The Playboy Jazz Festival 2012: Sunday’s Program at the Hollywood Bowl

June 19, 2012

 

By Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

This year’s choice of performers at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival may have had both the serious jazz fan and struggling jazz musician recoiling in disgust, but even the most stubborn jazz aficionado can’t deny that fun and diversity dominated the festival.

Before covering Sunday’s highlights, we’ll follow up on Mike Katz’s Saturday review with a few additional thoughts about some of the outstanding moments in Saturday’s program.

The first is The Cos Of Good Music (Farid Barron: piano, Dwayne Burno: bass, Ndugo Chancler: drums, Tia Fuller: alto sax, Mathew Garrison: bass guitar, Ingrid Jensen: trumpet and flugelhorn, Babatunde Lea: Percussion, and Erena Terakubo on alto sax.)  Out of all of these world class musicians handpicked by Bill Cosby, it was the three women of the reeds (Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo) who stole the spotlight.  The group’s rendition of the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee” (which helped a young Charlie Parker find his own innovative technique) was one of the greatest moments of the entire festival.   During this difficult composition, Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo, made it apparent that they are well versed in the vocabulary of both the be-bop and hard-bop genres.  From Bird, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, to Phil Woods, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan, the ladies could do it all and without mere mimicking.  They had their own feminine slant to the music, which made it even more special. No male musicians at the Festival could match the virtuosity of these young women.  You would not believe that Terakubo is only 20 years old by her command, technique, and soul on the alto saxophone. Boney James (also on the bill on Saturday) could learn volumes from Terakubo.

Bill Cosby ant the Cos of Good Music

Cosby took the microphone and went into the humorous “Hikky Burr” (which Cosby had originally recorded with Quincy Jones in ’69), which gave Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo a chance to show off their blues chops. They seemed totally at ease and didn’t sound like over-trained jazz musicians trying to play blues, which often happens on songs like this. Cosby’s vocals were playful and funny and became the perfect way to bid him farewell as Master Of Ceremonies at The Playboy Jazz Festival.

The authentic Louisiana funk of The Soul Rebels (Leo Nocentelli: guitar, Ivan Neville: keyboards and vocals, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux: vocals, Lumar Leblanc: snare drum, Derrick Moss: bass drum, Julian Gosin, Marcus Hubbard: trumpets, Paul Robertson, Corey Peyton: trombones, Erion Williams: saxophone, and Edward Lee Jr., sousaphone.) was another exhilarating part of Saturday’s show. The group’s big brass Creole soul arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” were filled with harmonic textures and rhythmic layers that made these renditions more compelling than the originals.

Seeing original Meter’s guitarist Leo Nocentelli with keyboardist Ivan Neville, performing The Meter’s classic “Hey Pocky A -Way” in this big band setting was a brilliant departure from the original recording from 1974.  Big Chief Monk Boudreaux joined the band on his topical piece “Find The Levee And Burn It Down.” And Nocentelli’s wonderfully primitive bare bones rhythm guitar chops gave this Bayou swamp boogie a Reggae groove twist.

Sunday’s lineup was an eclectic mix of jazz, fusion, blues, and even pop.  The attentive and well rehearsed Calabasas High School Band under the direction of Joshua Barroll kicked of the day’s program.

Mixing Afro-Cuban funk with reggae, KG Omulo was the perfect band for the Bowl audience. On originals such as “Moving Train,” “Quality Woman,” “Acuna” and “No Means No,” Omulo and his band sounded like a cross between Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bob Marley And The Wailers, and early Funkadelic. Guitarist Michael Schmidt’s screaming wah-wah guitar locked in with bassist Dave Whitaker’s solid bass lines.  Omulo is also a charismatic vocalist and front man.  But it did feel as though Omulo and his band would have had a greater impact had they performed later in the day or evening.

Although the Cookers consisted of some legendary jazz players (Eddie Henderson: trumpet, Billy Harper: tenor sax, Craig Handy: alto sax and flute, David Weiss: trumpet, George Cables: piano, Cecil McBee: bass, and Billy Hart on drums), their energy and softness did anything but cook.

The Cookers (Billy Harper, David Weiss, Eddie Henderson, Craig Handy)

Harper’s composition “Capra Black,” and McBee’s “Peace Maker” sounded like Miles Smiles era modal jazz, but needed something more.  All of these seasoned musicians played strong solos but the material seemed redundant. Cables’ dynamic and inventive piano playing stood out among the rest of the group. Overall, however, the Cookers did more simmering than cooking.

Chico Trujillo brought the pace back up from the second they took the stage with their Chilean cumbia, ska, and Latin rhythms. Though the band was energetic and high spirited in its stage presence (especially lead singer Macha), the music was repetitive and sloppy.  And, though the focus was on the percussionists and lead singer, it was saxophonist Fela, and trumpeter Zorrita, along with keyboardist Joselo, who held together the band’s melodies.

Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Mimi Jones

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project played one of the most tasteful and consistently brilliant sets of the day — one of the highlights of the entire Festival. Along with Carrington on drums, the Mosaic Project consisted of Tia Fuller: alto sax, Ingrid Jensen: trumpet (both also featured on The Cos Of Good Music), Mimi Jones: bass, Patrice Rushen and Helen Sung: piano, and Linda Taylor on guitar with special guest vocalists.

Nona Hendryx added her one of a kind vocal style on her classic “Transformation” (Re-recorded on The Mosaic Project album), Gretchen Parlato (who has proven to be one of the finest vocalists in contemporary jazz) brought her sweet sultry sound to “Simply Beautiful.” The melodic interaction between pianists Rushen and Sung was astounding. Carrington’s strength as a drummer is in her subtlety. Her flourishes were so delicate behind Dianne Reeves on “Echo,” that it almost sounded as if she were laying out completely — even though if she were, the foundation would have been lost. It takes a true musical thinker to pull that off successfully.

Angela Davis’ spoken word addition to “Echo” was a startling presentation of her “New Freedom movement.”  Fuller and Jensen’s horn lines wove in and out of the melody, creating a dream-like effect that was a perfect match with Carmen Lundy’s vocals on Geri Allen’s “Unconditional Love.”  The music was hypnotic and sensual on “Soul Talk” with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals.  Every note between Jensen, Fuller, Rushen, Sung, Jones, and guitarist Linda Taylor was perfectly placed without losing spontaneity.

On “Show me a sign,” Carrington ended the piece with a thunderous, Art Blakey-esque drum solo.  Bill Cosby was so blown away that he took the mic and thanked Carrington on behalf of the Playboy Jazz festival, urging her to stand and take a bow.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud: trumpet, vocals,band leader, Ben Jaffe: sousaphone, bass, creative director, Rickie Monie: piano, musical director, Joe Lastie Jr.: drums, Clint Maedgan: saxophone, vocals, Charlie Gabriel: clarinet, vocals, Freddie Lonzo: trombone, vocals, and Frank Demond: trombone) just may be the most traditional New Orleans sounding jazz ensemble the Festival has ever presented.  The ghost of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives and Sevens was felt on “Down On Bourbon Street,” “Swing That Thing,” and “Sweet Substitute.”  Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgan shared the lead vocal spots.  The concept of collective improvisation (which began in New Orleans with The Dixieland bands) was what The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was all about. Each reeds man soloed at once in a way that was orchestrated and organized but irresistibly fun and danceable.  Jaffe’s bouncing bass line on the sousaphone got the Bowl crowd up on their tipsy feet.

For the blues portion of the festival, Keb’ Mo’ and his band played a set full of whimsical R&B based urban blues like “The Whole Enchilada,” “Government Cheese,” and “One Way Home.” Though Keb’ Mo’ is know mostly for his slide guitar work, at the festival, he stuck to playing straight blues leads on a Strat, which sounded like the yuppified blues style of Robert Cray. Though a talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, with a more than capable band, it was hard to tell one song from another during this set. There wasn’t much blues to this music.

The real excitement in his program came when Keb’ Mo’ brought out the legendary Barbara Morrison for a duet on a Chicago blues shuffle version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Further On Up The Road.”  Morrison can belt out the blues like no one else and has an electrifying stage presence which was needed throughout the set.

Ramsey Lewis

The Ramsey Lewis Electric Band had this jazz/soul pioneer experimenting with a more soft jazz/ fusion sound that didn’t seem fitting.  The group’s reading of The Stylistics “Betcha By Golly Wow,” Lewis’s own “Brazilica,” Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” and Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Sun Goddess” (which Lewis had recorded with the band and referred to as “Wayo”) all felt flat. Tim Gant’s electric keyboards sounded too synthetic and cheesy.

Lewis sounded best (and even looked happier) when sticking to his more gospel influenced material and playing tunes that him famous — “Wade In The Water,” and his biggest hit “The In Crowd” – while alternating between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano with ease and focus.

The Playboy Jazz Festival can and has ventured pretty far from jazz but no more so than having Robin Thicke perform on the bill. Thicke and his band brought their boy-band sounding bubblegum pop to the Bowl and there were plenty of young, screaming girls present to enjoy it.  Not much more to say about it than that.

Jack Bruce and Cindy Blackman Santana

Closing the performance was the hardest, loudest, and most creative experimental group of the entire Festival. Spectrum Road (Featuring Vernon Reid: electric guitar, Cindy Blackman Santana: drums, Jack Bruce: bass, and John Medeski on keyboards) is a newly formed tribute band to the late great drum giant Tony Williams.   The band performed material from their self titled debut album Spectrum Road such as “Vuelta Abajo,” “Where” and William’s “There Comes A Time” with Jack Bruce on vocals. The music was tight but chaotic, piercing, arrogant, skillful, and daring in all the best ways. These characteristics match Tony Williams’ playing and personality to a tee.

Reid’s fierce, frenetic guitar playing fused marvelously with Blackman Santana’s drumming which echoed that of Williams. Jack Bruce’s guttural, busy bass lines followed Blackman Santana’s bombast no matter how far out she would go.  Medeski’s B3 organ sound was the only element that didn’t always fit. It was too heavy for this already ferocious sound.

Blackman Santana and Reid were clearly the stars of the group, even facing each other for most of the set, feeding off each other’s energy. The group sounded like a combination of Sonny Sharrock’s early ‘90s instrumental experiments, mid-‘70s Santana, and Vernon Reid’s work with his band Masque, but more powerful.

Blackman Santana’s long drum solo after “Where” was one of the great moments of the festival. She never repeated an idea twice and though she was inspired by Williams, she proved to have an energy all her own, all powerful and all woman.

The band even did a cover of Cream’s “Politician” (once again, fitting for the times), in which Jack Bruce’s vocals sounded the same as they did when he performed the song in 1967.  Reid and Blackman Santana put Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to Shame, taking this 60s psychedelic blues anthem far beyond the stratosphere.

And so another Playboy Festival has come and gone. Some may bicker about the “Lack of real jazz at the festival,” but the number of innovative artists certainly outnumbered the fluff, and there were plenty of surprises.  Most importantly, everyone was having fun, which is ultimately what this Festival is all about.


The Playboy Jazz Festival: The Ladies of the Festival

June 15, 2012

This year’s Playboy Jazz Festival has been described as the “Year of the Woman.”  And, with three female drummers and three female horn players among the impressive array of distaff artists, the title makes a lot of sense.  But women have been playing a significant role in the Festivals since the very beginning — not always on stage or in the spotlights, but always in a significant fashion.  And it’s appropriate, given Playboy’s long history of relationships with women, that the Playboy Jazz Festival continues to rely upon the many skills of Darlene Chan, Nina Gordon and Jonne-Marie Switzler.  To understand the extent of their roles, we posed a string of similar questions to each of the Ladies of the Festival.

By Don Heckman

Darlene Chan

Darlene Chan has been the Producer for all 34 Playboy Jazz Festivals.

DH: Darlene, what are the special demands of your job with the Festival?

DC: The Festival is a series of constantly moving parts.  As Producer, I try to keep a handle on Playboy’s goals, artists’ availabilities, up and coming artists and production requirements.

DH: That’s an impressive list of considerations to have to keep in mind.

DC: And there’s more.  Scheduling: how the music will flow from one group to another.  And, of course, ticket sales.

DH: I’m sure that each of the Festivals is different.  What would you say are the unique pleasures of the 2012 Festival?

DC: I think we have a particularly well rounded Festival this year, combining various genres of jazz, blues, Latin and World Music, and a good mix of veteran artists, up and coming artists, and groups making their Festival debus.  And I’m especially pleased with the large number of women artists who are present this year.  Both as leaders and as guests – as in the Cos of Good Music’s all-female front line of Ingrid Jensen, Tia Fuller and Erena Terakubo.

DH: Has your view of jazz changed over the course of working the Festival?  And if so, how has it changed?

DC: My view of jazz changes all the time.  But that’s the beauty of jazz: it is forever evolving, yet it respects its past.  I feel very lucky to be in the jazz festival business.

* * * * * * * *

Nina Gordon

Nina Gordon has been in charge of National Public Relations and Publicity for the Playboy Festivals for 16 years.

DH: Nina, I know you have a lot of demands and challenges in your job with the Festival.  Can you fill us in on some of them?

NG: Well, start with working with so many different entities– from the Playboy executive management, to the artists and their representatives and management, to the media. Each group has their own agenda and unique set of objectives so it’s always a balancing act to satisfy everyone and meet all those different goals. Of course, the talent is still always the major story.  Finding out what’s new and special about the artists and conveying that to the fans and the media is crucial. So is adapting to all the new communication trends and social media  to reach as much of the audience as possible, continue to grow our audience and appeal to a broad variety of listeners.

DH: What’s special about this year’s Festival to you?

NG: The fact that it’s the Year of the Woman. We have a great deal of blockbuster female talent on this year’s show and I am really looking forward to seeing all of them, from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings to three of the most amazing female percussionists—Sheila E .,Teri Lynne Carrington, and Cindy Blackman Santana – and the line up of female horn players in the Cos of Good Music.

DH: Has your personal view of jazz changed in your sixteen years with the Festival?

NG: It’s expanded greatly, not to mention introducing me to so many new artists.  To me, jazz is many different things, It’s not just ‘straight ahead’ or blues like some people like to think. By its very nature it is evolutionary and interpretive, constantly changing and expanding and will continue to do so, which is what I think makes it such an exciting art form. Over my years with the Festival I’ve become much more aware of how different artists in totally different jazz-related genres influence each other.

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Jonne-Marie Switxler

Jonne-Marie Switzler has been the Manager of the Playboy Jazz Festivals since 1979.

DH: Jonne-Marie, can you tell us about the unique demands of your Festival responsibilities?

J-MS: I am primarily involved behind the scenes in nearly all aspects of the Festival.  I communicate, plan and troubleshoot between Corporate Playboy, Festival West, our Festival program publisher, the graphic designers, etc.  It’s a job that continually opens new doors of responsibility.

DH: What are you finding as the unique qualities of this year’s Festival?

J-MS: They are actually a variation on a theme of the same “unique” pleasures of each Festival since 1979.  This joyous event is two days the way the world could be.  Imagine the possibilities if we could export the spirit of the Playboy Jazz Festival – attended by people of every age, ethnicity and lifestyle, all becoming one family, getting along together, united by music.

DH: And has your view of jazz evolved over the course of your tenure with the Festival?

J-MS: I feel that the envelope for jazz is always expanding and shaping new sounds and forms.  I find it exciting that so many young people want to study the jazz masters and then go on to express their own souls through their instruments.


The Playboy Jazz Festival: The First Ladies of the Skins

June 14, 2012

The 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, which takes place at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, features the rare presence of three world class female jazz drummers.  Writer/musician Devon Wendell describes his reaction when he first saw the Festival line up.  

By Devon Wendell

Growing up, I always thought of the drums as being this potent symbol of masculine power.  I’d listen to Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Roy Haynes.  These men sounded tough, pissed off, strong and as if they possessed boundless energy.  Bird, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, or Miles could be playing the sweetest melody you’ve ever heard and then this bombastic force would enter in a way that felt like Zeus throwing thunder bolts from the heavens – and at the same time it always complimented the music perfectly.

The initial experiences of that drum sound were so wild that it made me giggle as if I were listening to something forbidden.  It was a similar feeling that I had when sneaking off with my high school chums, smoking and listening to Richard Pryor albums when no adults were present.

Although I could play guitar, bass, harmonica, and some keys by my mid-teens, the drums always intimidated me. I felt too weak and geeky to be a drummer.  It was Max Roach with Bird on those classics Verve sides that scared me away from picking up those sticks.  Once I had second thoughts and was going to give it a go, I heard Philly Joe Jones’ drum solo behind Miles Davis on Miles’ version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Salt Peanuts” from those incredible Prestige recordings of 1956.  Once again I felt like the scrawny kid watching the jocks slamming into each other on the football field.

I knew that I could be lethargic, lazy and fake self confidence with an electric guitar but not with drums. Unless you’re playing an electric kit like that dreadful sound Phil Collins was selling to the public in the 80s, there’s nothing to hide behind on the drums. To me, this was a tough guy’s instrument.

My perception of drummers quickly shifted when I first saw Sheila E. performing with Prince on TV.  She bashed away at the kit, creating polyrhythmic bliss.  All of my sexist, preconceived notions of what a woman could and couldn’t do vanished like all my dreams and aspirations did in high school.  Sheila E. appeared just as confident and energetic as Elvin Jones playing with John Coltrane.

Sheila E.

Many years later I saw Sheila E. perform with her father – the brilliant and legendary percussionist and composer Pete Escovedo.  There must have been six or seven percussionists up their on stage, and they all seemed to be having a hard time keeping up with Sheila E., who had this ferocious look on her face. Her teeth were gritted as she stared down her father and his comrades.  I could imagine her saying, “Take that boys!”  I found this confidence to be extremely sexy.

Cindy Blackman

One night while I was attending college, I ventured down to the Knitting Factory in NYC to see Pharoah Sanders.  Although he was great in his own right, it was his drummer that got my attention.  Here was this slender woman with big, wild hair tossing back and fourth on her head, and her arms flailing all over the drums. She looked totally relaxed but played as aggressively as Tony Williams. I rushed over to the sound man to find out who she was and he told me, “Man, that’s Cindy Blackman.”

At times, her facial expressions revealed possible shyness, which I could not match with her total control and mastery of the drum kit.  Her ideas kept flowing.  She played the top and bottom of the kit while taking risks and never missing a beat.  I instantly had a crush on Blackman, whose appearance was that of a modern day, elegant, psychedelic goddess. But I wasn’t cool enough to approach her, not even close.  I barely saw Sanders and whoever else was in the band that night. I knew that this drummer was someone who was going to get a lot of attention.

The next time I saw Blackman play was a year later with Lenny Kravitz at some God awful rock festival in New Jersey.  Behind Kravitz, she played a funkier, more subordinate roll, but the effect was just as compelling.  She gave Lenny some much needed groove.

In 2003, I was in Atlanta and went to see Herbie Hancock, who was set to play with fellow legend, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.  This was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed.  Once again, the drummer caught my ears and eyes.

Terri Lyne Carrington

Hancock introduced her, and the name Terri Lyne Carrington has stayed with me ever since.  What struck me about Carrington was her sense of dynamics.  Amazingly, she could play soft and hard all at once, using high hat flourishes with the bass drum in a way that was completely unique.  Herbie may have been the band leader, but Carrington was the driving force, taking the band way up and then down to where you could hear “A rat piss on cotton,” as Ella Fitzgerald used to put it.  It was as if Carrington was aware of what Hancock, Hutcherson, and bassist Scott Colley were going to do before they did. She played melodically the way Art Taylor did behind Jackie McLean. The jazz dork in me was in love again.

All three women let it be known that they are proud and strong and can give any male drummer a run for their money. Cindy Blackman (now Cindy Blackman Santana) has said, “I wouldn’t care if Art Blakey was pink with polka dots wearing a tutu or if Tony Williams was green.  Me being a female drummer has nothing to do with anything except for the fact that I wear bras and panties and guys don’t.”  (Well, some guys.)

Terri Lyne Carrington says of her latest musical venture (and fifth album as a bandleader) The Mosaic Project: “This particular project really is to celebrate women artists, women musicians, and women instrumentalists and singers.” Like bassist Esperanza Spalding, (who has also proven to be a great innovator on a male dominated instrument), Carrington is also a uniquely soulful vocalist.  The Mosaic Project won a Grammy this year in the Best Jazz Vocal category.  The album not only celebrates woman musicians and artists but features such great ladies as Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Gerri Allen, and Sheila E.  All the musicians on the album are women. Sheila E. said about the project, “I dare any man to come and try to do this!”

You can see all three artists perform at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival this weekend.

Sheila E. will be playing a set with her own band on Saturday, June 16th, the opening day of The Festival.

Cindy Blackman Santana appears on Sunday’s program with her latest band, Spectrum Road, which is a tribute to Tony Williams (featuring Vernon Reid: guitar, John Medeski: keyboards, and Jack Bruce on bass) performing music from their self-titled debut album Spectrum Road on Sunday.

And Terri Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project – with Gretchen Parlato, Carmen Lundy, Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Helen Sung, Linda Taylor, Mimi Jones, Patrice Rushen, Angela Davis (and some surprise guests) are also on the Sunday Playboy Festival line up.

I can visualize Max, Elvin, Philly Joe, Art Blakey, and Billy Higgins all standing together, dressed to the nines, looking down from heaven at these three women playing and then slapping each other five and saying, “Yeah, they got it covered,” and maybe even looking somewhat envious at what they see and hear.

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For information about the 34th Playboy Jazz Festival, call the Festival hot line –  (310) 450-1173 — or click HERE.

To read more posts and reviews by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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