Congress is imploding, and the wheels of government may soon grind to a halt. Big deal. The Monterey Jazz Festival opens tonight.

Between now and Sunday, Gregory Porter will sing his sweet soul music and Wayne Shorter -- at age 80 -- will travel beyond the sound barrier. Joe Lovano will play some bebop. Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith, who dresses in the robes of a guru, will tease his organ's keys as if that keyboard were his mistress.

All of the above and many others -- Bobby McFerrin and Diana Krall, Bobby Hutcherson and Cuba's Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club -- are coming to the 56th annual festival. Too much, right? Each year, tens of thousands come, attracted by the music, but also by the mystique of the event, not to mention the deep-fried catfish, and the schmoozing with folks you haven't seen since -- well, since last year's Monterey Jazz Festival.

Diana Krall is one of the headliners at this weekend’s Monterey Jazz Festival. Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff archive.
Diana Krall is one of the headliners at this weekend's Monterey Jazz Festival. Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff archive. ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

So there's a sense of community and of somehow being in history's flow. Because at Monterey, you're walking where Miles once walked, where Duke and Coltrane and Monk walked. And each year, you return to Monterey carrying memories.

I've got one.

I remember running down an empty path on the perimeter of the fairgrounds one night, taking a shortcut from one venue to another -- and stopping short because a golf cart was blocking the path. And Dave Brubeck, white-haired and frail, was gingerly stepping into the cart, assisted by his wife of 60-plus years, Iola, who held him gently by the elbow. She looked concerned, waited for him to get seated, then stepped into the cart and sat down beside him. As they were driven away -- Brubeck was about to perform -- I had the sense of having seen something entirely ordinary yet meaningful, something about the depths of old love. The image has stayed with me, and now Brubeck is gone.


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Mostly, though, Monterey is about figuring out who the heck you want to see the most, and trying to snare a seat somewhere near the front of whatever venue that musician is playing in. I have been studying the chart that maps out tonight's performances, and this is what I have decided. (Here's the chart: www.montereyjazzfestival.org/2013/sites/default/files/uploads/MJF%202013%20Master%20Schedule.pdf.)

After pianist Roberto Fonseca opens the festival on the Garden Stage, I'll float over to the Arena to hear Gregory Porter, who was so genuinely soulful at last year's festival, a pleasure, singing in the Night Club. He's moved up this year. After his set, I'll go to the Coffee House Gallery to catch part of a set by pianist Uri Caine. He's an old favorite, going back to the 1980s when I used to see him play with saxophonist Bootsie Barnes (a childhood friend of Bill Cosby's) at T'n'T Monroe's Bar and Restaurant, a noisy and happening club in Philadelphia.

But, you know, I may not be able to stay for all of Caine's set, because I'll want to hear a bit from vocalist Carmen Lundy, who will be singing at the same time in the Night Club. Although I may not get to hear much of her, either, because it may become necessary to catch part of Porter's second set in Dizzy's Den, or to run back to the Arena for the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club -- and later return to the Night Club (at the opposite end of the fairgrounds) for Joe Lovano's drum-fueled "Us Five" Quintet. And Caine's final set, you know, will last until midnight, so there's always the chance of catching the tail end of that. And...

You know how it is. See you tonight.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin


Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith is among the jazz veterans performing at this weekend’s Monterey Jazz Festival. Photo by Mars Breslow/courtesy Stanford
Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith is among the jazz veterans performing at this weekend's Monterey Jazz Festival. Photo by Mars Breslow/courtesy Stanford Jazz Festival ( Mars Breslow )