The mother ship of jazz festivals in America has to be at Monterey, California. The Monterey Jazz Festival is quickly approaching. Before you know it, 500 arena and grounds artists will converge on eight indoor/outdoor stages to perform 110 shows — on the books at least — for three nights and two days, Sept. 16-18.
The 59th Monterey Jazz Festival is the music festival against which all others are compared. This year will not disappoint hardcore and curious fans, either. Take every major, important, and genre-shaking artist, and chances are, they’ll be there live.
A jazz festival this vast deserves more than one artist in residence. Monterey Jazz Festival features three: 2016 artist-in-residence, Grammy-award-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington; commission artist, the legendary, highly influential, 10-time Grammy-winning saxophonist Wayne Shorter; and showcase artist, saxophonic show-shifter Joshua Redman.
At AXS, we’re here to help you navigate a sea of equally worthy and thrilling artists at this popular and prestigious jazz festival. Here are 10 to see without question:
Cécile McLorin Salvant 7:30 p.m. Arena-Jimmy Lyons Stage, 9:30 p.m. Grounds-Dizzy’s Den Sept. 16: Ever since she won the 2010 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, this Grammy-nominated/Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter has fascinated the in crowd in all the right circles — and that’s including a hefty portion of the mainstream population. She crosses over into genres previously unconquered in her live performances and two major American recordings, WomanChild (2013) and last year’s Grammy-winning jazz vocal album, For One To Love. Everybody loves her, from the DownBeat Critics to the New York Times writers Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff, who first brought the French-Dominican-Republican vocalist to America’s attention in 2012. You will too when you see what she can do to an easy-listening, Burt Bacharach tune, before switching off the lights, and turning the tables on a “Cinderella” classic (“Stepsisters Lament”), to scorching off any and all preconceptions about the big, black, steel-driving folk hero named “John Henry.”
Still Dreaming: Joshua Redman with Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 Grounds-Dizzy’s Den: Think of the four biggest badasses in jazz, and you’d be hard-pressed not to come up with these guys. Go-to sidemen for very special occasions, profound composers and bandleaders in their own right, these four on a gig can only spell trouble in the best way. Expect the groove to go somewhere fast, and the rhythmic experiences to blow your mind. The pedigree among saxophonist Redman, another Thelonious Monk winner (1991), trumpeter Miles, bassist Colley, and drummer Blade is a history book on iconic jazz; they’re on the short list of projects with all the quote-unquote legends in the business, names like Herbie Hancock, Antonio Sanchez, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Dave Brubeck, Roy Hargrove, B.B. King… you get the drift. They’ve carved out their own page in the books with recordings that push boundaries and reinvent sounds traditionally held in check as straight-ahead jazz. With Redman as the showcase artist, you won't go wrong. Check out his other shows, especially with his Bad Plus band (7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 Jimmy Lyons Stage), as well.
Sullivan Fortner Trio 7:30 p.m./9 p.m./10:30 p.m. Sept. 16 Grounds-Coffee House Gallery: The 2016 winner of the Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz knows how to turn out, following no one’s script in a kind of angular, free-form jazz that still holds a soul-churning beat. The New Orleans pianist and composer lays everything on the table in his Oct. 2, 2015 breakthrough album, Aria on impulse! Records. Half original, half cover, Aria gives Fortner and his longtime trio the gift of expansive and intensive off-color plays in and around sweeping melodic and harmonic gestures.
Richard Bona Mandekan Cubano 8:50 p.m. Sept. 16 Arena-Jimmy Lyons Stage: In this life, there exists only a few artists who make you bow your head, breathe deep, and worship the ground they walk on. You’ll move heaven and earth to see them perform. In the world of Afro-Cuban jazz, one of those artists is Cameroonian bassist, singer, songwriter Richard Bona, “The African Sting.” He’s currently on a U.S. tour this month promoting his Sept. 16 Heritage release with the Afro-Cuban band, Mandekan Cubano. His eighth album is a deep exploration of Cuban music’s origins prior to and during the 15th century Mandekan Empire — way before slavery and colonization split up Sundiata’s unified kingdom. This is his first recording with the Cuban band, featuring the coalescence of Cuba with his West African roots.
Alfredo Rodríguez Quartet 8 p.m. Sept. 16 Grounds-Garden Stage: Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez is another artist legendary producer Quincy Jones has mentored and introduced to the rest of the world. Rodríguez credits Jones for helping him to escape Cuba to find a new way in America. Humble yet deeply innovative, Rodríguez plays the piano by capturing what might be the spiritual bones of the piece, piece by piece through cavernous ground. He, too, searches to bring about a new look to his roots through imaginative, often melancholy, music, most notably on his new Mack Avenue record, Tocororo, inspired by the national bird of Cuba that dies when caged, unable to fly around freely. Freedom is a constant theme Rodríguez returns to again and again, even on his breakthrough American debut, Sounds Of Space, in 2012.
Somi 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 Grounds-Dizzy’s Den: In a heavily male-dominated field, very few female artists can stand out the way Somi does. A breathtakingly lyrical singer and songwriter, she took her grief from losing her father all the way to her parents’ Africa, specifically Lagos, Nigeria, and took counsel among its extraordinary everyday people. She didn’t intend on making a record of her experiences there. But art will have its way. Her 2014 OKeh Records release, The Lagos Music Salon, naturally came about, featuring a star-studded cast of characters — performing and appearing in her all-original material. If you never make it over to Africa, this is the next, best way of being there. Somi’s ground-breaking use of Spoken Word, poetry, narrative, soulful beats, and jazz — placed at the right time with samples from her travels — makes the virtual flights even more impactful.
Christian McBride Trio 9:30 p.m. Sept. 17 Grounds-Dizzy’s Den: Much has been made of Christian McBride’s Grammy-winning virtuoso, five times over. Juilliard-trained, McBride can and does play anything with anybody. He plays things normal bassists can’t touch, that aren’t even physically possible. Ask the musicians in the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra what McBride can do. They worked with him on the late George Duke’s “Dark Wood: Bass Concerto For McBride,” a part of the greater Looking Forward, Looking Back, Sept. 18, 2015 recording project with guitarist Lee Ritenour and pianist Bill Cunliffe. But McBride can also let loose and simply play, as in have fun, as he’s fond of doing with his Grammy-nominated trio, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. A popular NPR Music radio host for the weekly “Jazz Night In America” program, McBride also has a way with words. He’s one of the few jazz musicians out there who is as charismatic an entertainer as he is a player. His live shows are worth the price of admission alone just to watch him banter with the audience and his band mates. They love to have fun with jazz, superimposing the finer points onto crowd favorites, like that baseball game staple, the Rose Royce bass-happy theme to the 1976 movie, “Car Wash.”
Kamasi Washington 2 p.m. Sept. 18 Arena-Jimmy Lyons Stage: The Epic’s muscular saxophonist and composer is singlehandedly responsible for a resurgence in the jazz/hip-hop dynamic. Hip-hop artists have always sampled from the jazz vernacular, but it’s only recently that doing so has become infinitely cool thanks to this L.A. hotshot. Equally comfortable laying down jams with McCoy Tyner, the late George Duke, Freddie Hubbard, and Stanley Clarke, as he is with Chaka Khan, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, and most recently Kendrick Lamar on his Grammy-winning, 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly, Washington’s the current darling of the music industry, criss-crossing the country on major festivals, including Seattle’s Labor Day opening Bumbershoot. He and his band even sat in on the jazz Beaver Sessions afterward that Sunday at the Angry Beaver in Seattle’s eclectic Greenwood neighborhood.
Donny McCaslin Quartet 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 Grounds-Dizzy’s Den: Go see Donny McCaslin for what he can blow on his saxophone, often a daring combination of jazz and EDM — in huge, lurching gulps, as if dying of thirst in a spatial wasteland. Or, see the in-demand sideman who found renewed inspiration from the late David Bowie on his last recording session, and is coming out with his own Bowie-inspired recording, Beyond Now. Any jazz saxophonist can ride the scales, pulling one over on the audience. McCaslin creates momentous figures and leaves telling remarks in his futuristic, modern-Charlie Parker core-plays.
Dave Stryker Quartet featuring Eric Alexander and Jared Gold 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 Grounds-Night Club: Not a lot of people know who this guitarist even is, but they should. It’s not so much who he’s played with — although that’s plenty impressive enough (Stanley Turrentine, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Eliane Elias) — as what he plays on his recordings and in a live situation. Striking and real, the smoky blues guitarist is especially memorable when paired up with saxophonist Steve Slagle as on their most recent album, Routes, as well as other critical favorites, Keeper, The Scene, Live At The Jazz Standard, and Latest Outlook. Downbeat, JazzTimes and Jazz Improv have routinely singled out the winning Stryker/Slagle combo for raising the game and pleasing the mainstream crowd.
All Arena artists perform on the Jimmy Lyons Stage and Grounds artists have three outdoor and four indoor venues to choose from sprawled out on the 20-acre Monterey County Fairgrounds.