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Jack Sheldon plays it cool in Monterey

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Monterey Jazz Festival

Jazz greats recall the birth of 'West Coast Sound'

From Correspondent Ron Tank

Web posted on: Thursday, September 17, 1998 5:13:06 PM EDT

MONTEREY, California (CNN) -- Smooth sounds will emanate from California this weekend as the 41st annual Monterey Jazz Festival gets under way Friday.

The three-day festival will maintain its image as the hot spot for cool jazz, featuring some of the top performers in the business, including Al Jarreau, Dave Brubeck, Bobby Hutchinson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Elvin Jones and Ray Drummond. Along the way, fans will be treated to an international array of foods and, of course, the treasures of the California coast.

The image of laid-back jazz was reflected on the album covers

Remembering its roots

The festival was started in 1957 in honor of the burgeoning jazz flavor of the West, and since then it has helped shape the industry and its musicians.

Some alumni of that early California jazz period gathered in Hollywood recently to mark the re-issue of some of those classic recordings, many of which haven't been available since they were issued as 12-inch records.

Jack Sheldon is one of the creators of the so-called "West Coast Sound" of the early 1950s. He remembers the good ol' days of California jazz.

"Chet Baker and I, we used to go around playing clubs, and we'd go in a club and they'd say 'Well, you can play but don't play too loud, don't bother anybody,'" Sheldon says. "So we would play real soft. We developed a style to play real soft and do anything we wanted to but real soft."

William Claxton's pictures of Chet Baker associated him with the "look" of the cool jazz scene

The image

The music was the ultimate in "cool," and the image was helped along by photographer William Claxton, who captured jazz in laid-back California.

"Because I was photographing everybody, I got to be identified with the so-called 'West Coast scene,'" Claxton recalls. "We printed a book and they said, 'What shall we call it?' and I said 'Let's call it 'Jazz West Coast.'"

But it was Claxton's pictures of trumpeter Baker that defined not only the photographer's work but the music's roots. Baker's good looks were perfect for California.

"It was really a great period in music, whether it was cool jazz or what, it was all jazz," said musician Cy Touf.

It was all jazz then, and it's all jazz now. Monterey is still keeping the beat, starting tomorrow.

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