This weekend's Monterey Jazz Festival is both low-key and high-end. The venues couldn't be more down to earth: The arena where the headliners perform is an open-air space with a straw-covered dirt floor, but the talent is stellar. This year's 55th-anniversary lineup has plenty of big names, including Tony Bennett, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, Dee Dee Bridgewater and newly minted NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri, to name a few.
Each year, artistic director Tim Jackson turns down 10 times as many artists as he accepts, so it's a fine thing to be on the MJF program, especially as a first-timer. Among the artists making their MJF debuts are five vocalists who together paint a picture of jazz singing today.
It's getting harder to categorize jazz musicians in general, but it can be said that of these five, two are more mainstream, two are more pop-oriented and one does whatever he pleases. "They're an interesting mix," Jackson says. "People are approaching the music from a lot of different angles, from reinterpreting classic material to taking it into new areas. There's a lot of diversity there. It speaks well for the music and for the festival. Frankly, it's what makes the festival interesting."
Jackson gave us the ultimate insider's view on each singer during a phone conversation earlier this week.