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Monterey Jazz goes virtual: Here’s your guide to 2020 festival

Mercury News logo Mercury News 9/17/2020 Jim Harrington
a person holding a guitar: Herbie Hancock performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Saturday, May 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) © Provided by Mercury News Herbie Hancock performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Saturday, May 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Thousands of music lovers were looking forward to spending the last weekend of September at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.

Definitely count Tim Jackson among that number. The longtime artistic director of the Monterey Jazz Festival could hardly wait to share the rich lineup with his fellow jazz fans.

We all know what happened next: The coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to pull the plug on this year’s three-day event. It’s the same as what happened with countless other music festivals, including such local favorites as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Outside Lands, BottleRock Napa Valley and Stern Grove.

Still, Jackson and his team weren’t willing to throw in the towel and instead decided to turn Monterey Jazz into a virtual festival for 2020.

“We just felt it important to acknowledge the weekend in some way, shape or form,” Jackson says. “We wanted to be in front of our patrons, so that they know that we are still active and busy and still alive and kicking and making things happen.”

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Sure, it won’t be the same as sitting under the stars and listening to music played on the festival’s famed Jimmy Lyons Stage. But this virtual festival should still be a great time for fans as they wait for the next in-person Monterey Jazz gathering, which is set for Sept. 24-26, 2021.

The virtual event runs 5-7 p.m. Sept. 25-27 on the festival’s YouTube site — www.youtube.com/user/MontereyJazzFestival. Those who tune in will witness a mix of archival footage and new performances from Herbie Hancock, Terri Lyne Carrington, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and other artists who were originally on the 2020 lineup, plus other tuneful offerings.

“In putting the program together, we looked at all the artists who were going to perform this year — and felt bad that we can invite them back next year, but we couldn’t do anything for this year,” Jackson says. “So, for the virtual festival, we tried to present as many of the artists who would have been at the (actual) festival this year.”

The daily programs are only streamed once, so fans will need to be watching during that 5-7 p.m. time block if they want to catch all the action. It’s free to watch but donations are being accepted, with 100 percent of the funds raised going to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as well as to the jazz artists featured at the virtual festival.

“We wanted to help some social justice organizations,” Jackson says. “We felt we wanted to make a statement, as an organization, that jazz really comes from the heart and soul of Black culture and we wanted to acknowledge that and support that.

“We wanted to try and just do our part to make a little bit of a difference, in recognizing the inequalities in our society.”

There are plenty of archival highlights to be found on each of the three days, but the best of the best might just be the Sonny Rollins Tribute from 2017 that streams on Sunday, Sept. 27. It features not just one, but four amazing saxophonists — Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis and the Bay Area’s own Joshua Redman.

“With those four guys on tenor, that’s about as good as it gets,” Jackson says.

The foursome is backed by Lewis Nash on drums, Scott Colley on bass and Gerald Clayton on piano in a performance of the title track to 1956’s legendary “Tenor Madness,” which is the only known recorded track to feature both Rollins and John Coltrane.

“This year is Sonny’s 90th birthday so it’s really apropos that we include this clip,” Jackson says.

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There’s also a tribute to Quincy Jones from 2016 being streamed on Sunday (Sept. 27), focusing on the artist’s A&M years of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and featuring Hubert Laws, Valerie Simpson, Christian McBride and other artists.

“I had always enjoyed Quincy’s big band music, specifically a series of records he did starting with ‘Walking in Space’ in 1969,” Jackson says. “I had an idea that Christian McBride probably loved them and knew this music really well and I thought he would be perfect as a musical director. So, I called him and he, of course, knew every note on every one of those records. He was totally into the project.”

The program would draw from Jones’ three A&M records of that period — “Walking in Space,” 1970’s “Gula Matari” and 1971’s “Smackwater Jack” — and the goal was to feature musicians who actually played on those recordings.

“We went out and found as many of the artists who were still active and alive from those sessions, including Dave Grusin, Hubert Laws and Valerie Simpson,” Jackson says. “They all played major roles. Particularly Hubert Laws — he’s all over those three records.”

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Keeping to the tribute theme, Saturday, Sept. 26 offers a tip of the hat to the late, great Bay Area jazz legend Dave Brubeck and his moving 2006 festival commission, “Cannery Row Suite.”

“This was fairly late in Dave’s career and I had asked him if he might want to do a commission piece — to write something again — which he had done over the years at Monterey,” Jackson says. “I wanted to check with him to see if he might have one last commission in him for the festival.

“He didn’t want to make it too grandiose. He didn’t want to do a full-on huge production. So, we thought, ‘Let’s concentrate on John Steinbeck and the book ‘Cannery Row.’”

The result is a kind of a “mini-opera,” Jackson says, and features vocalists Kurt Elling (in the role of Doc) and Roberta Gambarini (in the role of Dora).

Other archival highlights from Saturday include Diana Krall (performing “Why Should I Care” from the 1999 Clint Eastwood at Monterey celebration) and Regina Carter (paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with her quintet from 2017).

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The Friday, Sept. 25, programming includes blasts from the past from Herbie Hancock (2017), Dianne Reeves (2015), Roy Hargrove & RH Factor (2002), Terri Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project (2016) and Christian McBride & Inside Straight (2008).

Carrington is also heavily featured in the new content portion of this virtual festival. She’s the founder and director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz & Gender Justice Quintet, which will be featured in a performance streamed on Saturday. Carrington will then be in conversation with political activist Angela Davis on Sunday.

There will also be new performances from the Next Generation Women in Jazz Combo directed by Katie Thiroux (Saturday), the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra directed by Gerald Clayton (each of the three days), Monterey Jazz Festival Artist-in-Residence Christian Sands (Friday) and Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell on Saturday).

Also, tune in on Saturday to catch Jackson’s recent conversation with Clint Eastwood in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Play Misty for Me,” the 1971 psychological thriller that was filmed in part at the festival.

“I was able to record an interview with Clint Eastwood talking about ‘Play Misty for Me’ and jazz in his films,” Jackson says.

For more information, visit montereyjazzfestival.org.

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