If you live within, let's say, 100 miles of the Monterey County Fairgrounds but have never attended the Monterey Jazz Festival -- well, what's wrong with you? It's nearly mythic in stature, yet relaxed, a place to hear dozens of the world's best jazz musicians over the course of a weekend. The 56th annual festival runs Friday through Sunday.
Here are a dozen acts to check out on the many stages, and if you don't like my list (drawn up on another day, it might have come out differently), then open your program and see who else is performing: George Benson, Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Bobby Hutcherson, Diana Krall, Bobby McFerrin, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, more.
Gregory Porter. If you love Jerry Butler and his '60s soul; Bill Withers and John Coltrane; spirituals and great ballads, you are likely to fall for Porter, a singer who communicates. Last year, he blew his listeners away; audience members were shouting, "Kill it, brother!" This year, at 8 p.m., he will be the opening act in the Arena, where he is likely to sample his new Blue Note album, "Liquid Spirit." At 10:30 p.m., he sings a second set at Dizzy's Den.
Uri Caine. One of Monterey's secrets is the way it puts great pianists and their trios into the little Coffee House Gallery, where you can sit and pretend you're in a jazz club, not at a giant festival. Caine's band includes bassist John Hebert and drummer Clarence Penn, consummate players. Three sets, starting at 8 p.m. On your mark, get set...
Carmen Lundy. She's a soulful and ultra-swinging singer -- a singing swinger. For no good reason, Lundy has spent her career under the media radar. Here she brings along an outstanding trio, featuring Patrice Rushen on piano. Night Club, 9:30 p.m.
Joe Lovano. The saxophonist's music has a shaggy rooted-ness: loose and rumbley, spacious and comfortable, probing and unpredictable. Those qualities flow through his Us Five quintet, built around a pair of drummers, Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III. Juggling multiple horns, Lovano can blow like a demon; at his best, he's a human bellows. 11 p.m., the Night Club. P.S. The "Sound Prints" Quintet, which Lovano co-leads with trumpeter Dave Douglas, plays Saturday: 8 p.m. in the Arena, 11 p.m. in Dizzy's Den. The band's book includes new tunes by Wayne Shorter.
Claire Daly. A few weeks ago in Manhattan, I got to see drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts' raging big band. The front line included some of New York's most creative saxophonists: Ravi Coltrane, Don Byron, Yosvany Terry and Daly, holding it down on baritone. Her "Baritone Monk" project leans toward lesser-known tunes by Thelonious, who enjoyed big-voiced baritone players like Gerry Mulligan and Pepper Adams. Daly continues the line. 2:30 p.m., Night Club.
Charnett Moffett. At 7:30 p.m. on the Garden Stage, the bassist leads off an evening's worth of acts signed to the Harlem-based Motema record label. Pay attention: As on "The Bridge: Solo Bass Works," his recent album, Moffett will give a solo bass recital. Expect tunes from Duke to Ornette to spirituals to Sting -- and total mastery. You'll see why so many famous leaders -- Ornette, Wynton, Marsalis, McCoy Tyner, Sting -- have called on his talents.
Orrin Evans. Now in his late 30s, pianist Evans has taken his time building a career, knitting together his influences, creating an approach that has roots and feels organic. He's right at home with gospel, blues, straight-ahead swing, free jazz, whatever. He draws on all of the above on "...It was beauty," his latest album, which features the same trio he brings to the Coffee House. Starting at 8 p.m., he leads his group through three sets. Eric Revis is on bass, Donald Edwards on drums. This will be good.
Dave Holland and Prism. The bassist raises Mahavishnu memories; with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland. Arena, 9:20 p.m.
Charlie Hunter-Scott Amendola. If they weren't such fantastic players, you'd almost think the guitarist and drummer were a couple of kids, jamming out in the garage. Big fun, big beats, genreless thinking; out of the box. 9:30 p.m., Dizzy's Den.
Brian Jackson and the New Midnight Band. It's been more than 40 years since Jackson and Gil-Scott Heron formed the original Midnight Band, calling on Lady Day and John Coltrane to wash our troubles away. Collaborating with producer Kentyah, Jackson's new band includes bassist Charnett Moffett, drummer Mike Clark, percussionist Kenneth Nash and MC M1. Garden Stage, 9:30 p.m.
Wayne Shorter. One of the greatest saxophonists and composers in the annals of jazz, Shorter turned 80 in August. At 8 p.m., he performs in the Arena with his quartet: A working band for nearly 15 years, it features pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. One never knows what to expect with this group, which explores, befuddles and searches for secret keys to unlock the lightning that inevitably strikes at some point during its performances. Arena, 7 p.m.
Anthony Wilson. A quiet guitar master, Wilson doesn't tout himself; he just plays great music. His band includes badass B-3 organist Larry Goldings and drummer Jim Keltner, session man extraordinaire -- and, yeah, the same guy who played with John and Yoko in the Plastic Ono Band. Dizzy's Den, 7:30 p.m. After Wilson's set, Dr. Lonnie Smith takes over at 9:30 p.m.; expect mesmerizing and seductive B-3 grooves from organist Smith, with Lou Donaldson as special guest.
56th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival
When: Sept. 20-22
Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds
Tickets: Various daily deals (starting at $45) and full-weekend packages (starting at $140 on the grounds, $250 in the arena), plus discounts for youths; 888-248-6499,