The annual jazz festival included a tribute to musician, producer, conductor, entertainment-company executive and humanitarian Quincy Jones, who grew up in Seattle, as well as the great performances the event is known for.
MONTEREY, Calif. — Quincy Jones, who grew up in Seattle in the 1940s, was honored this past weekend at the 59th edition of the Monterey Jazz Festival with a crisp re-creation of a bundle of tunes he recorded on three A&M Records albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s — “Walking in Space,” “Gula Matari” and “Smackwater Jack.”
A brass-fortified big band hand-picked by festival artistic director Tim Jackson and the project’s musical director, Christian McBride, brought to life such classics as “Gula Matari,” “Walkin’” and “Walking in Space,” melding jazz, rock, funk and electronics. Jones conducted the infectious last tune, “Killer Joe,” which brought the crowd to its feet as a full moon, shining through misty evening cloud cover, visually echoed the silvery mystery of the music.
“It made my soul smile, man,” said Jones in an interview the next day, about hearing that music again. “It really did. It melted me.”
Jones, 83, could be seen all over the grounds over the sunny weekend, drinking in the music. He also reminisced jovially with his old friend Clint Eastwood, who spent time in Seattle in the ’40s, in a Saturday interview on stage.
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After the festival, Jones flew to Washington, D.C., for the Sept. 24 ribbon-cutting of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, for which he produced the opening ceremonies.
Jones’ positive, ebullient energy spilled over to the festival, which offered an embarrassing bounty of talent that included, among others, the three hottest vocalists in jazz — Gregory Porter, Cecile McLorin Salvant and Kurt Elling — as well as 13-year-old piano phenomenon Joey Alexander, saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman and Maceo Parker, Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell and 21-year-old British singer and production wizard Jacob Collier. Also dazzling: flute solos by Hubert Laws.
Porter, self-assured and relaxed, transformed the arena into a church Sunday with his rich baritone and humble observations about life and love. Salvant’s theatrically polished set was impeccable, if not particularly moving, but Elling had a mighty sweet turn Saturday night on Sting’s hilariously modest marriage proposal “Practical Arrangement” with Marsalis.
The diminutive Alexander, who dropped jaws at Jazz Alley last week, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is no flash in the pan, opening his set with a magical version of Herbie Hancock’s “Sorcerer.”
Over at Dizzy’s Den, Redman and drummer Brian Blade were absolutely on fire Friday with a band that re-imagined the music of the Ornette Coleman-inspired group Old and New Dreams. On the same stage Sunday, Frisell created great happy swells of sympathetic sound on ’60s classics like the Beatles “In My Life” and “Shenandoah.”
Blues and funk rule Saturday afternoon at the arena, and this year was no exception, as Parker not only chewed riffs on his alto sax, but did what can only be described as an impersonation of Ray Charles, with a socko big band graced by Charles’ backup singers of yore, the Raelettes. It was a gamble, but Parker melted any skepticism about this unusual undertaking, drawing the crowd to its dancing feet as he belted out “Hit the Road, Jack.”
Sunday night on the same stage, Shorter premiered a new work with the Monterey Wind Ensemble, “The Unfolding,” that featured dense textures and a knotty plot that was difficult to follow on first hearing, but no doubt will yield its secrets by and by.
Collier closed the festival with a set that came off like a psychedelic science project, feeding sound (and visuals) through electronics that created vast choruses and multiple images of himself on screens above and beside him as he hopped from bass to piano to synthesizer to drums to melodica.
There was more, as there always is at Monterey, but those were some of the high points of a weekend that will be remembered as one of the festival’s finest.