Collectively Monk

Since 1983, S.F. Jazz has produced the San Francisco Jazz Festival, as well as year-around concert performances by Jazz headliners and notable artists. Prior to 2013, these concerts were held at various venues within the city, including: Grace Cathedral, Masonic Auditorium, Herbst Theatre, Davies Symphony Hall, Florence Gould Theatre at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, Palace of Fine Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Museum of Modern Art, and Bimbo’s 365 Club. As a Bay Area resident since August 2001, I didn’t began attending S.F. Jazz concerts until 2005, but saw nearly 50 concerts over a span of the four years. The stellar cast of headliners included a Who’s Who of Jazz: George Cables, Bill Charlap, Irvin Mayfield, Ellis Marsalis, Randy Weston, Kenny Barron, Danilo Perez, Phil Woods, Gonzalo Rubalcabo, Sonny Rollins, Heath Brothers, Cyrus Chestnut, Russell Malone, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Arturo Sandoval, Andrew Hill, Dr. Lonnie Smith, James Carter, Alice Coltrane, Ravi Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Fred Hersch, Dave Holland, Ben Riley, Geri Allen, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Eldar Djangirov, Robert Glasper, George Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Joey DeFrancesco, Trudy Pitts, Allen Toussaint, Henry Butler, Jason Moran, Dick Hyman, Mike Lipskin, Pharoah Sanders, William Henderson, T.S. Monk, Ornette Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Jimmy Scott, Archie Shepp, and Maceo Parker. Unfortunately, I missed performances by Keith Jarrett, Regina Carter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, and James Moody due to business travel or NYC Jazz trips. :v( All of the S.F. Jazz concerts were outstanding, and I personally enjoyed what each venue offered in terms of atmosphere, crowds, acoustics, and seating. After 2008, however, I found myself hardly attending any S.F. Jazz concerts, mostly due to my ever-increasing NYC Jazz trips back east, as well as bookings at other Bay Area Jazz venues. In 2013, S.F. Jazz opened its flagship S.F. Jazz Center building not far from the City Hall, where it would present all of its concerts thereafter. Back in 2004, S.F. Jazz launched the S.F. Jazz Collective, a Jazz ensemble comprised of nine performer/composers, whose mission was to perform a new repertoire each year. The repertoire was to include the works of a great modern Jazz composer from the post-1960 era, along with new compositions (commissioned by S.F. Jazz) by each band member. The original group featured the great vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Each spring, the ensemble convenes in San Francisco for a three-week residency to rehearse the season’s new repertoire and to interact with the community through S.F. Jazz’s education programs for youth and adults. Similar to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the S.F. Jazz Collective’s roster changes every few years in order to incorporate new members’ perspectives and fresh ideas. With a plethora great Jazz musicians who have matriculated, my favorite assemblage of talent, soulfulness, spirit, and raw energy was when roster included the following members (2015-17): Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone), David Sánchez (tenor saxophone), Sean Jones (trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Warren Wolf (vibraphone), Edward Simon (piano), Matt Penman (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums). Perhaps I’m somewhat biased and impartial because of my Jazz travels and seeing three of its members more often than others holding their respective chairs: Sean Jones, Warren Wolf, and Obed Calvaire. I first saw Sean Jones, a fellow mid-westerner from northeast Ohio, at Stanford Jazz Festival in 2006 and later saw him perform with Frank Morgan at Yoshi’s in August 2006, with his quintet at Monterey in 2007, and with Jon Faddis and Terell Stafford at Dizzy’s in September 2010. By the way, his working quintet that recorded several CDs and featured Brian Hogans (alto saxophone), Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums) was off the chart!!! Please check out “Transitions” from his 2009 release, “The Search Within”. I didn’t realize until years later that he had held down the first trumpet chair in the Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Orchestra at one time. Sean Jones is currently a Baltimore resident and Jazz Department Chair at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute Conservatory. Warren Wolf, a Baltimore native and an outstanding vibraphonist (and pianist and drummer) came into prominence while touring with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet that also featured Peter Martin (piano), Steve Wilson (alto saxophone), and Carl Allen (drums), after the 2009 CD release of Christian McBride’s “Kind of Brown”. I also saw Warren Wolf perform wonderfully with the Aaron Diehl Quartet at Dizzy’s in January 2013, featuring David Wong (bass) and Rodney Green (drums), prior to the March 2013 CD release of “A Bespoke Man’s Narrative”. Please check out “Moonlight In Vermont”. I recall first seeing Obed Calvaire with the Clayton Brothers, a swingin’ quintet featuring brothers, John (bass) and Jeff (alto saxophone), John’s son, Gerald (piano), Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Obed, as well as with Sean Jones’ group and on various other NYC Jazz concerts. So, on October 28, 2017, during a dentist’s visit trip to the Bay Area, I saw the S.F. Jazz Collective perform at the S.F. Jazz Center with the aforementioned line-up. That program, titled “Monk”, was a celebration of Thelonious Monk’s centennial, as well as the 10th anniversary of the Collective’s 2007 salute to Monk’s musical legacy. During the outstanding concert, the band revisited their unique take on the legendary pianist’s signature compositions, including arrangements by current members Miguel Zénon and Matt Penman, and former members. When the ensemble first took the stage, while Sean Jones scanned the larger audience, he glanced at me in the third row with a surprised “What are you doing here?” look. He then motioned to Warren Wolf a few feet away and pointed at me. I then nodded at Warren, my fellow Baltimorean “In the house!!!”! Prior to the performance, while walking outside adjacent to the building, I walked up behind Obed Calvaire who was walking slower and said, “What’s up, Obed?” I may have shocked him because he turned around with a very surprising look that someone would know him in San Francisco, but he then recognized me and smiled, and we exchanged pleasantries, with me telling him, “Have a great set!” :v) All of the Monk tunes played by the ensemble that night, with their home-grown special arrangements, were beautifully performed, each member having a chance to shine during featured solos. It may not have been a “San Francisco Holiday”, but it was certainly a Collective Monk 100th Birthday celebration . . . :v)