Well, here we are again.

I made it through the first night of the 54th annual Monterey Jazz Festival with flying colors. Or, at least colors that are still waving instead of wavering.

Friday night can be a little dicey, at least for me, a journalist on deadline.

The weather can have something to do with it. Fog, anyone?

Or, perhaps the fact the patrons are just getting their bearings after a year off and are getting reacquainted with what it's like to

be back at the festival. Catching up with old friends and seat mates takes its sweet time and can be a bit distracting.

Then there are the food, merchandise and arts and crafts booths that beckon with their siren song, "Buy me! Eat me! Wear me!"

Hey, before you know it, you've missed the first couple of acts and you're trying to play catch-up. "Hey, isn't Hiromi playing later in Dizzy's Den? Good. I missed her in the arena. What time does Poncho Sanchez play?"

My night was exacerbated by an earlier-than-usual deadline, so I could only catch one act before filing this story. I think it has something to do with Friday night football. Don't ask.

But what an act to start off the weekend. In a departure from tradition (or at least the norm for the past several years), the

festival didn't open with a local combo (more on that later), but acclaimed Houston pianist Robert Glasper and his trio.

Glasper is this year's so-called Showcase Artist and, boy, did he put on a showcase Friday night.

Smooth, funny, animated. And that was just his outsize personality.


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His playing was sublime — imaginative, forceful and at

times a bit off-kilter, or as he once referred to it, "I love odd phrases that vamp. It brings a whole different feeling than a regular

vamp."

Glasper even played a couple of tunes on electric piano, another departure from the traditional jazz trio setup of acoustic piano, bass and drums.

Fortunately, patrons who missed that early performance will get two more chances to catch this rising star, 8 p.m. today in Dizzy's Den and at 9 p.m. Sunday in the Night Club.

Those two performances, however, will be performed as the Robert Glasper Experiment, with the addition of saxophonist Casey Benjamin and excellent Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, who will also be playing tonight with his mentor Herbie Hancock.

The second slot was taken up by the "local" band, an Austin, Texas-based band led by trumpeter Erik Telford, who was born and raised in Pacific Grove.

Telford was making his first appearance at the festival since 1996, when he was in the festival's high school all-star band and was winner of the first Jimmy Lyons scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Telford spoke to me before his appearance, relishing his moment in the spotlight in his "hometown" festival

"It's something I've always wanted to do," he said "It's a great opportunity and I'm obviously very happy. It's a great opportunity to be able come back and listen let alone play. Monterey is for me the best festival I've ever attended and obviously being my hometown, it's special."

Telford's group, which includes Marcus Cardwell on tenor sax and soprano sax, Danny Anderson on guitar, Kris Afflerbaugh on bass, drummer Andy Beaudoin and percussionist Todd Jenkins, plays a mix of straight-ahead jazz and what one might call "jazz fusion," harkening back to the fusion bands of the '60s and '70s.

"The Monterey festival is a good festival for our music because people are really open and accepting of different styles of jazz,"

said Telford.

Mac McDonald can be reached at 646-4351 or macmcdonald@montereyherald.com.


If you go
·What: The 54th annual Monterey Jazz Festival
·Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey
·When: Today and Sunday
·Tickets: Grounds tickets, $55 today and Sunday; youths (ages 2-18) $20 each day; arena packages start at $250; single-day arena are $142 today or Sunday, available at 925-275-9255 or montereyjazzfestival.org. Premier Access Club, Family Discount Package and Locals' Package also available.
·Information: montereyjazzfestival.org