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Jazz: The Music of Monterey

Each year in Monterey, California, the air fills with the sounds of jazz music. This coastal city hosts the three-day Monterey Jazz Festival every September. The first festival, held in 1958, was organized by musician Jimmy Lyons and newspaper columnist Ralph J. Gleason. Lyons wanted to create a weekend of jazz with the world's best jazz players. He invited some of the top jazz musicians of the time to play at the Montgomery Fairground.

The event became an instant hit among music fans and performers. Musical greats who have appeared at Monterey include Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, and Wynton Marsalis.

“It's almost easier to say who was not there over the years than to say who was,” said Bill Minor, author of the book Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years, in a CNN interview. “When you're there, you get that sense of incredible history.”

Musical Roots

Jazz music is the combination of several musical styles. It was developed by African American musicians in New Orleans around 1900. Musicians were influenced by other music, such as work songs, hymns, ragtime, and blues. By the 1920s, young people flocked to hear jazz performers like Armstrong and bandleader Duke Ellington. In fact, the 1920s are remembered as the “Jazz Age.”

One difference between jazz and other types of music is that jazz players like to improvise. They create new music with little or no preparation. Jazz performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival are famous for improvised solos.

The Future of Jazz

Jazz music continues to change and develop. Today, musicians around the world create their own jazz music to share with others. Many of the best jazz musicians come to play on one of the seven stages at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Thousands of visitors can select from more than 500 acts. Yet the annual festival is more than a brief round of entertainment.

From the beginning, the festival has used its profits to fund jazz education for teenagers. The festival gives at least $500,000 each year to workshops and scholarships that allow young musicians to carry on the jazz tradition.

This work with young people has been so successful that a new jazz event was started in 2005. The “Next Generation Festival” is now held every April and showcases young jazz performers. The event includes a national high school competition for jazz bands and singers. Winners get a chance to perform at the larger festival in September. Monterey resident Stevie Melanson told CNN that his favorite part of the Monterey Jazz Festival is the performances of the high school All-Star bands. “The young kids' contribution and their understanding of jazz is just awesome,” he said.