By Don Heckman
It’s no mystery that producing the Playboy Jazz Festival – a two day event for 18,000 listeners (each day) with eight straight hours of music – is a different task from what it was thirty or forty years ago. After all, at that time it was possible to program schedules including the likes of Count Basie, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald (to name only a few of the available icons).
More recently, as times (and availabilities) have changed, Producer Darlene Chan, has brought a new perspective to her programming choices. Like many other jazz festival impresarios, she clearly tries to bring star power to her schedules by featuring the contemporary jazz world’s most visible, high level jazz artists as headliners. But she also works to emphasize the great stylistic and thematic diversity of contemporary jazz, as well as explore the expansion of jazz into the big international umbrella it has become.
This year’s line-up moves even farther in its quest for diversity and globalization. Take, for example, the presence of veteran Latin jazz bandleader Eddie Palmieri, Israeli saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, South African singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon, Swedish guitarist Andreas Oberg and Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu, and the global reach of jazz at the Festival quickly becomes clear.
Television rears its head with the presence of a pair of high visibility ensembles: The Roots are the hip hop-driven house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. And A Night in Treme draws upon the Rebirth Brass Band music featured in the HBO series Treme.
All-star assemblages are all over both days of the Festival. Fourplay, more than two decades together, arrive with a new member, guitarist Chuck Loeb. The SFJAZZ Collective will devote its program to a celebration of the music of Stevie Wonder. Emcee Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music will, once again, revive the inspiration and the fun of a jam session format. John Scofield and Robben Ford illustrate the range of the guitar in jazz. And Harmony 3 partners saxophonists Ronnie Laws and Walter Beasley with tap-on guitarist Stanley Jordan.
Thematic groupings are also present. Geri Allen’s Timeline Band explores jazz and dance with tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The a cappella group Naturally 7 returns for a second year with its startling vocal simulations of jazz instruments. And “Still Black, Still Proud” is an African tribute to James Brown featuring Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Mahlasela and other African stars.
Add to that, the presence of talented young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. And pianist/arranger Bill Cunliffe leading the Resonance Big Band with Romanian pianist Petrescu.
What about those headliners? They’re there too. At the top of the list, veteran alto saxophone master Lee Konitz, amazingly making his Playboy Festival debut at 83. As well as blues great Buddy Guy, singer Dianne Reeves and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (performing with The Roots.)
Here’s the line-up by day.
Saturday June 11, 2011. 3 p.m. – 11 p.m.
The Roots with special guest Terence Blanchard
Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra
A Night In Treme: The Rebirth Brass Band
The Cos of Good Music
The LAUSD All City High School Big Band
Sunday, June 12, 2011. 3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Lee Konitz New Quartet
John Scofield and Robben Ford
Gerry Allen Timeline Band
Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown
Bill Cunliffe and the Resonance Band with Marian Petrescu
Pullum High School Jazz Big Band
Bill Cosby, Master of Ceremonies