tune played in one venue can reverberate across the fairgrounds.”


But wait, hang on. Here’s some great news. When I started writing this piece word was there’d be no 2020 festival at all. But on a random peruse of I found this—


Virtual Monterey Jazz Festival

September 25-27


Our incredible lineup features exclusive new and previously unreleased archival performances from the Monterey Jazz Festival! Unique and memorable jazz moments will be across the three days, September 25-27, 2020. The Virtual Festival will be streamed online each day from 5 to 7 p.m. Pacific time on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s YouTube channel.


So, check it out. And for more info go here:

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