By Don Heckman
The summer jazz season in Los Angeles had its annual kick-off party yesterday at the Playboy Mansion. February may seem like an early start, but the media get-together, which takes place in a circus-sized tent pitched in Hugh Hefner’s luxurious back yard, has become a traditional introduction to the events planned for one of the year’s jazz highlights — the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.
Bill Cosby, who once again will emcee the Festival, hosted in his inimitable fashion, while also providing comic counterpoint to producer Darlene Chan’s introduction of the Festival’s line up. Several of the headliners were in attendance. And there was some briskly swinging music provided by the talented young players of Beyond the Bell All-City Jazz Band, who, along with the Calabasas HIgh School Jazz Band, will introduce the next generation of jazz to the Festival. By the time the party was over, one could confidently say that the 2012 summer jazz season was well underway.
Programming eight hours of non-stop music a day over two consecutive days for an audience of 18,000 is a challenging task on several different levels.
Start with the fact that — with audiences that size — there will understandably be far ranging opinions about what constitutes good jazz. And, for that matter, about what constitutes jazz at all. The only solution is to provide a mixed musical banquet, with something for many different tastes. Complicate that goal with logistics impacted by travel and booking schedules, which can find many desirable performers in Michigan, Miami or Moscow in the middle of June. And add to that the practical need to include enough certified headliners to fill all of the 18,000 seats.
To Darlene Chan’s credit, she’s succeeded in doing all of that, year after year. And, looking at this year’s line-up — reaching from Christian McBride’s Big Band and the smooth jazz stylings of Boney James to Ramsey Lewis’ Electric Band and Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project — it’s a safe wager that she’s making it all happen once again.
For more information about the 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival, click HERE.
Here’s this year’s line up for the Festival, which takes place June 16 & 17 at the Hollywood Bowl:
Saturday, June 16
Sunday, June 17