A home for jazz in Monterey
Famous festival returns for 45th year
By Matthew Carey
(CNN) -- A lot of mystery surrounds the origins of jazz, from where it was born to where the word itself came from. But one thing is certain: it has found a home in Monterey, California.
September 20-22 marks the 45th year the seaside town has played host to the Monterey Jazz Festival, the oldest continuously operated jazz festival in the United States.
Since it began in 1958, Monterey has welcomed the likes of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
"The history of jazz for the last 45 years has come through the Monterey Jazz Festival stages," says current festival general manager Tim Jackson. "I think there's developed a legacy and an aura around the festival."
Monterey is not only the country's most storied festival, it's also the best, according to author and jazz historian Scott Yanow.
"There are actually larger festivals in Canada and Europe, but as far as the United States is concerned, for three days you could basically live at the Monterey Fairgrounds and all that exists is jazz. All different kinds of jazz -- modern jazz, traditional jazz, everything from swing to avant garde."
This year, the festival welcomes back one of jazz's towering figures: 81-year-old composer and pianist Dave Brubeck.
Brubeck's appearance is significant for a number of reasons. Not only did he perform at the very first festival -- along with fellow legends Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie -- but it was an appearance Brubeck made in Monterey the year before, in 1957, that became the catalyst for the event.
As the story goes, at the behest of festival founder Jimmy Lyons, Brubeck agreed to play some tunes for the Monterey city elders. Those solid citizens weren't sure their town should be associated with jazz -- which, despite its popularity in the late '50s, was still not as accepted as pop or classical.
Whatever Brubeck played, it convinced them to take a chance. Business leaders ponied up $6,700 to get the festival off the ground.
Monterey is as much known for its performances as it is for its performers. Important live recordings have been made at the festival, including one by Billie Holiday.
Monterey is also known for its premieres. Jon Hendricks debuted his classic "Evolution of the Blues" at Monterey in 1960. Brubeck first presented his Louis Armstrong tribute "The Real Ambassadors" there in 1962. That composition will be performed at Monterey again this year, only its second public performance ever.
The Monterey Jazz Festival is a non-profit organization whose proceeds go to jazz education. Each year the festival holds a competition among high school jazz musicians. The best of them form an all-star band which plays the festival on Sunday.
One of the alums of that high school all-star band is none other than acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman. He returns to play the festival this year.
Also on the bill are Roy Hargrove, Etta James, Nancy Wilson, Don Byron and Michael Brecker. Festival board member and jazz lover Clint Eastwood will appear on Sunday to introduce Brubeck, a friend of the actor's.
There are seven venues to choose from, featuring jazz music by performers from around the world. But, points out Tim Jackson, once at Monterey, you're in a world unto itself.
"I do believe that once you walk through those fairground gates that you enter kind of a jazz universe, and I think that feeling of takes over for the whole weekend," he says. "It's a wonderfully euphoric feeling."