7:30 pm to 9:30 pm
January 21, 2023
As one of the world’s longest running and most iconic events, the Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates its 65th year with a must-hear once-in-a-lifetime ensemble. Featuring Tony and Grammy Award winning NEA Jazz Master vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater alongside Grammy Award winning vocalist Kurt Elling and critically acclaimed rising star saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, this stellar band will be directed by visionary pianist Christian Sands and anchored by his longtime rhythm section, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn.
The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour concept began with our 50th Anniversary in 2007 with the idea of taking the musical spirit of MJF, along with artists who reflect that spirit, and fashion a musical program that engages all the artistry and energy of the festival and bring it to jazz fans throughout the country. That first tour included James Moody, Terence Blanchard, Benny Green, Nnenna Freelon, Derrick Hodge, and Kendrick Scott. The band debuted at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival where we recorded live and released the Grammy-winning CD Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival. We then embarked on 52 city tour of the US in January–April of 2008, from Bellingham WA to Long Island, NY. We have produced four subsequent tours in 2010, 2013, 2016 & 2019.
Artists involved include Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gerald Clayton, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Bria Skonberg, Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Regina Carter, Nicholas Payton, Ravi Coltrane, Russell Malone, Chris Potter, Melissa Aldana, and Ambrose Akinmusire to name a few. In total, the MJF on Tour programs have played over 185 concerts to almost 150,000 people.
Over the course of a multifaceted career spanning four decades, Grammy and Tony Award-winning jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater has ascended to the upper echelon of vocalists, putting her unique spin on standards, as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. Ever the fearless voyager, explorer, pioneer and keeper of tradition, the three-time Grammy-winner recently won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.
Bridgewater’s career has always bridged musical genres. She earned her first professional experience as a member of the legendary Thad Jones/Mel Louis Big Band, and throughout the 70s she performed with such jazz notables as Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie. After a foray into the pop world during the 1980s, she relocated to Paris and began to turn her attention back to Jazz. Signing with Universal Music Group as a producer (Bridgewater produces all of her CDs), Bridgewater released a series of critically acclaimed titles beginning with Keeping Tradition in 1993. All but one, including her wildly successful double Grammy Award-winning tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dear Ella, have received Grammy nominations.
Bridgewater also pursued a parallel career in musical theater, winning a Tony Award for her role as “Glinda” in The Wiz in 1975. Having recently completed a run as the lead role of Billie Holiday in the off-Broadway production of Lady Day, her other theatrical credits include Sophisticated Ladies, Black Ballad, Carmen, Cabaret and the Off-Broadway and West End Productions of Lady Day, for which Bridgewater received the British Laurence Olivier Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
Renowned for his singular combination of robust swing and poetic insight, two-time GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling has secured his place among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists. The New York Times proclaimed Elling, “the standout male vocalist of our time”. Over a twenty-five year career of touring and recording, Elling has won three Prix du Jazz Vocal (France), two German Echo Awards, two Dutch Edison Awards, and has been nominated for a GRAMMY award fifteen times. He has had a 14-year run atop the DownBeat Critics and Readers polls, and has won twelve Jazz Journalists Awards for “Male Vocalist of the Year”.
Kurt Elling’s voice is instantly recognizable, embracing listeners with his warm, rich baritone and navigating the full span of his four-octave range as a virtuoso improvisor and a compelling storyteller. The Guardian (UK) has named Kurt Elling, “a kind of Sinatra with superpowers,” and, “one of jazz’s all-time great vocalists.”
Elling has recorded and toured with Branford Marsalis, Danilo Perez, Stefon Harris, Fred Hersch, James Morrison, and Charlie Hunter. He has performed extensively with larger ensembles like The Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra, The National Youth Orchestra (led by Sean Jones), The Bob Mintzer Big Band, The BBC Concert Symphony (led by Guy Barker) The Metropole Orchestra (Holland), The Irish Radio and Television Orchestra (led by Brian Byrne), The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and The WDR Orchestra and Big Band (Germany).
Elling’s dynamism is enhanced exponentially by the fact that he consistently generates new vocal material by writing and recording signature and definitive lyrics to the compositions of foundational jazz composers like of John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul.
Christian Sands — Steinway Artist and five-time Grammy Nominee — is an emerging jazz force. His abundant piano technique perfectly matches his conception, accomplishing a much deeper musical goal: a fresh look at the entire language of jazz. Christian says, “My music is about teaching the way of jazz and keeping it alive.” Whether it’s stride, swing, bebop, progressive, fusion, Brazilian or Afro-Cuban, Sands develops the past while providing unusual and stimulating vehicles for the present… and for the future. He expresses himself through an extensive vocabulary of patterns, textures and structures, all the while maintaining a strong sense of understatement, sensitivity, taste and swing — hallmarks for as long as he has been playing.
Since arriving on the scene, Sands has shared the stage with such jazz luminaries as Wynton Marsalis, Diane Reeves, Shelia E, Warren Wolf, Tia Fuller, Gary Burton, Stefan Harris, Teri Lynne Carrington, Jason Moran, Geri Allen, Ben Williams, Randy Brecker, Steve Johns, Avery Sharpe, James Moody, Bill Evans (sax), Russell Malone, Terrance Blanchard, Louis Hayes, Patti Austin, Marcus Baylor, Craig Handy, Carl Allen, Kirk Whalum, and Wycliffe Gordon.
The power and prowess of his playing has taken him from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to the world renowned Newport Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, to New York’s celebrated jazz clubs such as the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Blue Note and Dizzy’s Club; to international jazz clubs all over the world.
His meteoric rise in the jazz world already includes performances with the legendary Oscar Peterson and Dr. Billy Taylor. He met Dr. Billy Taylor at the Jazz in July program in 2006, and formed an immediate connection. Dr. Taylor dubbed him his protégé, and Christian has followed in his mentor’s footsteps by encouraging, inspiring and advocating for the preservation and history of jazz.
Voted by 2020 Downbeat Critics Poll Rising star Alto Saxophonist and Up and Coming Artist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association ,Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin fuses traditional conceptions of Jazz, HipHop, and Soul. Benjamin’s electric presence and fiery sax work has shared stages with several legendary artists, including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots, and Macy Gray. As the bandleader of Lakecia Benjamin and Soul Squad, she melds the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Meters with soaring, dance-floor worthy rhythms. Benjamin’s grooves take the classic vibe to a whole new level with sultry alto saxophone creating something special on every cut – be it a smoldering late-night ambiance, or a forceful jazz intensity, or even the tight funk multi-horn harmony sections.
A streetwise New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin first picked up the saxophone at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. From there she joined the renowned jazz program at New York’s New School University. However, even at that early stage, Benjamin was already playing with renowned jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which introduced her to opportunities to play and tour with an array of artists such as Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, Vanessa Rubin and James “Blood” Ulmer. With her deep jazz roots, she was soon in demand as an arranger and horn section leader, landing stints with such acclaimed artists as Anita Baker.
Currently Lakecia Benjamin’s latest album “Pursuance” is an intergenerational masterpiece that takes one on a journey through the lineage of the music with the works of John and Alice Coltrane. Benjamin pays homage to those who have come before by featuring innovative bandleaders of her generation, such as, Reggie Workman (Coproducer and playing ), Ron carter , Gary Bartz, Dee Dee Bridegwater, Meshell Ndegecello, Regina carter, Bertha Hope, Last poets, Greg Osby, Steve Wilson, John Benitez, Marc Cary, Marcus Gilmore, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Jazzmeia Horn.
Yasushi Nakamura is praised for imaginative, quicksilver bass lines that deepen the groove. His blend of guitar-like precision and gut-level blues has sparked collaborations with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Hank Jones, Dave Douglas, Steve Miller, etc. With his charismatic stage presence and artful, hard swinging melodic touch, Nakamura is a first-call performer capturing new audiences and fans around the world.
Born in Tokyo, Nakamura moved to the United States at age 9, and considers both places home. He began with clarinet and tenor saxophone, but his older brother’s study of guitar and drums drove him to pick up the bass. His love of rock and funk aside, the music of Charlie Parker, Ray Brown, Miles Davis were a potent influence on him. Nakamura received a BA in Jazz Performance from Berklee School of Music in 2000, and was awarded a full scholarship to The Juilliard School for his Artist Diploma in 2006. He credits Myron Walden as an early champion, and keeps close ties to Juilliard mentors Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, and Carl Allen, Ben Wolfe all of whom maintain him in their bands.
Nakamura’s career is flourishing, with consistent engagements at premier jazz festivals including Tokyo, North Sea, Monterey, Ravinia, and venues such as Birdland, Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, the Kennedy Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall. In 2014, he was honored to play the “NEA Jazz Masters Concert: Celebrating Jamey Abersold, Anthony Braxton, Richard Davis, and Keith Jarrett,” sharing the stage with Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman. A wide array of projects permits him to explore musical styles and collaborations. In 2016, he recorded with one of his long-time inspirations, Toshiko Akiyoshi, for her recent release, Porgy and Bess. His performance with Akiyoshi’s Jazz Orchestra was also broadcast as a documentary film. Recent works include “For the Love of Duke” with New York City Ballet choreographed by Susan Stroman, and “Ellington at Christmas: Nutcracker Suite” with Savion Glover, Lizz Wright, the Abyssinian Baptist Choir, and David Berger conducting. In 2010, he toured the Middle East with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Kings of the Crescent City” project, and he toured Asia in 2008 with the Juilliard All-Stars. As an educator, Nakamura has led master classes and summer intensive courses at the The Juilliard School, New School, Koyo Conservatory, Osaka Geidai, and Savannah Swing Central.
Clarence Penn is one of the busiest jazz drummers in the world, a leader of multiple bands, a composer, a prolific producer, and an educator.
Since 1991, when he arrived in New York City, Penn has placed his unique blend of mega-chops, keen intellect, and heady musicianship at the service of a staggering array of A-list artists—a chronological short-list includes Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Betty Carter, Stanley Clarke, Steps Ahead, Makoto Ozone, Michael Brecker, Dave Douglas, Maria Schneider, Luciana Souza, Richard Galliano, and Fourplay. Penn’s impressive discography includes several hundred studio albums (including the Grammy-winning recordings 34th and Lex by Randy Brecker and Concert in the Garden and Sky Blue by Maria Schneider) representing a 360-spectrum of jazz expression, and he’s toured extensively throughout the United States, the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia. He’s composed music for films and commercials, and produced tracks for numerous singers in the pop and alternative arenas. He earned a “Ten Best of 1997” accolade from the New York Times for his first leader recording, Penn’s Landing.
A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was a protégé of Ellis Marsalis, Penn is active as an educator and drum clinician. From 2004 to 2012, he taught on the faculty of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. He’s also served on faculty at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Saint Louis College of Music in Rome, Italy, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Intensive Jazz Institute.
Penn currently leads several ensembles. His most recent “rhythmically intoxicating” recording is 2014’s “Monk The Lost Files”arrangements of the music of Thelonious Monk. Released on the Origin record lable, an amazing quartet comprising saxophonist Chad Leftkowitz-Brown, Pianist Gerald Clayton/Donald Vega, and bassist Yasushi Nakamura performing the music of Thelonius Monk with today’s modern jazz sensibility. Near completion is a “world music” studio project of songs and instrumentals that melds background voices—including his own—with a world class band.
His motto: “When people hear my name, I want them to think, ‘I don’t know what band he’s playing with tonight or what he’ll be doing, but it’s going to be good, it’s going to be musical.’”