trip took place shortly after the dawn of time, so the details are
fuzzy, and there are no personal photos. But there are lots of
links. It will be short (like Jimmy
Rushing) and sweet (like a
Billy Strayhorn composition).
In the summer of 1961 I was living and working in Coalinga.
I was 22 years old, still getting used to living away from home, and
not very adventurous. However, it occurred to me that there was no
reason I could not go to the Monterey
Jazz Festival, being held just 120 miles away in September.
Like most kids I had grown up listening to my parentsí music Ė
mainly pop and the Grand Olí Opry. I
had become hooked on rock & roll by age 16, and had discovered
other music on my own, particularly some of the big band sounds like
Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
It took a bit of effort to develop an appreciation for jazz, but I
had some good guidance from a couple of college classmates, and I had
developed a particular fondness for the saxophone playing of Paul
Desmond, a member of the Dave
Brubeck Quartet, especially their album Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.
I have owned mono and stereo LPs and the CD, and it is
still on my Desert Island Disk list.
I was aware of a number of other artists, and had heard some that I liked a lot, so it was not too much of a leap to decide to
see some in person.
In those pre-internet days Iím not sure how I even knew how to get
tickets, but probably there was information in a newspaper. I called
and ordered tickets by phone, and mailed a check, and when the big
weekend came, I pointed my car west on Highway 198, and went over
the hills to the
Valley, then north and west again to Monterey.
I had made no hotel reservation, but walked into a small, somewhat
seedy place near downtown and got a room for $5 per night (bathroom
down the hall).
I canít recall the exact format of the event, but Iím pretty
sure there was a show that afternoon, and another in the evening.
Then I attended a third show the next afternoon. I did not stay for
the second evening show (you could get a ticket for any combination
of shows, and I needed to get back home to go to work the next day).
The event was outdoors, at the local fairgrounds, with
seating provided, unlike todayís bluegrass festivals. It was the
height of the civil rights era, and as I arrived, representatives of
a couple of organizations were passing out flyers.
Iím pretty sure they were the Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and possibly Congress
of Racial Equality (CORE). I sure wish I had kept those flyers.
Looking back, there were several parallels between this event and
the bluegrass festivals Iíve been attending the last 15 years.
There were groups I was fairly familiar with, and artists I had
heard of but hadnít really heard much if at all. And there was the
performer that was a revelation Ė an artist I had never heard of,
whose work stood out above most others, and made me a lifelong fan.
Needless to day I donít recall which performers played when, but I
saw some of the biggest names in jazz at the time, including the Duke
Ellington orchestra. Others included the Terry
Gibbs Big Band, John
Coltrane featuring Eric
Dolphy, and Jimmy
Gillespie was on the bill, and I think I saw him, but can't
recall for sure. However, it was Big
Miller that blew me away.
A huge man with a huge voice, he stood on stage tapping a tambourine
on his leg and belted out standards and originals. I had never heard
of him before, but became an instant fan, and left the grounds with
his newest album in hand. Itís still one of my all-time favorites.
It never occurred to me to take a camera, but if it had, it would
have been an old Kodak Brownie box camera. Night time pictures would
have been impossible. And who knows where the pictures would be
after all this time.
attended another jazz festival, and the music has changed so that a
lot of what is now called jazz leaves me cold. But I have fond
memories of the event, and look back on it now as the beginning of
my appreciation for live music.