What I did in Coalinga

A Long-Ago Trip to the Monterey Jazz Festival


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This 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 in September just 120 miles away.

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 of them 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 Salinas 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 say 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 Rushing. Dizzy 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.

I've never 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.


Photos (Links go to a Google image search)
Note: Not every photo shown will be of the search subject


Duke Ellington

Terry Gibbs John Coltrane
Jimmy Rushing Dizzy Gillespie Eric Dolphy
Monterey Jazz Festival Dave Brubeck Paul Desmond

Related Links

Monterey Festival Web Site Dizzy Gillespie Duke Ellington
Paul Desmond John Coltrane Eric Dolphy
Dizzy Gillespie Big Miller Jimmy Rushing
Billy Strayhorn Dave Brubeck CORE
An early festival SNCC Eric Dolphy
The Official Duke Page Terry Gibbs John Coltrane Page
Jazz on Amazon
Dave Brubeck Duke Ellington John Coltrane
Jimmy Rushing Dizzy Gillespie Eric Dolphy
Paul Desmond Terry Gibbs Billy Strayhorn
Listen Here
Jimmy Rushing Dizzy Live 1961 Festival Dizzy Gillespie
Eric Dolphy Duke Ellington Dave Brubeck
Big Miller Big Riffs on the Festival John Coltrane
Billy Strayhorn Paul Desmond Terry Gibbs

My Big Miller LP


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