The 51st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival

Asako Maruoka's picture

I'm always on the lookout for a great jazz festival - and there are some fantastic ones we've profiled here on Wandering Educators! I recently had the good luck to sit down and talk with Tim Orr, of the Monterey Jazz Festival. This festival is the longest running jazz festival in the world!  It will be held from September 19-21 this year.  Here's what Tim had to say...


Cassandra Wilson, MJF Wayne Shorter, MJF

Cassandra Wilson             Wayne Shorter



WE:  Please tell us a little bit about the Monterey Jazz Festival...

The Festival was started by Jimmy Lyons and Ralph Gleason in 1958, and has become one of the best known and loved jazz festivals in the world, due to the intimacy and beautiful setting. We use the Monterey Fairgrounds, which now has 9 stages. It has been one of the few festivals to stay true to the art form and not become a multiple-genre event, although we have blues acts that perform as well. The Monterey Pop Festival from 1967 was planned after the organizers saw the jazz festival the previous year and thought that it would be a great place for their own enterprise. They had one of them, and we’ve had 51!


Derek Trucks, MJF Joshua Redman, MJF

Derek Trucks                    Joshua Redman



WE: What is the history of the festival?

There has been so much history here--it's hard to pinpoint one specific thing, but Jimmy Lyons had a dream of a "sylvan setting with the best jazz people in the whole world playing on the same stage, having a whole weekend of jazz." The first Monterey Jazz Festival had Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, John Lewis, Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Ernestine Anderson, Harry James, Max Roach and Billie Holiday--so for a first effort, that's pretty strong! Since then, nearly every artist in the jazz world has performed here...Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, the list is endless.

Herbie Hancock, MJFChristian McBride, MJF

Herbie Hancock                 Christian McBride



WE: Your hisory is illustrious - anyone who is anyone has played at your festival. Is this an exciting time, in jazz, for both old-timers and newcomers?

TO: Yes. Since most of the primary innovators of jazz have passed away, there is great excitement when we have people from the past and who represent the future of jazz. People can come and see what they already know, and make new discoveries at the same time. We like to feature all generations of artists, so it's always a treat to see people's reactions to the lineup. The audiences at Monterey are deep listeners and are very devoted to the music. It’s like a family reunion each year; people come back again and again for decades.


Maceo Parker, MJF  Nancy Wilson, MJF

Maceo Parker                           Nancy Wilson



What are the highlights of the lineup this year?

TO: Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter are back, they’re always a highlight anywhere they appear. Vocalist Cassandra Wilson makes her debut, and Maria Schneider is writing her second commissioned piece for the Festival. Christian McBride is our Artist-In-Residence, and he’ll be appearing with several of his bands.


Maria Schneider, MJF  Terence Blanchard, MJF

Maria Schneider    Terence Blanchard



WE:  Monterey is such a cool place - do you have any recommendations for people, for food and accommodations?

TO: The Hyatt near the Fairgrounds is the place to be after the shows end each night---all the artists stay there and it’s a real scene. Carmel is a beautiful place to stay and it’s just a few minutes away. Cannery Row in downtown Monterey has a lot of great seafood restaurants, and there’s nightlife along Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey. There are a bunch of hotels there too, and along Munras Avenue and Fremont Street. Of course, the Festival itself has a huge number of international food and shopping each year—so it becomes a world all to itself each third full weekend of September.


Antonio Sanchez, MJF  Tuck & Patti, MJF

Antonio Sanchez                  Tuck & Patti


WE:  Do you have educational activities?

TO: Yes, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a nonprofit organization and has donated its proceeds to musical education since its inception in 1958. For one week a month during the school year, the Monterey Jazz Festival sends top professional musicians and vocalists to work with students in classrooms throughout Monterey County, helping them develop their jazz skills. And since 1971, we’ve had the MJF High School All-Star Big Band (from 1971-2004), which is now called the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. The NGJO represents the future generation of jazz stars through a program that selects the best and brightest high school jazz musicians in the country. In 2008, the twenty-one-piece jazz orchestra features members selected from eighteen high schools from the four corners of the country, from 11 states.

Also, every spring, the Monterey Jazz Festival invites the top student musicians from across the country and around the world to participate in the Next Generation Festival, which is a free weekend devoted to the future of jazz, and features the Annual National High School Jazz Competition. The top bands perform at the Festival in September each year, they’re a real highlight. Those kids can really play. Our newest endeavor, the Digital Music Education Project, allows internet access to interviews with top artists, including their recommendations of music every jazz player and fan should experience.

Tom Scott, MJF   Quantic, MJF

 Tom Scott                     Quantic


How can visitors contribute, when they come to Monterey?

People can volunteer for the Festival by going to our website and looking for information there.



Jaimie Cullum, MJF   Kurt Elling, MJF

Jaimie Cullum    Kurt Elling



WE: Do you have official merchandise for sale?

TO: Yes, we have an online store that can be reached by visiting our website,


Monterey Jazz Festival

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

TO:  In celebration of the 50th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in 2007, we started a record label in partnership with Concord Records. Monterey Jazz Festival Records has now has thirteen releases. Each year, we record the artist on the Arena stage, so we have a huge vault of unreleased recordings—so far we’ve released historic live recordings from Louis Armstrong in 1958; Miles Davis Quintet in 1963, Thelonious Monk Quartet in 1964; Dizzy Gillespie in 1965; Sarah Vaughan in 1971, Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz, in 1972; Dave Brubeck 1958-2007; Tito Puente in 1977, and more…we plan on issuing 6 or so recordings every year.  

We’ve also produced a great coffee-table book called The Art of Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival/50 Years that has great essays about the history all the artist who have performed there and all the artwork from the posters since 1958. It’s a great gift!



MJF Art Blakey  MJF, Dave Brubeck



WE: Thanks so much, Tim! I appreciate your sharing of this great information.I hope that we can get there next year - until then, we'll have to get the cds!


If you'd like to find out more about the Monterey Jazz Festival, please check out their website at



All photos courtesy and copyright of the Monterey Jazz Festival.