Live Jazz: Highlights from the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

So it’s that time again folks; another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. As most of us know, the first rule when attending the festival is that we pissed off jazz enthusiasts must check our inner jazz- purist at the security gate before the festivities begin because you could actually count the number of true jazz acts on one hand at most over the two days.

Although looking for real jazz at The Playboy Festival has increasingly become like searching for sushi at a Southern barbecue restaurant, there was plenty of jazz-influenced music such as funk/fusion, jazz/fusion, Rock/fusion, jazz/funk/rock/fusion, Latin jazz, and even enough modern R&B and pop to make the Grammy people jump for joy.

So let’s get started. Here are my Playboy Jazz Festival highlights for both Saturday, June 14th, and Sunday, June 15th.

Saturday

Who would have thought that actor Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas could actually swing in a jump blues format? Not me until I heard Fargas’ The New Jump Blues Band perform as the opening act of Saturday’s program. Fargas and his band ran through such jump blues classics as “Keep On Churnin’,” “All She Wants To Do Is Mambo” and “Train Kept A Rollin’.” Fargas shared vocals with Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins. The horn section consisting of Bill Ungerman on tenor sax, Jim Jediken on baritone sax and clarinet, and Javier Gonzales on trumpet swung hard enough that they would have made Jump blues pioneers Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, and Tiny Bradshaw proud. Fargas’ confident vocals, dance moves, and overall stage presence went perfectly with the music and mood.

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

Although Allen Stone looked like another pseudo-hippie burn out on Venice Beach, this Washington State born son of a preacher delivered a powerful set of gospel-inflected soul and country rock. Stone could go from sounding like Prince on R&B burners like “Love,” and “Say So” to a more Black Crows Southern fried rock on songs such as “Voodoo” and “Mama.” Stone is an astoundingly powerful vocalist. Stone’s band rocked, especially Greg Ehrlich’s rollicking Hammond B3 chops, and Trevor Larkin’s screaming blues guitar leads. Stone is a fresh new presence in the rock world and proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The second Kenny Barron and Ravi Coltrane took the Bowl stage and started playing it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally some actual jazz! And this was the real thing from the first note of Barron’s “And Then Again” which was pure bebop in the realm of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax work was soulful, daring, and it was evident that he has done his homework and truly respects this music. This was certainly the case on the Thelonious Monk classic “Ask Me Now” which brought to mind Joe Henderson’s version.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Coltrane’s angular tenor lines unraveled in a beautiful and dynamic fashion. Barron’s masterful piano on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” was closer to McCoy Tyner and the late great Cedar Walton than Monk’s approach to piano, though there were plenty of Monk-like voicings on the piece entitled “Calypso.” Jonathan Blake’s melodic bop drumming paid homage to Max Roach and Roy Haynes, and Kiyoshi Kittigawa was magnificent on bass. This was one of the festival’s finest moments. Everyone was swinging hard and having true musical conversations.

The Playboy Jazz Festival always includes some real New Orleans music in its program and nothing could be more authentic than seeing legendary New Orleans pianist Henry Butler with trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9. This was the real deal. Bernstein and Butler got together to form this band after Butler moved from New Orleans to Brooklyn. I’ve never heard pure New Orleans music like this in a live setting, which combined big band swing, Dixieland jazz, blues, and New Orleans funk.

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

Hearing Henry Butler sing and play piano on the Jelly Role Morton classic “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” was a real treat and nasty in all the best ways. Bernstein on trumpet along with Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Charlie Burnham on violin, Doug Wieselman on E-flat clarinet and tenor sax, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor & soprano saxes, and Erik Lawrence on baritone and soprano sax, all demonstrated just how modern, adventurous, and endlessly valid composer’s like Fats Waller, and Jelly Role Morton still are today, long after their deaths.

Examples of this were the band’s performance of Jelly Role Morton’s “Viper Drag” and “Wolverine Blues” which sounded more avante-garde than any jazz that came out of the ‘60s.

Henry Butler played some of the greatest, most creative piano I’ve ever heard in any genre of music in my life. I could have listened to his constant flow of ideas and straight blues vocals all day long.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is still the queen of jazz-soul. Her set at the festival was stellar. When Reeves covers another artist’s song, she owns it as she did on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Reeves’ unique scat singing, in which she jumps from the lower register of her voice to the upper with ease and confidence, gave these classics a jazzier sultry appeal. Trumpeter Sean Jones’ was terrific, especially on the Marvin Gaye number. Reeves’ relaxed, funky sound was accentuated by her amazing band of Peter Martin on piano, Geoffrey Keezer on electric keyboards, Romero Lubanbo on guitar, and Nadia Washington on backing vocals.

Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band brought back a set of much needed jazz. Although many of the performances were marred by sound problems, Sandoval and his Big Band swung hard. Actor Andy Garcia added some tasty congas on a set which combined bebop and Latin jazz in a Big band setting with some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles.

Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron engaged in a swinging and powerful trumpet duel with Sandoval on a Dizzy Gillespie big band inspired blues. Both players were in top form, especially Sandoval who hit those high notes that players half his age struggle with.

Henry Mancini’s daughter Monica sang a few of her dad’s compositions with the band, including the Brazilian flavored “Perhaps, Perhaps.” Sandoval’s “Having Fun” was a highlight of the set. Ed Calle’s tenor sax solo weaved in and out of the arrangements by the amazing horn sections (Dan Higgins, Rusty Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins on saxophones, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Charlie Morrilas, Craig Gosnell on trombones, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant, Dan Fornero, and Jeff Bunnell on trumpets) beautifully while sticking with the thematic quality of the piece.

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

Patti Austin sat in for a few standards including an amazing reading of “Lady Be Good” in which she channeled Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in a delightfully frightening manner while the band swung hard behind her. On “Mambo Caliente” (From The Mambo Kings film) Sandoval played one of the most powerful trumpet solos I’ve ever heard him play, wailing away in the upper register with a virtuosity and command over the demanding instrument.

George Duke

George Duke

When I think of love, fun, and funk, I think of the late great George Duke. Keyboard extraordinaire and composer John Beasley put together a group of some of the greatest George Duke alumni players for an ultra-funky and loving tribute to the late master who passed away in August of last year. Although guest stars Al Jarreau, and Stanley Clarke sounded great on “Summer Breezing,” “Someday” (A duet between Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves) and “Wild Dog,” it was the old school funk of “Dukie Stick” (With Ndugu Chancler) “Morning Sun” and “Reach For It” that were the most fun and got the Bowl crowd up and dancing. Keyboard legend Greg Phillinganes’ voice harmonized beautifully with singer Josie James on “Morning Sun” and a heartfelt version of Duke’s soul ballad masterpiece “Sweet Baby.” Bassist Bryon Miller held down the groove tightly throughout the set and Paul Jackson Jr. proved to everyone why he’s one of the best guitarists in the World on “Hot Fire.” This was truly a festival highlight.

Sunday

Kicking off Sunday’s program was the legendary James Cotton. Cotton is the greatest living legend of Chicago blues harmonica. Cotton and his band (Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Jerry Porter on drums) played a set of straight ahead, no-nonsense Chicago blues, including such classics as Cotton’s own “How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong,” plus Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” and Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” both of which Cotton had played on the original recordings with Waters and Rogers.

Things really got jumping when Cotton and his band were joined by the great Big Jay McNeely. Although McNeely is in his 80s, he sounded stronger than ever, playing some now standard blues lines on tenor sax. His voice has aged in all the best ways for a blues singer; still smooth but raw and nasty. McNeely sang about his love of the bigger ladies on “Big Fat Mama.” McNeely and Cotton traded solos and a few laughs. Unfortunately as McNeely sang his classic blues ballad “There Is Something On Your Mind,” he and the band were cut off as the stage rotated for another act. This was one of the finest moments of the day and it was sad to see these legends disrespected by being given way less time than Fantasia from American Idol, or at least it felt much shorter.

At first I didn’t know what to make of actor Jon Batiste (Star of HBO’s Treme) and his group Stay Human, joined by members of the LAUSD Beyond The Bell All District Honor Marching Band. I could tell he was a magnetic front-man and vocalist inspired by Sly Stone but he started off all over the place, combining R&B with a solo piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Benny Goodman’s theme song “Goodbye” and a little bit of Duke Ellington tossed in. And drummer Joe Saylor reciting Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks In Beauty” before a rock version of “Saint James Infirmary.” Yes folks, this started out messy but there was a refreshingly adventurous nature to Batiste and his band as they delivered one of the most exciting moments of the day. Batiste (on melodica) ascended onto the Bowl crowd while playing “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba, Brad Allen Williams, on banjo, Eddie Barbash on alto sax, and Jamison Ross on tambourine. The combination of instruments created a wonderful, swinging harmony in a true New Orleans style. This was one of the day’s purest and most enjoyable moments.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Although there was a lot of funk throughout Sunday’s program, especially bad fusion and rock funk by artists I chose not to cover, Dr. Lonnie Smith is still one of the most sincerely funky beings on the planet. He brought his one of a kind James Brown meets Jimmy Smith Hammond B3 style to the Bowl with a perfectly relaxed arrogance that only a true funk master can get away with. His set consisted of originals such as; “Falling In Love”, “Track 9”, and “Mama Wailer.” The horn section (Andy Gravish on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, Alan Ferber on trombone, and James Marshall on baritone sax) sounded just like the JB’s of the early ‘70s with those distinct Fred Wesley inspired horn hooks. Ed Cherry’s James Nolen meets Wes Montgomery electric guitar work was the perfect match for these compositions. Smith’s syncopated B3 solos were imaginative, in fact, his playing was more complex than his compositions and arrangements which, for the most part stayed on the one chord and rarely left.

After a long day of almost no jazz, it became clear that George Benson was as close as I was going to get by the end of the night. Benson was in particularly fine form Sunday evening. One of the highlights of the entire festival this year was Benson performing his hit originally written by Leon Russell “Masquerade.” He scat sang along with an extremely intense minor key guitar solo that was mesmerizing in every way.
George and his band also sounded great on his R&B hits “Living Inside Your Love,” “The Mambo Inn,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Let Me Love You One More Time” and “Give Me The Night.” Benson’s energy was infectious, inspiring the festival audience to shake what they brought. Benson’s slick vocals sounded better than ever and he’s still a master guitarist in a class of his own.

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

Although Earl Klugh sounded good on a few instrumentals at the start of the set, it was his guitar duel with Benson on the colossal hit “On Broadway” that was the most enthralling moment between the two guitarists. Klugh’s harmonic explorations on acoustic guitar during this final number truly gave Benson a run for his money.

And so that’s it, the end of the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Sure the festival could’ve used some more authentic jazz acts but what else is new? The Festival is less about the music and more about partying it up on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles weekend. See you next year folks.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Live Jazz: The 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl

June 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a Festival that loses its way?

It’s a question that kept running through my mind during the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festival Saturday and Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl.

That’s not to challenge the quality of the sounds beamed from the Bowl stage to a capacity audience. Whatever the genre of music being offered from the rotating center stage, it was true to its essential identity.

But back to that question. Am I implying that the Playboy Jazz Festival lost its way in this latest installment?

Let’s take a look at the programming to see if it provides an answer.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

Saturday’s bill included pianist Kenny Barron and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, singer Dianne Reeves, singer/pianist Jamie Cullum, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band with vocalists Monica Mancini and Patti Austin, and vocalist Al Jarreau with Stanley Clarke in a tribute to George Duke.
On Sunday, the program featured bassist Dave Holland’s PRISM, and guitarist/singer George Benson with specical guest Earl Klugh.

Both days opened with stirring sets from a pair of Los Angeles High School jazz bands: the Beyond the Bell Jazz Band and the Esperanza High School Jazz Band.

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

No doubt that this list is a prime assemblage of authentic jazz artists, a list consistent with the Playboy Jazz Festival’s history of offering memorable jazz performances in every year’s programming.

But let’s take a look at the remaining line up:

The additional acts on Saturday’s program included: the New Jump Blues Band, saxophonist Tia Fuller, singer/songwriter Allen Stone, and the Hot 9 with singer/pianist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein.

The additional acts on the Sunday program included the James Cotton Blues Band, Juan DeMarcos & the Afro-Cuban all Stars, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, singer/songwriter Jose James and dynamic singer Fantasia, and Los Amigos Invisibles.

These latter two lists include a far-ranging assemblage of musical styles, all of it delivered with effective dedication to a color array of stylistic performances embracing the blues, funk, Latin rhythms, performance music and beyond.

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum

Did it all – no matter how well it was done – belong on a program titled “Playboy Jazz Festival?

That’s an easy question to ask, and hard to answer. But my first response is “Not really.” Some of it was intriguing, some gripping, some annoying, some doing its best to include jazz influences here and there. But an overview of the entire program would have to identify the first artists I’ve listed above – from Jamie Cullum and Kenny Barron to Arturo Sandoval and Al Jarreau to Dave Holland and George Benson – as the most authentic jazz highlights of this year’s Festival.

To give credit to Festival 36 producers, it’s worth noting that the sort of iconic, stellar jazz artists (from Dizzy Gillespie to Ella Fitzgerald and beyond) who were available to past Festival programmers are no longer with us. In addition, this year’s Festival production has moved from Playboy to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And a glimpse at the overall program line-up seems to suggest a desire to reach an audience beyond the jazz demographic.

Nothing wrong with that, so long as the jazz roots that have been essential elements in past Festivals continue to be a vital, far-reaching presence. Which was not always the case with Saturday and Sunday’s program.

So, to wrap up with my first question, did the Festival lose its way this year, with its uneven programming?

And the answer is “No.”

But this listener, who has attended and reviewed many Playboy Festivals  over the past few decades, hopes that next year’s production – in the hands of the L.A. Phil – will pay closer attention to the dedication to jazz that has consistently made the Playboy Jazz Festival one of the year’s most memorable jazz experiences.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 


Picks of the Week: June 10 – 15

June 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer is upon us, and the live performance schedules around the world are largely dominated by the irresistible big venue festivals. But there’s still a lot of compelling music to be heard in smaller venues, as well.

Los Angeles

Strunz & Farah

Strunz & Farah

- June 10. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. Jorge Strunz, born in Costa Rica and Ardeshir Farah, from Iran, has been exploring every imaginable area of guitar duo music since they first got together in 1980. Constantly in search of new improvisational territory, they’re always a pleasure to hear. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 10. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. It’s one of the musically dependable picks of every week. And this week, once again, offers some memorable guitar jazz, with Pisano hosting Howard Alden and John BelzaguyViva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

- June 12 & 13. (Thurs. & Fri.) Taylor Eigsti. A jazz prodigy as a teen-ager, pianist Eigsti has matured into a world-class musical artist. He performs solo on Thurs., with his trio on Fri. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

- June 12 – 14. (Thurs. – Sat.) Jane Monheit Duo. Musically versatile singer Monheit is a pleasure to hear regardless of the setting. This time out, she performs songs of Frank Wildhorn with Clint Holmes. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- June 13. (Fri.) Gina Saputo. Still emerging as a gifted young jazz vocalist, Saputo is just beginning to reach the enthusiastic audience that her impressive talents deserve. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 13. (Fri.) Allison Adams Tucker. She likes to describe her vocal style as “World Jazz,” and her far-ranging programs – emphasizing her mastery of languages and her fascination with various world musics transform her performances into memorable experiences. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Mark Copeland

Mark Copeland

- June 14. (Sat.) Mark Copland. At a time when Frank Sinatra-inspired male singers are surfacing in venues across the country, it’s good to hear – among the Sinatra wannabes – a vocalist who brings authenticity and enthusiasm to his fondness for Old Blue Eyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 14 & 15. The Playboy Jazz Festival. Always the jazz event that kicks off the summer season, this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival continues its quest to provide two days of non-stop, hard swinging, imaginative jazz.

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

Among the headliners: Al Jarreau, Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Barron, Dianne Reeves, Dr. Lonnie Smith, George Benson, Earl Klugh, James Cotton, Jose James, as well as a tribute to George Duke. George Lopez is once again the Master of Ceremonies. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850.2000.

- June 15. 21st Annual Brazilian Summer Festival. The annual Brazilian festivals produced by Brazilian Nites are always compelling events. This year, the performances celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup competition currently taking place in Brazil. The Ford Amphitheatre (323) 461-3673.

New York City

- June 10 – 14. (Tues. – Sat.) Stacey Kent. Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kent has been living in the U.K., building a dedicated English fan base. She selebrates the release of her new, Brazilian-tinged album, The Changing Lights. Birdland. (212) 581-3080/.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

- June 10 – 15, (Tues. – Sun.) Anat Cohen Trio. The gorgeous, Israel-born Cohen has thoroughly established herself as one of the most imaginative jazz instrumentalists of her generation, while returning the clarinet to the top echelon of jazz expressiveness. Her trio also includes Martin Wind, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums. The Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.

Boston

- June 13. (Fri.,) Diane Schuur. “Deedles,” as she is known to friends and fans alike, continues to enliven the soaring, lyrical vocal style first established by Sarah Vaughn, now the trademark of Deedle’s imaginative singing. The Regatta Bar.
(617) 661-5000.

London

Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

- June 11 – 13. (Wed. – Fri.) Courtney Pine. Saxophonist and multi-woodwind player Pine’s adventurous playing has taken him to the top of the English jazz world and beyond, playing a blend of styles embracing merengue, ska, calypso with a solid jazz imagination. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0) 20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 11 – 15 (Wed. – Sun.) Tak Matsumoto. A Grammy-winning guitarist/composer/singer/producer and more, Matsumoto moves freely and convincingly across musical genres of every hue. The Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5485-0088.

 

 

 

 


Live Jazz: the 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl (Day #2)

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood, CA.  For the most part, it’s not just the music that has made The Annual Playboy Jazz Festival a Los Angeles summer tradition, but instead, it’s the music combined with the ever present party atmosphere.  And this year was no different. Amidst the clouds of pot smoke and spilled beer on the ground, The 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival featured an eclectic blend of artists in the genres of jazz, funk, pop, blues and more.

Before getting to my highlights of Sunday’s program, I thought I’d include just a few exciting additions from Saturday’s show to follow up on Mike Katz’s coverage.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

From pop to bop, the amazing 21 year old saxophone titan Grace Kelly played a stellar set which included be-bop and pop influences, playing bop style instrumentals and catchy pop infused jazz vocal tunes.  Kelly proved to be one of the most original and fascinating new faces in jazz. Her childlike vocals on “Nighttime Star,” fused with her vast knowledge of both bop and post-bop saxophone playing was astounding.  When she plays alto sax, you can hear Bird, Art Pepper and Jackie Mclean, but with a new, youthful, feminine and energetic swing to it.

Kelly was joined by the legendary Phil Woods (also a major influence on her alto sax playing) for “Man With The Hat,” which the two had recorded together in 2011.

Woods was in strong form and Kelly played like a waterfall, with endless ideas and a superb technique. This was easily one of the finest moments of the festival.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter’s performance at the festival demonstrated why he has received so many accolades from all over the world. This time out, Porter focused more on his gospel and R&B influences than jazz during his brief set, which made it all the more interesting.

This was the case on Porter’s rendition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song,” in which Porter opened the song with a few verses of Leadbelly’s “Alberta.” Porter’s controlled and carefully crafted phrasing along with his magnetic stage presence brought the Bowl crowd to church.

Sunday’s program had a lot more fire and electricity than Saturday’s.

It’s hard to imagine combining jazz and rock piano with a dance ensemble but acclaimed pianist Elew (joined by Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble) did just that and made it work.

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew stood up while playing, looking like a mad scientist while he stared intensely at the audience. The Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble did graceful, ballet interpretations of Elew’s readings of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside.”

Elew fused the stride piano styles of James P. Johnson with Horace Silver. Though asking a lot of the festival audience, this was a fascinating experiment both visually and sonically.

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

One of the purest jazz acts of the festival was The Brubeck Brothers, lead by Dave Brubeck’s sons, Chris Brubeck on bass and trombone, and Dan Brubeck on drums.

The two were joined by Mike Demicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano, making up a tight, focused, and dynamic quartet. The brothers paid a warm, heartfelt Father’s Day tribute to their legendary father, Dave Brubeck who passed away on December 5, 2012.

Their set included many Brubeck classics such as; “Kathy’s Waltz,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and “Take Five.” The group performed these songs with elegance, dynamics, and devotion. Pianist Lamb’s use of well spaced block chords were reminiscent of the late Brubeck’s piano style and Chris’s fusion style electric bass locked in tight with Dan’s soft and melodic drumming. Demicco’s guitar solos were tasteful and served the compositions perfectly.  Altogether, they produced a terrific performance – one that Dave Brubeck would surely have been proud of.

Taj Mahal

Very few artists know the history of American blues like Taj Mahal. At The festival, Mahal was joined by The Real Thing Tuba Band which consisted of four tuba players (Earl McIntyre, Howard Johnson, Bob Stewart, and John Daley) with Mahal playing acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica. John Simon played keyboard, with Buddy Williams on drums and Larry Fulcher on guitar.

If anyone else tried this format, it would be a cluttered mess but Mahal had the brilliance and wit to pull it off.

The Mahal set consisted of country blues standards that he has been performing for decades – tunes such as his own, “Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blues,” “EZ Rider,” as well as Fats Dominos’ “Hello Josephine,” Charlie Patton’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” and “Way Back Home.”  The tubas played the harmony parts that would normally be sung by background singers, while occasionally soloing tastefully.  Mahal and the band’s set brought some much needed blues to the festival, taking the audience on a journey back down South to the true roots of American music.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

To celebrate Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performed a set of such Jones big band classics as “The Birth Of A Band,” “G’Wan Train,” “Nasty Madness” (which Jones had written for Count Basie) and Jones’ arrangement of  Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, conducted by John Clayton, was superb on these big band swing blues classics. After a proud Jones took a bow from his Bowl seat, The great jazz flutist Hubert Laws (who’s known and worked with Jones since 1969) joined the Orchestra on “Hello” and “Killer Joe.” Laws’ fluid and melodic style danced over the slick and funky rhythms with syncopation and ease.  This was not only a touching tribute to Jones but a wonderful insight into big band arrangements which were inspired by Count Basie, and Jay Mcshann’s earliest works.

Very few artists can combine traditional forms of jazz with pop and fusion like Bob James and David Sanborn. Together with James Genus on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums, James and Sanborn brought their smooth and soulful sound to the festival.

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

James’ fluid and inventive piano style blended perfectly with Sanborn’s confident, melodic playing and it’s always great hearing Steve Gadd on drums in any setting. The high point of the set was Sanborn’s composition “In The Weeds.” Here, Sanborn broke free from many of his smooth jazz clichés and played some hard-bop tenor sax in the vein of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson.

India.Arie

India.Arie

India.Arie brought her unique style of “acoustic soul” to the festival. Arie’s songs, such as “Because I Am Queen,” “I Am Light” and “I Am Not My Hair, were filled with self empowering lyrics and a sound that fused vintage soul with gospel, hip-hop, and even folk rock and reggae. Arie’s vocals were at moments sweet and delicate, then tough and preachy. Her graceful stage presence and physical beauty provided a perfect match for her songs of inner strength and spirituality.  Unlike so many female R&B artists of the day, Arie has a style of her own with soulfully crafted arrangements and poignant lyrics.

Sheila E rocked The Playboy Jazz Festival last year. Although her set this year felt a little more laid back and less focused than last year, no one puts on a show like Sheila E.

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Her set opened with The USC Trojan Drumline marching onto the stage, followed shortly by Sheila, who raced to her drum kit in a short black leather skirt. After several long drum and conga solos, she welcomed her father Pete Escovedo to the stage for a Father’s Day jam on Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va.” Escovedo played timbales while his daughter pounded furiously on congas.

Sheila E

Sheila E

Pop Escovedo departed, and Sheila dug into some of her biggest hits of the ‘80s: “Love Bizarre,” “Holly Rock,” “Koo Koo” and a steamy version of “Erotic City”, written by her longtime collaborator Prince.

Though Sheila E’s set consisted of too many over indulgent jams with drum solo after drum solo, followed by the guitar hysterics of her bandmate, Nate Mercereau, it was Sheila’s sensual stage presence and magnetism that had the entire Bowl crowd on its feet.

She brought audience members up onstage to dance and engaged in many crowd pleasing sing alongs, as she danced suggestively from her drum kit, to her congas and her timbales.

And, as the final act, Sheila E’s success at getting everyone on their feet was the best way to end the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

And so another Playboy Jazz festival has come and gone. Though there were no conga lines going through the crowd this year, the lineup had something for everyone, a little jazz, rock, pop, blues, funk, Salsa, fusion, but most importantly, a lot of fun.

* * * * * * * *

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


Live Jazz: The 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Day #1

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood CA. One happy problem with an eight hour music fest that runs uninterrupted through the shifting temperatures of a near-summer’s day at the Hollywood Bowl is a lineup so strong you don’t want to leave your seat. That was the occasion on Saturday, Day 1 of the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. It was a show that featured some bright new names in the jazz realm, a blur of world music and vocal skills, plus cameos and guest appearances from jazz legends and LA icons.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The most notable new face was comedian and actor George Lopez, who took over the emcee duties from Bill Cosby. Lopez smartly kept his patter brief and enthusiastic. Cosby, himself, never tried to upstage the music, and although his Cos of Good Music bands are dearly missed, their spirit was reflected in some adventurous booking, particularly a powerhouse mid-day lineup that had the sold-out house dancing in the aisles.

Some snarling traffic (not to mention my Park and Ride bus that broke down halfway between Westwood and the Bowl) resulted in a crowd filtering in through the first several acts. I entered to a pleasant set by percussionist Pedrito Martinez, with Ariacne Trujillo on keyboards and vocals. Their Latin rhythms set up a relaxed atmosphere as the crowd gathered and settled into party mode. But things got down to business immediately thereafter, with the appearance of Grace Kelly and her quintet.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

The vivacious Kelly, only 21 years of age, has a half-dozen albums already to her credit. She plays mostly alto sax and doubles as a vocalist, excelling at both. Her alto tones are clean and driving, her own compositions melodic and well served by her lovely voice. Her band included one of LA’s premier young pianists, Josh Nelson, and an outstanding young trumpeter from Boston, Jason Palmer, who gave us some of the handful of great trumpet licks of the afternoon.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

It takes plenty of self-assurance for a young musician to invite Phil Woods on as a guest and then stand up to him, lick for lick, but Kelly was up to the task. They dueted on her composition “Man In A Hat,” (from the CD of the same name) written as an homage to Woods. His presence seemed to inspire Ms. Kelly, and I don’t think a blindfold test could have separated the two of them. They later romped through a medley of “How High The Moon” and “Ornithology” with equally fine results. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Bill Goodwin rounded out this terrific band. Grace Kelly, originally from Boston, has settled here in the LA area, which is great news for local jazz fans – if they can catch her on a break from an ambitious touring schedule.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

I had caught the end of an electrifying set by Gregory Porter last September at the Monterey Jazz Festival (where he will be the opening act this year), so it was no surprise to see him light up the Playboy stage, even in the shank of the warm afternoon. Porter has it all. His deep, evocative voice has the authority of a Joe Williams; he has an engaging stage presence that can command even a crowd settling down for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Porter was in a romantic mood, with a ballad, “No Love Dying,” from a soon-to-be-released album. His band features a sparkplug in altoist Yosuke Sato, who whipped the crowd up with ascending riffs that arced into the pungent afternoon air like tracers. Porter continued on, imploring the audience to “Hold On,” while segueing into Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” The title song to his new CD, Liquid Spirit, featured some terrific piano work by Chip Crawford. Porter’s closer, (as in the Monterey set), was “1960 What,” an ode to the unrest in sixties Detroit, sung with a gospel fervor that recalled Les McCann’s vocals from the seventies. Porter shone throughout. The LA native, by way of Bakersfield, is clearly on the cusp of something special.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper has been a ubiquitous presence lately, bridging the gap between jazz and pop with his straight ahead jazz trio and his “Robert Glasper Experiment,” which usually includes a guest from the hip hop world. On Saturday he featured Casey Benjamin on sax and vocoder, as well as the terrific jazz bassist Derrick Hodge and Mark Colenburg on drums. I’ll freely admit that I prefer the “jazz trio” – I put that in quotes because whatever Glasper does has a spirit of adventure to it. Glasper has a quick wit and engaging patter – he’s clearly the jazz performer most likely to host his own TV show. The Experiment is, no surprise, amped up and electronic, and went over fine with the crowd. But Glasper still found the occasion to invite Bowl favorite Dianne Reeves onstage. True to the Experimental spirit, she sang Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to “Afro Blue,” circling on and off the beat, letting the audience find their way into the song.

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting performer for a music festival than Angelique Kidjo, from Benin. I’ve seen her twice, now – the first time anchoring the Sunday afternoon stage show at Monterey a few years ago. Her unique blend of African rhythms, elucidated in several languages, French, Yoruba and Swahili among them, is intoxicating. The pulsating rhythms and percussions, familiar to U. S. audiences through such artists as Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mumbazo, were highlighted by a terrific guitarist, Dominic James, and percussionists Magatte Sow and Yayo Serka, along with Itaiguara Brandao on bass.

As if that was not enough, Hugh Masekela joined the group for several numbers. Kidjo exudes warmth – even if you can’t decipher her lyrics, the spirit of inclusiveness permeates everything she does.

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Masekela’s flugelhorn remains deceptively simple, his tones clear and bold. His gravelly voice counteracted with Kidjo’s, and the two of them brought the crowd to their feet early and for the duration. Kidjo’s finale included promenading into the crowd and bringing back selected audience members onto the stage – I don’t know whether she does some magical on-the-spot scouting or just counts on divine inspiration, but it works wonderfully. Magatte Sow took center stage on his conga drum and provided the transformational spell, while the audience had a blast, onstage and off.

I’ve always thought that the Playboy Jazz Festival might benefit from a ten or fifteen minute break sometime during the show. It would give the audience a chance to wind down, break out the picnic baskets, talk to their friends without having to shout over the music. If there was ever a time to do it, it would have been after Angelique Kidjo’s set, which was impossible to follow. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band would seem to be a perfect candidate, with the impressive sound of a 20 piece ensemble.

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

They opened with two burners and a great solo on alto sax by Eric Marienthal, but the audience wasn’t ready to be engaged by what is basically a performance band. They finally found a little traction with Goodwin’s Grammy-winning arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin, after all this time, can still make people sit up and pay attention. After a brief appearance by “The Voice” vocalist Judith Hill, the band found some more familiar and appealing ground when they were joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour. Ritenour brought one of his most successful arrangements, his adaptation of Jobim’s “Stone Flower” into the Big Phat Band groove. His second number was a tight Goodwin arrangement of his tribute to the late Les Paul, simply titled L.P. That was the Big Phat Band and Ritenour at their best, weaving smart guitar licks into the larger sound. They kept the audience with them for the final tune, “Race To The Bridge,” with sax player Brian Scanlon and Andy Martin on trombone leading the way out.

Naturally 7 is a contemporary vocal band, sort of a capella meets hip hop, led by baritone Roger Thomas. This was their third Playboy appearance in four years, so they were warmly received throughout their set. The group combines elements of Doo-Wop, Hip Hop, and McFerriana. Their “vocal play” extends past the traditional vocal levels and instruments; it includes “DJ” and “Beat Box.” Whatever the simulation, it was pretty heavily amplified from the start, proving it is possible to have too much bass, even if you don’t have a bass. But it was a tight and lively show, emphasizing Doo – Wop in “Summer Breeze” and providing a playful narrative with “Englishman In New York.”

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock joined them with one of his “keytars;” it seemed altogether fitting that he would jam with them on “Chameleon.” The opening bass line to that Herbie classic still galvanizes an audience, and Hancock continued with splashes of electronica throughout his appearance.  The group finished off with George Harrison’s Beatles classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” At that point you could look back pleasingly at the versatility of the entire Saturday lineup; in a matter of a few hours you could go from Gershwin to Jobim to Herbie Hancock to George Harrison and somehow fit it all under the jazz tent.

And there was still some Coltrane to come. Maybe not quite enough; Poncho Sanchez’s set was entitled Ole’ Coltrane, after the 1961 Coltrane album of the same name, though the set was more Ole’ than Coltrane. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending an hour with Poncho’s band, whatever the circumstances. Along with Sanchez’s formidable conga work, his group featured Musical Director Francisco Torres, doing double duty (he also soloed with the Big Phat Band.)

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

But I was especially impressed by Ron Blake, who delivered some feisty trumpet cadenzas in the opening Latin numbers. We didn’t hear a lot of lead work from the staple jazz instruments over the day’s program, which was heavy on vocals and large ensembles, so it was a pleasure to hear Blake and then James Carter, who provided the Fest’s primary blast on the tenor sax.  Carter provided scorching work on a Latinized arrangement of Trane’s “Giant Steps,” and more laid back and melodic playing on Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz,” which Ellington recorded with Coltrane. Poncho’s version had a tinge of the Mingus Latin feel to it, with some excellent supporting work by Torres. That was it, though, for the Coltrane material. Carter rejoined the band for a final number, Poncho’s always entertaining version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Regrets to George Duke, whose final blasts into the night came after much of the crowd had left, thoroughly sated by such a pleasing mixture of jazz and funk, performed by ensembles large and small, and by players seasoned and refreshingly new. It was one of the best days at the Playboy Jazz Festival in recent memory and a great start for the two day event.

* * * * * * * *

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.


Picks of the Week: June 12 – 16

June 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- June 12. (Wed.)  Julian Coryell.  He’s received an impressive guitar-playing legacy from his father, Larry Coryell.  But Julian has thoroughly developed a creative style of his own.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Cindy Lauper

Cindy Lauper

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Cindy Lauper.  30th Anniversary: She’s So Unusual Tour.  The inimitable Cindy Lauper celebrates the anniversary of her debut album.  She’ll be joined by the all-girl alternative rock band, Hunter ValentineGreek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

June 13. (Thurs.)  Upright Cabaret’s LEATHER & LACE: Music of Don Henley, Stevie Nicks & Neil Young!  An entertaining evening of some unusual songs.  Starring Yvette Cason, Jake Simpson and more.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Annie Trousseau offers some impressive musical reminders of the legendary Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- June 14 – 16. (Fri. – Sun.)  Barry Manilow.  It may be Southern California, but Manilow revives his critically acclaimed “Barry Manilow on Broadway” concert, with all its hit songs, to Southland listeners.  The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

- June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  Playboy Jazz Festival.  The 35th installment in Playboy’s annual tribute to jazz arrives with its usual stellar line-up of talent.  Among the highlights on Sat.: Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Gordon Goodwin with Lee Ritenour, Naturally 7 with guest Herbie Hancock and George Duke.  On Sunday: the Brubeck Brothers, Taj Mahal, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Bob James and David Sanborn, India.Arie, Sheila E. and Trombone Shorty Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Enrico Rava Tribe.  Featuring Gianluca Petrella.   Veteran Italian jazz trumpeter Rava leads his band Tribe, a European collection of some of Europe’s finest young players, including trombonist Petrella.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Washington D.C.

Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen

- June 13 – 16 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Buster William’s “Something More Quartet.”  And a pretty impressive quartet it is, with keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Cindy Blackman-SantanaBlues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- June 12 & 13. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Kenny Werner Coalition.  Pianist Werner, always in search of new ideas, plays with the versatile, adventurous aid of guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Benjamin Koppel, and drummer Ferenc NemethThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Ravi COltrane

Ravi COltrane

- June 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Saxophonist Coltrane is another second generation jazz artist.  And, like his father, the iconic John Coltrane, he is an imaginative, cutting edge performer.  He’s backed by  Adam Rogers, guitar, Dezron Douglas, bass, Johnathan Blake, drums.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080

London

- June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The veteran New Orleans brass band keeps the incomparably high spirited New Orleans jazz tradition alive. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.

Paris

Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri

- June 14. (Fri.)  Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  Pianist Palmieri, sometimes described as the Thelonious Monk of Latin jazz, is an irresistibly appealing jazz artist.  Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41


Q & A: George Lopez and the Playboy Jazz Festival

June 11, 2013

By Don Heckman

Long time fans of the Playboy Jazz Festival are going to receive a surprise this year for the legendary event’s 35th anniversary.  After having hosted virtually all of the previous Festivals, Bill Cosby has decided to retire.  He’ll be replaced by George Lopez, stand up comedian, actor and host of the late night show Lopez tonight. Last week Lopez shared his thoughts about his high visibility new assignment.

* * * * * * * *

Don Heckman: How did you feel, George, when you got the news that you were replacing Bill Cosby at the Playboy Jazz Festival?

George Lopez: I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it.  And I still can’t believe that Bill Cosby would ask me to be the host of the Playboy Jazz Festival.  There’s not a lot of people that I respect more in life than Bill Cosby.

DH: Were you familiar with Cosby’s work at the Festival?

GL: Sure.  I’d known of his association with being  host of the Festival for years.  But not until I got involved did I learn that he had been there for 34 years.  And I was also surprised to learn that the only two people who had ever filled in for him were Flip Wilson and Steve Allen, I believe.

DH: How did you find out about the new assignment?

George Lopez

GL: I got a message to call him, I think it was in October.  Months before the February announcement.  He told me he did not want to continue as host.  And he asked me if I would take over for him.

DH: Did you have any contact with him before that?

GL: Yes,  Mr. Cosby had done my talk show a couple of times.  And we had a nice rapport.  He was very kind to me about my comedy.  So when I found out why he wanted me to call him, I thought, “Well, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

DH: What’s your background in jazz, George?  What kind of fan are you?  Warm, luke-warm, what?

GL: I’m a luke-warm.  But I have a tremendous respect for music.  I mean, I love all music.  From my association with Carlos Santana I learned a lot about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and more.  When I was in high school, George Benson had crossed into the mainstream. And even then I knew about Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and guys like that.  Not to the degree of what Mr. Cosby knows.  I appreciate jazz for the craftsmanship of the players, but also because their music is from the soul.

DH: Over the years comedians like Cosby, Mort Sahl and others have mentioned the similarities between the improvisation of jazz and the improvising of stand-up comedians like you.

GL: Yes.  That’s true.  In fact somebody once said to me, ‘You know, your comedy is like jazz, free like jazz.  You don’t play the same notes all the time.”  And I agree. There’s a warmth and a soul to jazz that is not in a lot of music.

DH: You also grew up in a very musical culture, didn’t you?

GL: Absolutely,  It’s always been an everyday part of my life.  There is a tremendous amount of love for music in our culture, of jazz and really of all music..

DH: I assume, however, that there won’t be a Lopez Band to replace the Cos of Good Music, Bill Cosby’s unique band?

GL: No.  I mean, wow, that’s right, Cosby had his own band.  But what did he play?

DH: Sometimes drums. And he played them pretty well. But mostly he just inspired a carefully chosen group of fine players to do their best.

GL: Wow.  I’m afraid that’ll be missing from this Festival.  I wish I could.  I wish I was talented enough to be able to play something.  Anything.  At the Hollywood Bowl.  And I’m not saying that – if I continue as host of the Jazz Festival – that I would not consider putting together a little quartet myself, down the line. The same way Mr. Cosby put that band together.  That would have to be one of the most exciting things, to put a band together and play at the Hollywood Bowl.

DH: Sounds like a very interesting addition to the Festival.

GL: Right.  Especially if I had Poncho Sanchez and Sheila E in my band.

DH: Even better.  How did you work out the way you would handle the hosting of the Festival?  Did you talk to Cos about it?

GL: Cosby ran some things by me.  He told me he didn’t perform so much as just host.  He was like “It’s not about comedy, man.  It’s just about hosting.”  I just want to stay energetic and keep the audience connected.  I may jump in and play congas with Sheila E. at some point.  Or a tambourine.  Throughout the day I would love if the guys would occasionally have me play maracas or tambourine.  Because I think that would help keep the audience connected.

DH: That’s something Cosby did extremely well.

GL: Right.  Which is what I want to do, too.  I want to keep everybody in the Bowl, from the back to the front, connected.  Keep the band pumping.  I can imagine myself walking out into the crowd.  Because I did it once when Santana and I played there.  Cosby also told me to draw attention to the musicians: “Hey, how about so and so on the drums!”  Or “Give it up for so and so.”

DH: Are you all set to go for Saturday and Sunday at the Bowl?

GL: I can’t believe it’s almost here.  I just want everything to go smoothly.  And there’s a lot going on.  Including Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday celebration.

DH: And are you ready to come back next year?

GL: I’d love to be invited back to continue to host the Festival.  To  honor the selection of me as host to follow Cosby.  It would be win-win, and fill my heart with a lot of love.

DH: Thanks, George.  Looking forward to the weekend.

* * * * * * * *

The 2013 Playboy Jazz Festival  takes place at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 & 16.  For information call (310) 450-1172.l 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers