Above photo: Booker T. Jones at the Monterey Jazz Festival

 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival

Sept. 20, 2014

Monterey County Fairgrounds

The 57th annual Monterey Jazz Festival continues its rich tradition with the best in jazz and other genres performing at multiple venues. The 2014 MJF’s impressive artist lineup included Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Booker T. Jones, Lisa Fischer, Gary Clark Jr., Ana Popovic, and Billy Childs with Shawn Colvin. Each of the artists I saw was spectacular for different reasons.

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Booker T. Jones : Photo © Walter Atkins

Red Baraat, a Brooklyn-based, eight-piece band, had the audience joyously dancing at the Garden Stage. Bandleader Sunny Jain played the dohl, an Indian double-sided drum, and fronted a solid brass and rhythm section. Their sound was a brassy blend of jazz, Indian, and hip-hop flavors. This open-air venue with a grassy area in front of the stage was perfect for folks to groove to Red Baraat.

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Ana Popovic at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

2014 Grammy-winner (“Please Come Home”) guitarist Gary Clark Jr. rocked the house with his smooth melding of R&B, rock, and hip-hop at the large Jimmy Lyons Arena Stage. The esteemed Herbie Hancock was graciously signing and posing for fan photographs at the Amoeba Records booth. Mr. Hancock, the 14-time Grammy- and Academy Award-winning artist, had closed out the MJF’s Friday night show on the Jimmy Lyons Arena Stage.

Memphis Soul superstar Booker T. Jones performed some of the acclaimed classics from his illustrious career with Booker T. & the MGs, opening up with their classic “Hip Hugger” on the mighty Hammond B3 organ. He had the audience enthralled with his famous Stax soul energy. As a special surprise, the multi Grammy-winner took center stage with his guitar and the band to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix with a heart-stirring rendition of “Hey Joe.” Mr. Jones then shared his memories of Jimi on stage at the celebrated 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. At that festival, Booker and the MGs supported another unforgettable legend, Otis Redding. But he made time to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience during that hectic historical weekend. He thought Jimi was “a gentle spirit.” His unexpected musical gift to Jimi was followed with another gem as he paid praise to Prince, the Purple One himself, with a stunning rendition of  “Purple Rain.”

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Gary Clarke at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

Vernon “Ice” Black’s stellar guitar solos made these popular songs sparkle. It was also a family event for Mr. Jones, with his son Teddy playing with him on guitar. The encore for this soulful set was the timeless “Time is Tight.” This powerful song was one of the first 45s I ever purchased, and with good reason: the song simply spoke to me. Booker T. Jones performed his signature composition with a power and grace on the majestic B3 that came through with crystal clarity. After four decades, his instrumental organ anthem still spoke to me.

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Herbie Hancock : Photo © Walter Atkins

Ana Popovic and her band tore up the Garden Stage, playing her scorching style of electric R&B. The Belgrade-born performer played some of the best bottleneck guitar I’ve heard in a while. Meanwhile, her bassist was playing steady on the bottom with many animated moves and guitar god stances. He rocked the bass with a seriously “Filthy McNasty” funk attitude. Ana Popovic should definitely be seen live to get the full effect of her artistry; she was incredible.

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Lisa Fischer at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

Superb vocalist  Lisa Fischer performed at the Night Club venue, displaying a full range of human emotions. Her voice is emotive and her two-microphone technique is unmistakable. She achieves a lead and background voice sound-effect, which is stunning when heard for the first time. Ms. Fischer is well-known for her background vocals for Luther Vandross and the Rolling Stones. She was featured with Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, and other singers in the 2013 Academy Award-winning documentary, Twenty Feet From Stardom.

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Red Baraat at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

In her solo work, Ms. Fischer rose to prominence with her 1991 Grammy-winning smash hit “How Can I Ease the Pain,” from her ‘91 debut album, So Intense. “Intense” is the perfect word to describe Lisa Fischer’s mesmerizing set. Her arm movement is just as fluid as her marvelous voice, which takes you through her musical life. Her interpretations of the Stones’ classics “Miss You” and “Gimme Shelter” are as unique as her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Her hot backing band, the Grand Baton, featured JC Maillard on SazBass and guitar, Aidan Carroll on bass, and Thierry Arpino on drums. This talented unit ably provided the musical backdrop that let her vocals float, stroll, soar, and dance through an amazing set before a fully packed house.

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Shawn Colvin at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

Multiple Grammy-winning composer Billy Childs brought his proficient ensemble to the MJF in support of his new album, Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro. Mr. Childs highlights the music of the late Ms. Nyro, the legendary songwriter/performer who was a favorite of ‘60s musicians and songwriters. Fans of Laura Nyro were in musical nirvanna. Billy Childs featured popular compositions by Nyro combined with the melodic voices of Shawn Colvin, Becca Stevens, and the aforementioned Lisa Fischer. Ms. Colvin gave a tender rendition of the Nyro classic, “Save the Country.” Again, Ms. Fischer’s performance demonstrated her great talent and even greater stamina over the busy evening.

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The Roots at the MJF : Photo © Walter Atkins

Late in the evening, I sat down at a picnic table with Monterey Jazz Festival marketing associate Tim Orr, while The Roots played in the background on the Arena Stage. He said all the acts were “hits,” and based on what I covered Saturday at the festival, I would have to concur. All the gifted artists I saw and heard were spectacular. With such continued dedicated stewardship, the MJF should easily provide another 57 years of celebrating jazz and great music for current and new fans alike.

The 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival next September should definitely be on your concert calendar. For more information about the Monterey Jazz Festival, go here.