Jamie Cullum, Cassandra Wilson Highlight Monterey Jazz

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Christian McBride had been waiting a long time for the moment to arrive. When it finally did, the bassist couldn't hold back his enthusiasm.

“Monterey," he exclaimed. “Hot damn!" That pretty much summed up what everyone was feeling during the 51st annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which ran Friday through Sunday at the city's gorgeous oak-tree-dotted fairgrounds. Many of the 40,000 fans that turned out for the event had been looking ahead to the 2008 festival basically from the moment last year's ended.

Some probably didn't even wait that long to start anticipating. For proof, consider that people could be heard over the weekend making their plans for 2009.

That feverish loyalty, underscored by what's said to be a 90 percent ticket renewal rate, is one of the things that has made Monterey the world's most celebrated jazz festival. Of course, the 500-plus amazing jazz musicians featured each year also has something to do with the festival's unqualified success.

With the international celebration of the event's 50th anniversary still fresh in mind, Monterey embarked on its second half-century in a fashion that was anything but a letdown.

The lineup was tremendous, featuring just the right mix of legendary performers (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Maceo Parker), younger, but well-established stars (McBride, Derek Trucks, Kurt Elling) and artists on the rise (Ledisi, Jamie Cullum, Rudder).

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