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The Monterey Jazz Festival Collection Archive of the world's longest running jazz festival

Early History: A Vibrant Music Scene


During the 1960s the festival produced some of the most memorable performances in jazz history. In 1962 Louis Armstrong starred in Dave Brubeck's jazz musical, The Real Ambassadors, dressed as jazz's diplomat to the world in a tux with tails and a top hat - a fitting conclusion to the fifth annual festival. The 1963 festival hosted the extraordinary performances of both Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. It was also a reunion for the Teagarden family (Jack on trombone, his brother Charlie on trumpet, with sister Norma or mother Helen on piano) only four months before Jack's death in 1964.


The 1964 and 1965 festivals featured appearances by Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, as well as John Handy's incomparable performance of "Spanish Lady". Gil Evans introduced newer jazz influences into the 1966 festival, as did Don Ellis in 1967, when he played arrangements with highly complex meters and improvised with a four-valve trumpet capable of sounding microtones. In 1967 the festival proceedings were videotaped for the first time to document the tenth anniversary (moving image recordings do not appear in the archive again until 1975).


Popular music and jazz itself changed drastically between 1957 and the late sixties. Elvis Presley had reached the peak of his popularity. The Beatles and other "British invasion" bands were exerting an enormous influence on music and American culture. The country was in the midst of a divisive and unpopular war. But despite these enormous cultural shifts, the festival continued to program many of the same jazz masters and important local jazz talent. In 1964, after Gleason sharply criticized Lyons's programming and encouraged him to broaden the styles of jazz and music presented at the concerts, Lyons added a regular blues afternoon session that became a tradition. As a further answer to the criticism that nothing fresh was coming to Monterey, Lyons invited the participation of Jefferson Airplane in 1966 and Janis Joplin in 1967. Throughout Jimmy Lyons's tenure as manager, however, the main direction of the festival - the presentation of major mainstream jazz musicians - remained in place and produced high-quality jazz concerts, but with many of the same performers rotating from year to year.

Armstrong/McRae and Teagarden photos by Jerry Stoll; Ellington photo courtesy of the Monterey County Herald