Down In Monterey With Tom Dooley & Don Was!

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Believe it or not the very first person I met at the Monterey Jazz Festival was Tom Dooley. I kid you not. Apparently he is a local singer and we shared a space in the line to get in. He promised to buy me a beer but I have not seen him since. (Maybe he is aware of Aussies’ reputation for drinking).

Even more amazing, the second person I met was producer/bassist Don Was who was browsing the CD store with his son.

“Didn’t I see you in the band at The Ryman last week,” I said impertinently.

“Yes, you did. You have a good memory,” he said. (Was he being sarcastic?). Don is quite tall and looks exactly like his photos – and why shouldn’t he – and he is difficult to miss with his dreadlocks under his large hat.

“Well, that was a fantastic band and I take back every nasty thing I have ever said about you!”

“Well, thank you very much,” he laughed. A brief discussion of the Ryman show ensued and I told him how much I liked the version of ‘Green Onions’ with Booker T on organ and Richard Thompson on guitar.

Then I said, “When are you going to get the Stones back into the studio to do a blues album?

“We’ve just done two tracks,” he said.

“But how about a blues album?”

“I keep trying and putting it out there.”

“Well, please try harder.”

All that and it was only the first 10 minutes of the festival!

In retrospect, I feel like a bit of an idiot but he was friendly, funny and very tolerant. I do take back every nasty thing I have ever said about his production! I should have wished him happy birthday too. He turned 60 last week!

The Monterey Jazz Festival takes place in the very same Fairgrounds that was home to the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The main stage, which until recently still had the burn mark from Jimi Hendrix’s ignited guitar, is outdoors in an arena that must only hold about 8,000 people seated now. How 50,000 squeezed in for the famous festival is beyond me, unless they were way back in what is now the car park.

The Jazz Festival has an interesting demographic: older (much older even than me) than most other festivals I attend. It is multi-culturally diverse and economically superior. There are many men in sports jackets – something you do not see often at festivals.

As you would expect in this affluent area of America, the festival is comfortable. The food stalls are many and varied, there are some tables for eating at and a variety of wines and beers.

Apart from having to line up for those gigs that take place in the large buildings on the site (a bit like Wangaratta) it is all easily manageable, which is just as well because I have never seen so many people with walking frames, on walking sticks or with walking problems gathered in one place. Yes, I know, in a few years that will be me. There are also a few men walking around towing oxygen tanks.

Apart from the Jimmy Lyons Arena there is Dizzy’s Den, The Nightclub, the Coffee House, the Jazz Theatre and a small outdoor Garden Stage. None of these buildings is labelled with their Jazz names so it takes a little while to work it out with the help of the map in the program.

I lined up for an hour and a quarter to see Jack DeJohnette and his group in Dizzy’s but it was worth it. At 70 years old the drummer’s powers remain seemingly undiminished. It was a really fantastic hour and a half set. At times there were echoes of his work with Miles Davis – but that seems the same for everyone who has worked with Miles. (In fact, Jack dedicated one of the songs, ‘Miles,’ to Davis).

During one long drum solo DeJohnette managed to keep time despite the fact that at one point he simply dropped half a dozen drumsticks onto the skins! He must have perfect internal timing.

Melody Gardot’s set in the arena was really impressive; she has a certain charisma, a terrific band and also a great sense of timing.  Her latest music has a Latin tinge but her three albums so far are varied. Gardot’s back story is one of triumph over tragedy; she took up singing as therapy after terrible injuries sustained back in 2003 when a car hit her as she was riding her push bike.

Eddie Palmieri’s Salsa Orchestra closed out the evening in rousing fashion as the night air turned very chilly indeed.

Around six o’clock in the evening the clouds roll in from Monterey Bay and the air temperature drops 10-15F. By the end of the night, despite a sweater and jacket, I was jealous of those who had the foresight to bring blankets!

I am staying at a relatively cheap motel just over two miles from the festival grounds and it only takes a few minutes to drive back. (I would prefer to catch the bus but it does not run late at night).

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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