A History of Monterey Jazz Festival and Japan

Monterey Jazz Festival in Japan in 1978. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives

For over a half-century, Monterey Jazz Festival has been changing lives through jazz education. MJF’s Education Program components include work with students in schools, summer camps, touring All-Star student ensembles, online resources, instruments and repertoire, and more. Our efforts to perpetuate America's music and instill qualities of leadership, responsibility, teamwork, compassion, and artistic aesthetic in our youth encompass our innovative series of year-round jazz education programs, reaching over 3,000 Monterey County, national, and international students annually.

Founded in 1958 as a 501(c) (3) non-profit education organization, the festival’s mission statement expressed that profits should fund musically-oriented cultural events and education in Monterey County. By 1970, $35,000 had been granted to Monterey Peninsula College, with support grants to the Carmel Bach Festival and the Monterey Symphony.

In 1971, the Board of Directors of the Monterey Jazz Festival prioritized investments to local and state music education programs. Inaugurated as “Jazz Today and Tomorrow,” the Festival began hosting the California High School Competition at Monterey Peninsula College in the spring. Winning school groups were showcased at the annual Monterey Jazz Festival on Sundays starting that same year. Another significant development of the annual competition was the formation of a California High School All-Star Big Band, comprised of the top student musicians in California and beyond.

This group (now called the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra) has been guest-directed by name jazz artists and respected educators over the years, dispensing their experience, knowledge of the artform, professional repertoire, and careful mentorship to this next generation of musical pioneers and young leaders.

Help us continue this tradition of providing life-changing music education opportunities by contributing to Monterey Jazz Festival's jazz education programs.

The Monterey Jazz Festival and Japan

The history of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s artistic and educational connection with Japan is a long and fruitful one dating back 52 years, with the ultimate goal of cross-cultural exchange and sharing a universal love of jazz.

As early as 1963, Monterey Jazz Festival has presented leading Japanese artists at the festival, starting with baritone saxophonist Hedehiko “Sleepy” Matsumoto. In 1974, founder Jimmy Lyons brought Toshiyuki Miyama and the New Herd, a cutting-edge modern big band from Japan to perform on the Arena Stage. Other performers over the years include the clarinetist Eiji Kitamura (who would perform 10 times at MJF), pianists Toshiko Akiyoshi, Kotaro Tsukahara, Shigeru Morishita, Junko Moriya, and Ritsuko Endo, organist Atsuko Hashimoto, guitarist Hironobu Saito, the Tokyo Union Orchestra, vocalist Chika Singer, and many others.

Historically, the Japanese market has been a boon for jazz artists. When jazz as a popular music was in decline with mass audiences beginning in the 1970s in the American market, sales for jazz always have been strong in Japan. Many jazz artists have found themselves to be treated as celebrities once they have left American shores, and that trend remains, even today. In 1978, Jimmy Lyons brought many of the MJF21 artists from Monterey across the Pacific to create the Monterey Jazz Festival in Japan, which took place on October 1, 1978. There were only a few thousand seats available for the show, but over 48 thousand people requested tickets for the mini-festival.

A more educational and life-changing experience began a few years later. In 1983, Monterey Jazz Festival began its Traveling Clinicians program in Monterey County schools--not only creating artists for the future, but fans as well. This easily scalable program works as a model for arts education around the world by utilizing local musicians to teach students the art of jazz, human interaction, leadership, responsibility, discipline, and democracy within a group setting. These programs also engage the local residents, businesses and government entities by building a performing arts infrastructure that all members of the community can enjoy.

After the success of the Traveling Clinicians, Bill Berry, the former Duke Ellington trumpeter who had been MJF's California High School All-Stars director since 1981, and Jimmy Lyons decided that the all-star students would fly to Japan for an unofficial tour in 1987. It was dubbed an exhilarating experience. With that tour fresh in everyone’s minds, in 1988, the city of Monterey was approached through a series of business networks and educational touring entities from the coastal town of Nanao on the Noto Peninsula in Japan.

Having a similar boom-to-bust commercial fishing industry, Nanao had analyzed Monterey’s post-cannery era revitalization strategy to become a sister city, and had decided to use the Monterey Jazz Festival as a model to develop the Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto as a tourist attraction. Lyons of course thought this would bring the message and name of the Monterey Jazz Festival to a proven area of the globe that appreciated and craved jazz, and an annual tour would be beneficial as an experiential model for the young talented musicians. Eiji Kitamura, having now performed many times at Monterey for a decade, introduced Lyons to local Japanese promoters, and a new tradition was born.

Beginning in 1989, the California High School All-Star Band began to travel nearly every year to perform at Monterey's Japanese counterpart in Noto, and other venues. Less than a decade later, the Tomisato Jazz Festival was added to  tour, with additional performances scheduled for the students in Tokyo, Nagoya, and many other locations.

The tours include an important part of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s experience for youth: participation in student exchanges with local music students, and reside in homestays with local families. Receiving a cultural experience similar to a “study abroad” program, student musicians also gain a realistic and insightful understanding of what “being on the road” as artist involves – a sort of real world Traveling Clincians program in reverse. The road now became the classroom.

Paul Contos, Monterey Jazz Festival Education Director and saxophonist says “the relationships we have forged in Japan are important and inspirational to our educational model, especially in the arts.” said Contos. “In the process, we have impacted the lives of many young people on both sides of the Pacific.”

Contos would know. He’s been an essential part of the Monterey Jazz Festival's jazz education programs since 1984, and is active as a saxophone clinician, educator, and performer at various educational festivals, clinics, concerts, and workshops in the United States, Japan, Europe, Canada, and Brazil. His work for the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Traveling Clinicians Program, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Stars is distinguished, and his many trips to Japan have also had a strong influence on how he delivers the message of music and develops teaching strategies.

In July of 2015, Contos visited Japan on a six-day educational and performance tour. Among the highlights included his guest conducting of the Mad Hatters Jazz Orchestra from Tomisato High School; instrumental and improvisational workshops; and performances with the Mad Hatters and the High Notes Jazz Orchestra at the Tomisato Jazz Festival.

The city of Tomisato has also reciprocated in sending their own Mad Hatters Big Band to Monterey, consisting of young Japanese high school musicians to perform as guests at MJF’s annual Next Generation Jazz Festival in the spring. The Mad Hatters last visited Monterey in 2013, and also engaged in homestays with local Monterey Peninsula families.

The Mad Hatters is directed by trumpeter Masaki Shinohara, a protégé of Wynton Marsalis. Mr. Shinohara and Mr. Contos share teaching resources, repertoire, and educational learning strategies to create state-of-the-art music programs, performances, and workshops for use in the United States and abroad.

Other Japanese groups, including the Ishikawa Junior Jazz Academy, directed by acclaimed pianist Junko Moriya, has been modeled after Monterey Jazz Festival’s student bands and educational system. The Ishikawa group has also traveled to stay in Monterey with performances at the Next Generation Jazz Festival in recent years.

The experiential educational model that Monterey and its Japanese cousins employ shapes lives. Chris Fishman, the pianist in the 2014 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, said “the chance to see and experience another country like Japan is something that I will never forget. Nothing I have done so far in my journey in this music has impacted me more than my time with Next Gen.”

Help us continue this tradition of providing life-changing music education opportunities by contributing to Monterey Jazz Festival's jazz education programs.