MachineGunFunksNotes on… The Monterey Jazz Festival Remasters

The Monterey Jazz Festival is widely revered as one of the most important ongoing events in jazz history, as it has been running annually since 1958, at the Monterey Fairgrounds in Monterey, Calif. If one were to view the list of performers, it reads like a veritable “who’s who” of the genre. Anyone who’s been anyone in jazz (no, seriously… they’ve even blacklisted Kenny G. to keep everything kosher) has played at the event at some point in time, with some artists making repeat appearances year after year.

While the majority of the original jazz masters have since passed on, the organizers of the event have released a series of live performances that haven’t been heard publicly since they were recorded. From Louis Armstrong’s hefty set at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival; to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, who each headlined a different festival in the mid-’60s; to Sarah Vaughan’s performance in 1971, Monterey Jazz Festival Records (a subsidiary of jazz powerhouse Concord Records) has captured some of the greatest moments in the event’s history. The remasters include relatively meaty liner notes and an image of the respective year’s promotional poster, with a majority of the designs echoing the work of Saul Bass around the same time. A percentage of profits from these releases will go towards the organization’s ongoing jazz education programs for inner-city youth so that they don’t grow up thinking that Sean Kingston and Lil Wayne are the only musicians that matter. It’s sad, really… even worse than being illiterate.

Recorded at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival, it’s hard to believe that this album was recorded almost 50 years, as the remastering is so damn good that you could close your eyes and feel as if Satchmo is there right in front of you. With an introduction by Dizzy Gillespie, the 17-song set includes fantastic takes on standards like “Mack the Knife”, “Autumn Leaves”, “Blueberry Hill” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”, as well as big band chestnuts like “(Back Home Again In) Indiana”, “Tiger Rag” and “Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”. Tracks like “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Undecided” show how Armstrong was one of the forefathers of improvisation, something that would become one of the hallmarks jazz music. Trombone player Trummy Young sings vocals on three tracks (including the aforementioned “Bucket’s Got…”), while Velma Middleton lends her bluesy crooning to the excellent “St. Louis Blues”, as well as the aforementioned “When the Saints…”. As a whole, this album flows wonderfully and should be enjoyable to anyone with an appreciation for music. I would have liked to hear “Jeepers Creepers”, but its absence did nothing to take away from the set.

And it’s with Miles Davis’ Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival performance and the proceeding two albums (Monk’s Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival and Dizzy Gillespie’s Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival) that we see the impact that Louis Armstrong had on jazz, as the Miles Davis Quintet (including a 23-year-old Herbie Hancock on piano) improvises their way through extended renditions of “Autumn Leaves”, “So What”, “Stella By Starlight” and “Walkin'”, with most of the tracks floating around the 12-minute mark. The key element, though, that confirms Davis as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, during this robust set, is that he took Armstrong’s Southern-, blues- and ragtime-influenced jazz and added that thing called “cool”. The shit’s so damn smooth that it makes a baby’s behind feel like Robin Williams’ back. That was a terrible analogy, but you get the point.

The next year would be headlined by pianist Thelonious Monk, who, much like Davis, championed the art of improvisation, as most of the tracks (including Monk standard “Blue Monk”) clock in at around ten minutes, with the upbeat “Rhythm-A-Ning” as the shortest one at 8:43. And much like the Armstrong and Davis recordings, the remastering is incredible. “Bright Mississippi” melds bebop with the more ragtime-influenced style used by Armstrong, and the result is just fantastic. One can not only hear every key that Monk plays as absolutely crystal clear, but each strum from Steve Swallow’s stand-up bass, in “Evidence”, really gives the recording a fantastic, gritty feel to it. That grittiness carries on in Dizzy Gillespie’s performance, which includes some shorter tracks, like the pop-laden “Poor Joe” (with Gillespie on vocals) and the sultry “Day After”. But of course, there are still the longer, more improvised ones, like the outstandingly turbulent “Trinidad, Goodbye” and “A Night in Tunisia”, which would later be immortalized by Charlie Parker. You may also remember “Tunisia” from that one episode of The Cosby Show, where Cliff tries to bid on the album but gets beaten by Claire (unbeknownst to either, they’re actually bidding against each other), who’s there to buy it for him. But regarding this bebop stuff, it was to beatniks what eyeliner and shitty over-the-eyes haircuts are to emo kids, except while emo is just a homogenized version a movement that has all but died a thousand deaths, this was bebop jazz in its rawest, most genuine form.

Sarah Vaughan’s set at the 1971 festival came just on the heels of her career rebirth, spearheaded by producer Bob Shad, and she had co-headlined the event with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Oscar Peterson Trio. While the other remasters featured wonderful examples of jazz gone wild, and Armstrong’s set acting as a sign of things to come, Vaughan’s performance stands unparalleled as it shows the beauty of the jazz vocalist. Vaughan’s deep, husky voice (which grew deeper as she got older, being a lifelong smoker) goes from a soft croon in “I Remember You” to the more upbeat “The Lamp Is Low”, showing that she used her voice as more of a musical instrument than a tool used to interpret lyrics. She also engages in the classic scat vocal style in “Scattin’ the Blues”, and takes part in the 15-minute “Monterey Jam” with the Jazz At The Philharmonic All-Stars. For the uninitiated, Vaughan’s voice would be comparable to Anita Baker, though I feel dirty saying that, so let’s say that Baker sounds similar to Vaughan.

Hi, I’m Evil Jeff, and for those of you who were expecting a new edition of The Wednesday Review Roundup this week, it was preempted to next week so that we could run this piece. We’ll be reviewing shitty albums by The Last Goodnight, Starkillers and some song by that guy that wrote the “Umbrella” song. Jesus Christ, Jeff, you’re such a douche. Why don’t you get some real label contacts so we don’t have to review this garbage. That’s it. I’m going to Broken Dial. This one time when Jeff was making chili for the Super Bowl, I snuck in a can of dog food. No one noticed!

Hi, I’m Sean Hannity, and I love jazz. I also love George W. Bush, and I absolutely love America! This one time, I was listening to my latest Toby Keith album, and I got up out of my recliner to turn on On the Record With Greta Van Susteren. I must have accidentally tripped and fell, because the last thing I remember is flying up in the air with my legs straight up and landing hard on my head. When I woke up, I thought to myself that stem-cell research might actually be a good idea. Luckily, I snapped out of it pretty quickly, but had I hit the ground harder, who knows what kind of liberal garbage I may have started to reconsider.

Hi, I’m Jeff’s Grandpa. Coca-Cola doesn’t taste the same as it used to. Does anyone else remember when a bowl of soup was a nickel?

Hei, er mitt navn Franz. Jeg ikke vet hvorfor jeg er plassert i denne artikkelen, men jeg vet at Jeff Fernandez skylder meg 500 Euros. Han kom over til mitt hus i året 2003 og spurte til å bruke mitt telefon. Jeg tillot ham til å bruke mitt telefon, men etter han ble avsluttet bruke telefonen han tilfeldigvis sparket en av mine katter og katten har måttet til å gjennomgå vid psykologisk behandling.


Louis Armstrong – Live at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival Records (8/21/07)
Jazz


Miles Davis Quintet – Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival Records (8/21/07)
Jazz


Thelonious Monk – Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival Records (8/21/07)
Jazz


Dizzy Gillespie – Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival Records (8/21/07)
Jazz


Sarah Vaughan – Live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival Records (8/21/07)
Jazz

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!