In celebration of the 50th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival Records will make its debut with a remarkable series of historic, never-before- heard, live-at-Monterey releases. Not only does this mark the first time a festival has launched its own label, but the riches of its tape archives-more than 1600 tapes with more than 2000 hours of concerts in the vault-makes this ambitious endeavor a jazz bonanza.
The Monterey Jazz Festival, the pioneering West Coast-styled jazz party, inarguably holds the world record for the longest-running jazz affair, having been born in 1958 on the Monterey Fairgrounds, some 100 miles south of San Francisco. This year MJF turns 50, with its annual three-day gala (September 21-23) taking on special significance with a wealth of performances offered on nine stages spread throughout the festival's 20-acre grounds.
Monterey Jazz Festival Records is a stand-alone label in partnership with the Monterey Jazz Festival and Concord Music Group. The profits realized by the festival will be re-invested into its ongoing internationally recognized jazz education programs. The MJFR imprint's first five unreleased recordings, to be released on July 31, capture the crème de la crème of the jazz heritage: Louis Armstrong (caught playing the very first night of the festival in 1958); Miles Davis (introducing to the West Coast his classic '60s quintet, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, featuring saxophonist George Coleman in 1963); Thelonious Monk (his quartet augmented by bassist Steve Swallow and an expanded five-piece festival workshop in 1964); and two revered artists, Shirley Horn and Grover Washington Jr., both, respectively, playing their one and only sets at Monterey in 1994.
The label also promises to document the jazz of the future, says MJFR general manager Jason Olaine, the New York-based former director of A&R at Verve Records from 1999-2004. "We're not going to be stuck in a jazz time warp," he says. "We're excited to deliver important historical music, as well as assemble special projects and all-star ensembles to debut at the festival each year."
This year's celebratory jazz-future lineup includes an all-star quartet comprising of bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland as well as the festival's 50th-year project that will include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist James Moody, vocalist Nnenna Freelon, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Kendrick Scott and pianist Benny Green, who serves as the musical director. Both groups will be documented live at MJF/50 for possible upcoming releases, with the latter ensemble going on a 50-date national tour in January 2008.
Glen Barros, President and CEO of the Concord Music Group, states, "Concord Records has been committed to nurturing and recording renowned artists for more than three decades, as well as discovering and developing new emerging talent. The Monterey Jazz Festival brand fits perfectly with our overall desire to provide consumers the finest documented recordings of all time. The Concord Music Group is excited to be involved in presenting these spectacular, rare and historic recordings to the public for the first time since they were originally heard by audiences at Monterey."
MJF general manager Tim Jackson tells the story of how the label was born. Three years ago while conceptually ramping up for Monterey's monumental anniversary; he started thinking in broader strokes. "I wanted to leverage the festival's assets and use the 50th as a launching pad to make this historical music available to people," he says.
Ten years ago, Jackson worked with legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews to compile a three-CD best-of collection for the festival's 40th birthday (Monterey Jazz Festival-40 Legendary Years, released on Malpaso Records, an imprint of Warner Bros.). It was at that time that he discovered that the archival tapes, housed at the Braun Music Center library on the Stanford University campus, were deteriorating from age. Thanks to grants, the festival has digitized all 2,000 hours of the live recordings made at Monterey in the past 49 years. That provided an impetus to set the label project into motion.
As for the contact with Concord, Jackson says he got to know Barros while they both served on the board of Jazz Alliance International. "As a festival, we're not equipped to market records," says Jackson, "but Concord has certainly proven that it's been very progressive in getting CDs to listeners. Glen and I like and trust each other and with the assistance of our MJF Board of Directors we quickly worked out an agreement. Plus Concord is a West Coast label with its roots in northern California. We like that, too."
Another round of Monterey live CDs will be released in early September to coincide with MJF/50. This historic series will continue as a thriving source of amazing music with many more releases planned for 2008 and beyond.