Sunday, June 23, 2024

Traveling Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour All-Stars Kick off 2023 Jazz at Disney Hall Spectacularly | VIDEO

Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour All Stars-2023
Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour All Stars-2023

*Los Angeles could not have asked for a better first jazz concert of 2023 at Disney Hall than the 6-member Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour all-star band. These dynamic individuals bring intimacy, storytelling, and music mastery for a transfixing evening of artistry. From note one, this seasoned ensemble had the mouse house rockin’ with applause and wolf whistles that were their own sweet music in the acoustically excellent hall.

The players consisted of vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, pianist/musical director Christian Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn.

Following a pre-recorded welcome from Monterey Jazz Festival Artistic Director Tim Jackson – asserting the purposes and values of this presentation as cultivating a love for jazz, innovation, creativity, diversity and inclusiveness, excellence, dignity, and FUN – the members filed out one by one from stage right to massive joy and appreciation. I cannot stress this enough. In a hall that is so often utilized for more restrained classical music audiences, this night’s crowd felt like they were tired of being cagey about coming out in public and made New Year’s resolutions to once again embrace live jazz with a vengeance. This energy was much welcomed…and contagious!

The first number was an on-fire duet between Bridgewater and Elling on the 1956 classic “Too Close For Comfort” (from the Broadway musical “Mr. Wonderful,” a starring vehicle for the late, great Sammy Davis Jr.). As Dee Dee and Kurt danced around each other, they fired off virtuosic scat trades coming out of jubilant sax and piano solos. Elling followed leading the group solo with the easy bluesy swing of the solid yet humorous advice-to-men song, “Did You Call Her Today.”

Next up, Benjamin – decked out in a dazzling sparkling gold suit- took center stage to lead her composition “Trane” dedicated to jazz royalty couple John & Alice Coltrane. Her piece began with an open and ascending intro in the vibe of John’s ever-searching spirit before dropping down into a head of pianistic punctuations that set her up for a soul-baring solo that brought the house all the way down.

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Pianist Sands deadpanned, “Obviously after THAT, we’re going to slow it down a lil’ bit.” He told a wonderful personal story about his first-time meeting Dave Brubeck then segued into a solo piano intro of “Strange Meadowlark” and on into the song with harmonic warmth and taste. Also beautifully featured was a dexterous upright bass solo by Nakamura that held the audience spellbound. Returning to the stage, singer Bridgewater honored the bassist by affectionately singing “Happy Birthday” to him.

Bridgewater then told a touching story of her own about hanging with Chick Corea and her Philadelphia friend Stanley Clarke as her lead into a tongue-twisting whirl through Corea’s “Spain,” lyricized as “I Can Recall (Spain)” by Al Jarreau. She dedicated her impressive performance – accompanied by Sands on electric and acoustic pianos – to the memories of both Corea and Jarreau. She then spoke glowingly of meeting arranging great Thad Jones at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1973 as her introduction to a quintet reduction of his big band arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird” with her signature personality and sass.

Elling took Dee Dee’s place at center stage to share a story about vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks and a hilarious first meeting with Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul as a lead-in to “Time to Say Goodbye,” Elling’s lyricized take on Zawinul’s classic composition “A Remark You Made” (first recorded by Weather Report on its top-selling 1977 album, Heavy Weather).

Everyone took the stage for the finale “Compared to What,” an R&B protest song by Eugene McDaniels that was made a jazz classic recorded live at another famous festival – The Montreux Jazz Festival of 1969 – by pianist/vocalist Les McCann and tenor giant Eddie Harris. Novelly, Elling sang the first verse, Bridgewater the second followed by a brand new rap lyric delivered by Benjamin, then funk-based solos by Nakamura on bass and Penn on drums. They totally deviated from the driving pulse of the famous McCann/Harris version for a slower brewed groove.

This group is bringing this equally entertaining and educating show to more west coast venues through the end of January. Then, after a 2-month break – the tour proceeds through April into the Mid-West and East Coast (see dates below). The vibrations of all individually and collectively make seeing The Monterey Jazz On Tour a must-see for lovers of this music new and seasoned.

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2023 Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour Schedule

JANUARY 2023

1/23/23: Salt Lake City, Utah, Capitol Theatre
1/25/23: Costa Mesa, Calif., Segerstrom Center for the Arts
1/26/23: San Diego, Calif., Balboa Theatre
1/27/23: Modesto, Calif., Gallo Center for the Performing Arts
1/29/23: Santa Barbara, Calif., UCSB, Campbell Hall

APRIL 2023
4/06/23: Hartford, Conn., The Bushnell
4/07/23: Boston, Mass., Berklee Performance Center
4/08/23: Philadelphia, Pa., Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall
4/12/23: Granville, Ohio, Denison University, Swasey Chapel
4/14/23: Chicago, Ill., Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall
4/15/23: Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Universal Preservation Hall
4/16/23: Fairfield, Conn., Fairfield University, Quick Center for the Arts
4/19/23: Roanoke, Va., Jefferson Center, Shaftman Performance Hall
4/20/23: Bethesda, Md., The Music Center at Strathmore
4/21/23: New York, N.Y., Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Appel Room (2 shows)
4/22/23: New York, N.Y., Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Appel Room (2 shows)
4/23/23: Detroit, Mich., Orchestra Hall

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