[JPL] Out of the Archives: Monterey Jazz on Disc

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Thu Sep 18 09:29:45 EDT 2008


Out of the Archives:
Monterey Jazz on Disc

Tomorrow through Sunday, an expected 45,000 spectators will gather at a
20-acre fairground in a sylvan setting in Northern California for the
Monterey Jazz Festival, a yearly destination event for musicians and music
lovers since 1958. "Monterey" is known world-wide as a superb showcase for
jazz artists, and the weekend fest is an inextricable part of the cultural
identity of the coastal town for which it is named.

Half a century ago, though, when the festival was first proposed, jazz
music, its practitioners, and its followers were still suspect quantities to
many in a conservative community where the county fairground's main
attraction was still the county fair. Before the Monterey City Council would
grant festival founder Jimmy Lyons a permit, it insisted on sampling his
wares. Lyons, a veteran disc jockey, promoter and concert producer, knew
just whom to present to the wary councilmen: the college-educated,
horned-rim-glasses-wearing, classically trained pianist and composer Dave
Brubeck -- leader of what was then the most popular quartet in jazz.

"We were in a small place where they usually had chickens, or vegetables,
for people to come see -- 'cause it's a fairground," Mr. Brubeck, now 87,
remembered recently, speaking by telephone from his home in Connecticut.
"And it was all whitewashed, with a cement floor and it looked like cement
walls, and maybe even a cement ceiling! And we set up in there. I knew it
would be bad acoustics. But the councilmen came, and they were pleased. I
guess we didn't look like what they'd imagined. I don't know what they'd
imagined, but the old quartet -- Paul Desmond, and Joe Morello and Eugene
Wright -- were very presentable. So everything went very well, and Jimmy
then started setting up the festival."

Mr. Brubeck, with his combo, was part of that first Monterey roster. He has
participated in more than a dozen MJFs since and is sometimes referred to by
festival management as "the patron saint of Monterey." Several of the
revered composer-performer's festival appearances are now documented in "50
Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007," a
just-released CD compilation of 10 tracks culled from Mr. Brubeck's five
decades of MJF gigs.

The disc is one in a continuing series of never-before-available recordings
on the recently created Monterey Jazz Festival Records label, whose material
is drawn from 2,000 hours of MJF music captured on audiotape over the years.
Other artists represented in the first two seasons of releases include Miles
Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente and Shirley Horn.

Getting these sounds out of the vaults and into contemporary consumers' ears
proved a technological challenge, says Tim Jackson, the festival's general
manager since 1992. (Jimmy Lyons died in 1994.) Though the archive had been
"securely, safely and with great care" housed at Stanford University since
the mid-1980s, Mr. Jackson says, time had taken its toll: "The magnetic
tapes had degraded over the years to an alarming point. They were at a
crisis stage. It was risky to even listen to them, because they were so
oxidized they would break."

In partnership with Stanford, the MJF -- a not-for-profit organization --
raised some $350,000 from public and private sources to digitize the entire
archive, says Mr. Jackson. Once that two-year project was concluded, a plan
was formed to bring this private trove to the public.

Jason Olaine, now label manager of the record company, led a team that four
years ago made its pitch to the festival's board of directors, a
conservative, cost-conscious group not unlike the Monterey councilmen whom
Jimmy Lyons had to win over in 1958 -- except that these individuals
included such show-business-savvy folk as the actor-filmmaker (and pianist)
Clint Eastwood, the former mayor of nearby Carmel.

"He's a lover of jazz, so he's definitely concerned," says Mr. Olaine of Mr.
Eastwood. "He had that look: It wasn't a Dirty Harry look, but it certainly
was intense. He's got his own record label; he's been down that road! So he
definitely knew the right questions to ask."

The eventual result was a partnership between the newly formed Monterey Jazz
Festival Records and the Concord Music Group, a well-established,
internationally distributed jazz label also based in the Bay Area. MJF
Records' first half-dozen sets came out in 2007, in time for the festival's
50th celebration.

The Miles Davis performance, taped in 1963, has been MJF Records'
best-selling CD. Mr. Brubeck's disc is also doing quite well, says Mr.
Olaine. "And Dave is overjoyed with that," he adds, "because he and his
manager handpicked these tunes with us to show the breadth of his career --
and 'cause he's been at the festival since before the festival even

Not included on the CD, for reasons of length, are selections from two
unique long-form works especially close to the composer's heart: "The Real
Ambassadors" and "Cannery Row."

"The Real Ambassadors" is an ambitious theatrical musical about jazz
musicians that starred Louis Armstrong and received its only public
performance at Monterey in 1962. "The people were crying," Mr. Brubeck said
of that occasion. "Louis was crying; I was crying."

Set in Monterey in the 1930s, Mr. Brubeck's 2006 opera based on John
Steinbeck's novel "Cannery Row" was commissioned by the festival itself. "We
had to go in there cold; and with one rehearsal we pulled it off, and it was
fantastic," says the composer of a staged production that included seven
singers from the University of the Pacific and guest vocalists Kurt Elling
and Roberta Gambarini performing a libretto written by Mr. Brubeck's wife,
Iola. "My son Chris had his group there, and I had my jazz group, and
members of the Brubeck Institute from Stockton, Calif., were there. Tom
Steinbeck read the opening, out of his father's text, and then the closing.
Anyway -- we didn't fall flat on our face like we thought we could, because
everybody was inspired. It was just one of those nights that worked."

Mr. Brubeck, in the beneficent spirit of Monterey, doesn't seem to mind that
"Cannery Row" isn't on his Monterey highlights disc. "Clint Eastwood filmed
it," he says. "It'll be out, some day."

Mr. Nolan is editor of "The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew
Archer, Private Investigator," by Ross Macdonald (Crippen & Landru).

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