The Young Lions

In April 2013, a Jazz buddy and I traveled 90 miles south to Monterey, California, to check out the annual Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival, which invites young musicians from middle school, high school, and colleges from across the United States and the world to compete to perform at the highly-acclaimed Monterey Jazz Festival in September. The weekend’s activities begin with a Friday night Kick-Off Concert at the Monterey Conference Center that features famous and well-established Jazz artists, who also perform as judges. Saturday’s and Sunday’s activities include over nine hours of performances in five locations in downtown Monterey, as well as workshops, clinics, master classes, and special guest performances, concluding with the announcements of division winners and scholarship winners, as well as auditions for the prestigious traveling Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. Admittedly, my primary interest that year was the highly-anticipated Kick-Off Concert which was to include: pianist Patrice Rushen; saxophonists Joel Frahm, Antonio Hart, and Gary Smulyan; drummer Jeff Hamilton; bassist Ray Drummond; guitarist Russell Malone; and vocalist Kenny Washington. Fortunately, I’d already seen each of these artitsts perform either in NYC or in the Bay Area. With our front-row general admission seats, and a standing room only crowd of 1,600 Jazz fans, we thoroughly enjoyed the concert, where each of the aforementioned judges was featured on various tunes. This concert, itself, was well worth the 90-mile drive! A bonus event, the icing on the cake, if you will, was the Student Jam Session that followed in an open-area lounge where the up-and-comers got a rare chance to perform, approach, and converse with their musical heroes. DurIng this late-night session, my Jazz buddy took the time to chat with guitarist Russell Malone, while I, in turn, kibitzed with bassists Ray Drummond and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Many of the young musicians were, indeed, very impressive when their time came to solo during the playing of Jazz standards. Notably, Berkeley High School, a local school with which I’d become very familiar due to its numerous alumni of great Jazz stature, including David Murray, Rodney Franklin, Michael Wolff, Craig Handy, Benny Green, Joshua Redman, Dayna Stephens, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Charles Altura, won First Place for Jazz Combo, and later performed at the 56th Monterey Jazz Festival in September. Look out, Jazz world!!! :v)