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Herb Wong remembers Monterey

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(CNN) -- Herb Wong and Jimmy Lyons were friends and San Francisco jazz radio broadcasters in the early 1950s when Lyons founded the Monterey Jazz Festival. Wong has been to all 48 Monterey festivals, has emceed many of them, and will be at this year's 49th annual festival, too.

Wong described to CNN some of the standout performances in the nearly 50-year history of the festival:

Salute to the Sax, 1962: "What turned me on -- and I've never forgotten it because the impact is permanent -- on this single stage we had the galaxy of some of the greatest saxophonists that were alive at that time.

"We had alto saxophonist Benny Carter, Paul Desmond, Phil Wood -- Phil's the only one still alive -- Stan Getz, James Moody, Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan. They were all lined up from left to right. And just the vision of these guys on stage -- this is a mind-blower! They were magnificent."

Teagarden family, 1963: "The first and only gathering of the late Teagarden family. Jack Teagarden was a legend on trombone. The Teagarden family included his brother Charlie, who played trumpet. His sister Norma Teagarden played piano, and even their mother, Mama Teagarden, she played some piano that evening.

"Surrounding with the Teagarden family was a slate of dynamite players such as clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, distinctively different from any other clarinetist in the history of this music, baritonist Gerry Mulligan, and even from Japan, there was a guest tenor saxophonist from Tokyo, his name was Sleepy Matsumoto, and then there's the legendary pianist named Joe Sullivan, and I remember the drummer was Nick Ceroli.

"None of these people are alive today. And that was such a high, that it's indescribable. It was so significant."

Jazz violin conclave: "There was a jazz violin conclave a few years after that, that I recall. Jazz violin is a genre that is rather esoteric but much more popular today.

"There were three violinists: one who was worldly known from Sweden, his name's Svend Asmussen; Jean-Luc Ponty, who originally was the No. 1 classical violinist in Europe who then got turned on to jazz; and there was the violinist who was a part of the trumpet section of The Duke Ellington Orchestra who happened to also play the violin, that's Ray Nance.

"So that was another memorable high. You don't get that kind of jazz violin summit every day."

Generation of Vibers: "There was a program called 'A Generation of Vibers.' ... There were five jazz vibraphonists on stage, one after another, and then together. And they in total represented the history of the jazz vibraphone, starting with the earliest of the group, the late Red Norvo, and then the bebop giant from the Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson, and followed by the late Cal Tjader, who was part of the original Dave Brubeck Trio before he became an international figure of his own. His style was predicated on the concert approach of Milt Jackson, so that made a lot of sense.

"And following that, we had Gary Burton, who still is alive today. Just a couple years ago Gary retired from the position of dean of the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And he's a world figure in vibraphone.

"And following that was Bobby Hutcherson, who lives in the (San Francisco) Bay Area and is an international jazz figure. So that is one hell of a show. To have those five guys at the same time, at the same place being able to really share the progression of styles.

The Real Ambassadors: "Also, there was one show that I think I would also place in this general category of wonderful memories, and that's the show called 'The Real Ambassadors' -- Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae and the participation of Dave and Iola Brubeck. ... When Louis Armstrong was part of it, you say, 'Gee, you have this early tradition of the super icon with somebody who was such a prolific, inventive composer like Dave, and an interpreter like Carmen McRae, how can you miss?'

"It's like the best things you can put together and get a birthday cake. That is historic. It was everything, all the ingredients you could ask for, but it was all in a wonderful show, more than informative it was entertaining."

Dr. Wong's Bag: "On occasion at Monterey, I used to bring Woody (Herman) onstage. I was the emcee. On one occasion his pianist and road manager came backstage and said, 'Hey, Woody wants you out there on stage now,' and I said, 'Tell him I'll be there.' 'No, the old man wants you out there now!' so I said, 'OK,OK.'

"So I go on out there and I was surprised that Woody was already out there on stage. And then he starts talking about, 'There's this guy, we have a supporting fan that travels by plane, by train, by auto and I think he walks too.' And he says 'So we want to pay tribute to him, and here's the tune. And it's called 'Dr. Wong's Bag.' "


Herb Wong, left, with percussionist and composer Max Roach at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1994.




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