By Don Heckman
It’s that time of year again. The time when Summer is ushered in by the inimitable musical pleasures of the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. This weekend, to be precise, with two days of world class jazz artists arriving on the Bowl’s rotating stages, offering non-stop music – on Saturday from 3 to ll p.m., and on Sunday from 3 to 10:30 p.m.
Call it a musical party with jazz for all musical tastes, from big band to blues, from Latin jazz to funk, from soaring vocals to in the pocket grooves. And a lot more.
Few, if any, artists are more familiar with the Playboy Festival than the musically innovative, always entertaining, multi-Grammy Award winning vocalist Al Jarreau, whose presence at the Festival dates back for decades.
“It’s always a blast and a great shot in the arm to do the Festival at the Bowl,” says Jarreau. “To be there with 17,000 or so other people, making special music.”
Jarreau’s presence at this year’s Festival is particularly significant, given his long association with the late keyboardist/composer George Duke, whose far-ranging career will be celebrated at the Festival with a special tribute. Close friends since they were youngsters in the Bay area, Jarreau is filled with memories of their youthful musical years together.
“George and I had an outrageously close friendship,” he recalls. “We go back to the Half Note in San Francisco, where I met him in 1965. We were both puppies, but he helped me with everything musical. He used to come over to our place, and when we’d get into it, my mother used to say, ‘Get George out of here. You have to go to church in the morning’.”
But their musical friendship survived parental disciplining and continued into their mature years.
“The wonderful thing about it for me,” explains Jarreau, “was that George and I shared this love for a lot of different kinds of music. I’m as much an r&b pop singer as I am a jazzer. And the music was where George and I crossed paths. There was some stuff I didn’t do – like try to sing in a high sweet voice. But there were other things that I could do. Including some of the things I did with George, often with the walk along bass, spang a lang tunes that George and I did so well together. So I just had to be involved in Playboy’s tribute to George.”
Jarreau’s affection for Duke and his music reaches beyond this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival. On Tuesday, two days after the Bowl’s rotating stage delivers its last act to an eager audience, Jarreau’s latest album, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke will be released.
“I’m going to sing a couple of songs from the new CD,” says Jarreau. “I’ll sing with Diane Reeves, and Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller are going to play, and a bunch of people from George Duke’s band will be there, too. It’s going to be a real reading and a real honoring of George’s music.”
Whether describing his performance at the Festival, his numerous recordings or his many years of performing before eager audiences, Jarreau – like his close friend Duke – underscores the pleasures of his chosen line of work.
“How good it is,’ he says, “to wake up in the morning and go to something that you’d do for free, and it makes you laugh and smile. And other people laugh and smile when you do what you’re doing. It’s amazing. Something that you love to do that you’d do for free, and I don’t mean having sex.”
“And I’ll bet,” concludes Jarreau, “ That all the other players at the Playboy Jazz Festival also honor the creative thing that we’ve been given to do. To create something new, starting with an instrument, a blank page or a blank canvas. There is something so powerful in that. To write, to paint, to record and (he breaks into amiable laughter) to make healthy records.
“Who could ask for anything more?”
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For Playboy Jazz Festival ticket and schedule information click HERE.