A Return to ‘Live’ in the West

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Matt Burchard, literally, takes the music to the people at the Vail Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Teven Pope)

With 2020 mostly a lost year and 2021 largely transitional, jazz festivals held west of the mighty Mississippi River have a cautious sense of optimism looking toward welcoming in-person audiences.

Launched in 1958, the Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest continuously running jazz festival in the world. Last year’s festival saw a historic shift with attendance limited to 7,500 and music presented on just two outdoor stages rather than eight stages.

This year, MJF (Sept. 23–25) will shift its presentation to four outdoor stages and will keep the tighter schedule it experimented with last year — earlier starts, eliminating the long break between afternoon and evening sessions and finishing earlier. “There just seems to be a tendency towards earlier end times,” said Tim Jackson, MJF artistic director. “So it’s really a function of where people are comfortable.

“But we’re not doing any less music,” he continued. “It’s still the same number groups.”

The Moodswings reunion quartet with saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade and the Artemis supergroup, which were both booked for 2020, are on the docket for 2022, and will be hitting a variety of festivals this summer. And Las Cafeteras, which was also booked for 2020 and rebooked the next year (but had to cancel when some band members contracted COVID-19) is also on the schedule. There’s also a plethora of new acts, including a commissioned work by pianist/composer/film scorer Kris Bowers celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary.

The Playboy Jazz Festival had a long run at the historic Hollywood Bowl from 1979 through 2019. After a two-year pandemic absence, the weekend-long happening returns, June 25–26, as the renamed Hollywood Bowl Festival. Artists include vocalist Gregory Porter, The Roots (who headlined an incendiary Bowl show in 2019 with fellow Philadelphian Christian McBride and his big band opening), Tower of Power, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science and local heroes Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band.

Produced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Bowl’s summer programming will also resume jazz concerts on Wednesdays with an expanded scope and under a new “Jazz Plus” moniker. “The boundaries between jazz and other genres, including blues, rock, R&B, global sounds and beyond, are blurring, and we want to be more inclusive of different types of music,” said Johanna Rees, vice president of presentations. The Jazz Plus series opens with a tribute to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra (featuring McBride as music director), The Count Basie Orchestra and vocalists such as Dianne Reeves and Billie Eilish) on July 27 and concludes with Herbie Hancock on Sept. 28.

Ten years younger than the Hollywood Bowl/Playboy festival, Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival is expanding the hybrid in-person/live-streaming format it embraced last year. “It has been a whiplash environment for all involved in the performing arts in terms of planning and canceling things,” said John Gilbreath, Earshot Jazz executive director. “But the primary concern is for the health and safety of everyone involved.”

Gilbreath reckons that Earshot Jazz audiences will be back to 50-to-70% of pre-COVID levels and he plans to book “50 or more concerts in 12-to-15 different venues around the cities.” A tribute to the late Seattle piano great Overton Berry will kick off this year’s festivities on Oct. 9. It will feature vocalist Diane Schuur, whom Berry mentored, along with local musicians. The fest concludes Nov. 6 with tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s Ocean Trio featuring pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Anthony Wilson.

The 27-year-old Vail Jazz Festival has the distinction being one of the few of any genre to hold concerts with in-person crowds in 2020, just months into the pandemic. “We did an outdoor series of shows throughout the summer in Vail,” said Howard Stone, Vail Jazz founder and artistic director. “The town was kind enough to allow us to use a public park, and we created these giant grids with chalk like it was a football field so that people could spread out.”

And for 2022? “We’re fully back, and we’re excited,” Stone enthused. The Vail Jazz Festival will continue with its summer-long celebrations of swing starting with clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski and guitarist Diego Figueiredo’s kickoff concert on June 30. A Thursday evening Vail Jazz at Vail Square series from July 7 through Aug. 18, the free Vail Jazz at Solaris series on Sundays from July 3 through Aug. 21 and the Vail Jazz Party Sept. 1–5 keep the live music flowing throughout the sunshine months. Vail Jazz will also continue its Jazz Interludes video performance series, which started in 2020.

And like a third-grader who only had two years of in-classroom instruction before the global emergence of COVID-19, the 5-year-old Tulsa Wine, Jazz and World Fete presented in-person concerts in 2018 and 2019 before going virtual for two years with its Shelter in Place Sessions, which continue to this day. Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, the Cuban band Tiempo Libre and Tulsa-based trumpeter Bishop Marsh performed during the festival’s first two years, and the Charles Lloyd Trio with Anthony Wilson and bassist Reuben Rogers has been booked for closing night of the festival, which runs June 2–4.

While concerts for the fete’s first two years were split between outdoors at Guthrie Green and indoors at LowDown (formerly Duet Jazz Club), the focus this year will be on the latter, a world-class venue that opened in August 2018. “It’ll be interesting going back live again,” said festival co-producer Michael Koster, executive of OK Roots Music. “As of now, everything’s full-guns-ahead for a return to live events.” DB



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