So this is probably an unlikely entry for my first in .. way too long. It’s the middle of the night. I should be sleeping. But here I am…
And for some reason, the melody line from Line for Lyons just popped into my head. Now that I think of it, I suppose I can deconstruct the reason why I began to silently sing it to myself. The timing trigger was looking up at my Monterey Jazz Festival poster from the 35th Fest in 1992. The background is a picture of Jimmy Lyons (for whom the song is named) and the foreground is the names of all the artists who have played at the fest up to and including 1992. Somehow, I focused for a brief moment on the name of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, listed near the bottom with the artists for 1992. That is, of course, not the only time his name is on that poster.
Gerry Mulligan wrote the tune. It was dedicated to the founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Jimmy Lyons. I’m not sure exactly when it was written, but it was sometime before the former DJ started the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. I managed to find recordings of it claiming to be as far back as 1953.
But maybe more importantly, it reminded me of my past life. I had the honor of playing Line for Lyons for My. Lyons himself on the stage now named the “Jimmy Lyons Stage” in 1992. We had toured Japan with him earlier that summer. Later that evening, Gerry Mulligan played it again. It was Jimmy’s last year as General Manager of the Fest. I suppose I knew, at the time, that it was a special moment. Meeting Mulligan was a treat. Playing his song for Jimmy, a treat as well.
That year was truly the end of an era. In addition to Lyons retiring, that was the last year Dizzy Gillespie appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I had the honor of playing with him the year before that. He came and rehearsed the band that year but was not well enough to play. He passed away the following January. Lyons passed away a couple years later. Since then, the Arena was named after Lyons, one of the indoor venues was named “Dizzy’s Den”, and the night club stage named after Bill Berry, the trumpeter who directed the band I was in. Berry passed away just a few years ago, but the band plays on and the fest is bigger than ever.
A couple weeks ago I was sitting in at Blues Central in Anchorage, Alaska, on Jazz night. A group of musicians, most of whom I’d never seen before, surrounded me. It turned out to be quite an impressive collection of players. When the piano player called Line for Lyons, I just smiled. I never said anything, but it was quite a pleasant trip down memory lane….