Tonight's the night. But this has nothing to do with Neil Young.

Saturday night is the time of reckoning for those attending the Monterey Jazz Festival. It's when we all face a programming logjam, an impossible situation. Choices must be made.

The easy way out: Don't leave the Arena.

The curtain lifts at 8 p.m with the Joe Lovano-Dave Douglas "Sound Prints" Quintet, a band that's been trying out some new tunes by Wayne Shorter. Intriguing, yes? (Shorter performs with his own quartet tomorrow night.) Dave Holland follows with his electric band known as Prism: guitarist Kevin Eubanks, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland, together raising Mahavishnu memories. (That's what they do on portions of their new album.) Finally, Bobby McFerrin will sing until midnight: spirituals, blues, folk songs, a sampling from his new "Spirityouall" CD. (It's inspired by the '50s album "Deep River," by the late Robert McFerrin Sr., the operatic baritone and Bobby's father.)

My question: Do you really want to spend the night in the Arena? Many people come and go and drink and laugh and converse, as if they were at the corner bar. Depending on which of the Arena's neighborhoods you land in, it can be like sitting through junior high school homeroom. My guess is that only McFerrin will truly quiet the crowd; he will turn his event into a peace-out sing-along. Could be good.

On the grounds, the venues are smaller, the audiences far more attentive.

But good luck.

I'll start at the Garden Stage at 7:30 p.m., where Charnett Moffett will silence skeptics with a short solo-bass recital. Post-bass, I may grab a few minutes with Taborn's quartet at the Night Club.


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But after that, it's trouble, because of these simultaneities: pianist Marc Cary on the Garden Stage, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane at Dizzy's Den, pianist Orrin Evans in the Night Club. Coltrane has a new quartet with young Cuban pianist David Virelles, bedrock bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake, who can be overwhelming. Evans' working trio with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Donald Edwards has recently issued one of the year's best albums, "... It was Beauty." (Luckily, it performs three sets in the Coffee House; I can move in and out until midnight.)

Toss in some of the other acts in collision -- Brian Jackson with his new Midnight Band; Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola, the guitar-drums duo; superb vocalist Mary Stallings -- and I'm stymied.

Well, these cruel choices are their own kind of pleasure. After all, if we didn't have to make them, we would complain that there weren't enough choices. Catch-22.

Saturday afternoon, I made this choice: I went for Monk tunes (performed by baritone saxophonist/flutist Claire Daly in the Night Club) over Nat "King" Cole tunes (performed by George Benson in the Arena.)

With Daly's frisky rhythm section (pianist Steve Hudson, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, drummer Peter Grant), she performed a bunch of tunes by Thelonious, tunes ranging from the less well-known to the obscure: "Light Blue," "Bright Mississippi," "Teo," "Two Timer." How better to spend an hour than with one great Monk tune after another, especially when so affectionately performed? "Green Chimneys," played by Daly and Hudson alone, was slow, teasing and wistful.

Daly even performed a Christmas tune composed by Monk ("A Merrier Christmas"), singing his lyrics, which include this refrain:

"Now it's Christmas time/Hear the bells ring pretty sounds/Ting ting ting ting ting ting ting tong!"

She segued from that to "Stuffy Turkey" and called it "Monk's Holiday Medley."

It was a fun set, a different kind of window on the Inimitable One: "Thank you, Thelonious Monk, for being who you were," Daly said, raising a fist in the air. "Monk power! Sometimes, I wish jazz musicians ruled the world. In fact, I wish it all the time."

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