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Monterey Jazz Festival Turns 60 This Weekend

When the Monterey Jazz Festival kicks off tomorrow, it will be celebrating 60 years of the event.   I recently spoke with Tim Jackson, the artistic director at the Jazz Festival, which supports KAZU.

I started by asking him to take us back to the beginning when local radio disc jockey Jimmy Lyons got it all started.

Tim Jackson (TJ): Jimmy talked to some of the city fathers, some of the business people in the city.  And as the history would have it, that 67 Monterey business people put up $100 each, and that was the seed money for the first festival, which happened in early October of 1958.

It was a historic event. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Jerry Mulligan, all these incredible artists were there and it was successful.

It was founded as a not-for-profit organization, which was really quite revolutionary at that time because Jazz was basically presented in the commercial world, commercial Jazz clubs. There really were no festivals. Newport (Rhode Island) was really the first Jazz festival, Monterey being the second.

And to found the organization as a not-for-profit with a goal towards education and outreach, and treating Jazz as an art form was really decades ahead of its time.  And like with anything, when you have a good idea it moves forward, it develops a life of its own, and here we are 60 years later celebrating a big anniversary.

Dylan Music (DM): They had the Rhode Island blueprint to work from since it was a similar situation

TJ: Similar situation.

DM: but they were, like, representing the west coast.

TJ: and now, Newport, while it’s still going today, it had several years where it was not happening, which really makes Monterey now the longest-running Jazz Festival in the world.

DM: So, as you plan to commemorate 60 years of Jazz at this year’s festival, how do you plan to do that?

TJ: This year we’re doing several things that are kind of Monterey only type events. We’re honoring one of the great artists that performed at the first Monterey Jazz Festival, which is Sonny Rollins. 

Sonny is still alive, still with us, but he’s not able to perform or travel these days, so we put together a great saxophone summit featuring Joshua Redman, Jimmy Heath, Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano, to pay tribute to the great Sonny Rollins. That’ll be on Saturday night.

Every year we commission an artist to compose and premier a new work, so this year I wanted something special. I wanted to focus on a west coast composer, hopefully in a big band setting, because that’s been a tradition at Monterey, and try and find some sort of family and legacy theme. 

So I thought of John Clayton, who’s the co-leader with Jeff Hamilton of the Clayton-Hamilton jazz orchestra. It’s one of the great big bands in jazz. And I’ve asked John to write a new piece that would feature his son Gerald, who’s a fantastic young pianist, actually came through our music education programs when he was in high school, when his band came up to perform at our Next Generation Jazz Festival.

And I asked John to write a piece that would integrate his son Gerald’s jazz piano trio into the larger Clayton-Hamilton jazz orchestra. So they’ll be doing a really interesting piece entitled “Stories on a Groove,” that will, I think be really special and kind of show the legacy and history of the music and also that family connection of father writing for son.

DM: Tim Jackson, thank you so much for coming in to the KAZU Studios.

TJ: Thank you Dylan. Thanks for the invitation to come by, and we’ll look forward to seeing everybody September 15th through 17th this year.

Find the complete performance schedule here.