Five of the Best Monterey Jazz Festival Performances of All Time

This fall, the Monterey Jazz Festival will usher in its 56th annual performance along California's crystal coastline, 350 miles north of Orange County. Since 1958 the festival has hosted every major jazz musician conceivable. The first lineup alone included Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and Max Roach. Since that first weekend the festival has expanded into an empire, drawing more attention to Monterey than Steinbeck could ever have imagined with school programs, a record label and now a band of touring ambassadors that include vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Christian McBride, pianist Benny Green and a handful of other ringers. In honor of their appearance this Sunday at Segerstrom Hall, here are five performances that helped to make the Monterey Jazz Festival one of the most important music festivals in the United States.


Miles Davis Quintet

By 1963, Miles Davis was light years away from “Kind of Blue,” his groundbreaking 1959 release. He had an entirely new band that included pianist Herbie Hancock and his sound had already moved deeper into a well of angularity and confrontation than most trumpet players could manage in a lifetime. This blistering version of “So What,” driven by 18 year-old Tony Williams' insistent cymbal probably surprised quite a lot of people who were still trying to process Davis' 1950s sounds.

B.B. King & T. Bone Walker

Two giants of the blues! B.B. King was at the top of his game in the mid 1960s, having recently released a handful of powerful live records. T-Bone was knee deep in a revival. The two of them sharing a stage is a spine chilling thrill. The roots of rock and roll lie in T.Bone's fingers with Chuck Berry and Keith Richards flying out over one quick riff. Meanwhile B.B. is all charm in his electric blue suit.

Marian McPartland, Bill Evans, John Lewis & Patrice Rushen

That's the great allure of festivals. You have all this talent sitting around, so why not get them together? This performance by four distinct jazz pianists sharing two pianos is what festivals are all about. In this clip, Rushen is only 21 years old and playing with three well-established pianists, all worthy headliners. Their romp through Charlie Parker's 12 bar blues is nothing short of delightful with Evans standing out in an equally charming suit.


Woody Shaw

Man, this is just burning. Shaw is in top form and tenor saxophonist Carter Jefferson, an undersung veteran of some great bands, really cuts loose. A large, receptive audience always helps to get those tempos flying and the rhythm section look like they are going to explode. I thought I might explode just watching it.

Banyan featuring Mike Watt & Nels Cline

It's not all sensitive pianists in maroon suits. San Pedro's own Mike Watt brought the heat alongside guitarist Nels Cline for a brash set that featured Stooges tunes and this Funkadelic cover. Cline, then a recent addition to Wilco, does his usual job of shredding the scene while frequent compatriot Norton Widsom splashes paint behind him. Who knows what the parasol crowd thought of this set but it never hurts to have a dude in plaid flex a little muscle.

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