Here, There & Everywhere: The 35th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival

March 1, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s coming up to that time of year again.  Summer doesn’t really seem to spread its golden wings in Los Angeles until the annual middle of June Playboy Jazz Festival.  And the first advance word about the annual event is always presented in a mid-February press conference at the Playboy Mansion.

As it was yesterday, when producer Darlene Chan introduced the line-ups for this year’s two-day Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.  Before she began to announce the names, however, she presented the Festival’s new master of ceremonies, replacing Bill Cosby who retired from the job last summer after more than thirty years.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The new emcee is versatile entertainer/actor/comedian George Lopez.  Best known as the star of the ABC sitcom, George Lopez he also had his own talk show, Lopez Tonight on TBS and twice hosted the Latin Grammy Awards show.  Aiding Chan in the introduction of the Festival line-ups Lopez effectively demonstrated the intriguing combination of ebullient humor and jazz awareness that he will bring to his new role.

No mention, however, was made of the stellar Bill Cosby-led bands – the Cos of Good Music – that brought so many immensely engaging jazz ensembles to past Festivals.  Apparently Lopez will not be fronting his own Lopez of Good Music.

That said, there’s nothing to argue about with the two day line ups for the 35th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival. The first problem facing producer Chan is the fundamental issue of how to fill 18,000 Hollywood Bowl seats for two consecutive days.  As I’ve mentioned in past Playboy Festival reviews, current jazz programming doesn’t have the luxury of the sort of iconic line ups – Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. – that were available in the Festivals early years.

The solution – at Playboy, as well as at the Monterey, Newport, Montreal (and beyond) events – has been leaning toward diversity.  Rather than attempt to produce a pure jazz program, producers (Chan among them) are tending to stage a musical collective filled with artists from genres that fit compatibly with jazz, as well as artists who are expanding the definitions of the improvisational art.

Angelique Kidjo

Saturday’s bill, for example, includes: the extraordinary a cappella vocals of Naturally 7; the world music of Angelique Kidjo, the creative adventuring of the Robert Glasper Experiment; and the blending of Lee Ritenour’s guitar with the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band; Poncho Sanchez’s Latin jazz versions of John Coltrane classics.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

And don’t forget the presence of Herbie Hancock with Naturally 7,  as well as the more traditional excursions of George Duke, singer Gregory Porter, the immensely talented young saxophonist Grace Kelly, and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble.

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

The same, with a somewhat different slant, can be said for Sunday’s schedule, which is equally eclectic, reaching from the dynamic drumming of Sheila E. and the jamming of Trombone Shorty to the lush vocalizing of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo chorus and the interplay of pianist ELEW with the Jazz Antiqua Dance Ensemble.  All of it again interspersed with the irresistible jazz stylings of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with a tribute to Quincy Jones on his 80th birthday, the Bob James/David Sanborn group, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (in a tribute to their father) and the vocals of India.Arie.

Hubert Laws, Quincy Jones, Jeffrey Osborne, George Lopez, Poncho Sanchez, Herbie Hancock

There’s more, as well.  All of it entertaining.  And one can praise producer Chan for having assembled a pair of consistently rewarding programs that provide appealing music for a wide range of audience tastes, while still remaining true to the essential identity of the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Here’s the daily line-up:

Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m. – 11. p.m.

George Duke with special guest Jeffrey Osborne

Naturally 7 with special guest Herbie Hancock

Angelique Kidjo with special guest Hugh Masekela

Ole Coltrane featuring Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band with special guest James Carter

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with special guest Lee Ritenour

Gregory Porter

Robert Glasper Experiment

Grace Kelly Quintet with special guest Phil Woods

Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo

The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble directed by Jason Goldman

Sunday, June 16, 3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Sheila E.

Bob James/David Sanborn featuring Steve Gadd and James Genus


Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra celebrates Quiney Jones 80th birthday with special guests Patti Austin and Hubert Laws

Taj Mahal with the Real Thing Tuba Band

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet: A Dave Brubeck Tribute

Elew and Jazz Antiqua Dance Ensemble, Pat Taylor Artistic Director: A World Premiere Collaboration

The LAUSD Beyond the Bell Jazz Band directed by Tony White and J.B. Dyas.

Group photo by Bonnie Perkinson.  Other photos courtesy of the Playboy Jazz Festival

* * * * * * * * * *

Single day tickets for the Playboy Jazz Festival are available through Ticketmaster starting February 28.  (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878.

Here, There & Everywhere: Dolores Scozzesi at Vitello’s

June 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

The Playboy Jazz Festival, as well as the lead-in to the Festival, tended to dominate our view screens here at iRoM for the last week or so.  And that’s cool.  It is, after all, one of the major musical events of the year.

But other music has been taking place, as well.  And now that the Playboy Festival madness is over, I want to be sure to call attention to another performance that took place last Tuesday.  It may not have been high visibility, and — in its single night at Vitello’s — it drew a considerably smaller crowd than the 18,000 who showed up for each of the Festival’s two days.  But for listeners attuned to fine music, convincingly done, it was a memorable night.


So let’s take a look back at Tuesday, and the appearance of jazz singer Dolores Scozzesi, backed by Andy Langham, piano, Lyman Medeiros, bass, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., drums, at Vitello’s.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that there was stunning musical empathy between Scozzesi and her musicians.  At its best, it recalled the kind of creative intimacy that exists in the Tierney Sutton Band, a group that’s been together for two decades.

Add to that the range of selections in the program.  Scozzesi’s first few choices, reaching from “Listen Love,” a tender song by the too little acknowledged singer/songwriter of the ‘70s, Jon Lucien, to Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and such standards classics as “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul” and “What Now My Love?” underscored both her creative eclecticism and her far ranging musical interests.

As intriguing as her song choices were – also embracing such equally compelling tunes as “When Did You Leave Heaven?” “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Right Myself A Letter” and “Love Look Away” – what really mattered was what Scozzesi did with this abundant collection.  Gifted with a mature, dark timbred voice, capable of using it across a rich emotional palette, she reached deeply into the heart of each song’s story.  And with especially convincing intensity in an English and French version of “Autumn Leaves” that included a newly conceived segment inspired by a Stan Getz solo, with lyrics by Scozzesi.  Call it a highlight in an evening of memorable songs.

I learned a long time ago that one of the most meaningful estimates of a performance’s impact often lies in the feelings it generates after the program.  Sure, one wants to be captivated by the music while it’s taking place.  But it’s equally important, maybe even more so, to be so stimulated by what one has heard that it stays with you, triggering new feelings and thoughts long after the performance is over.

The experience, to me, is similar to what it used to be like to see an especially impactful movie, back in the time before “films” became the operative word.  In those days, coming out of a movie theatre with a companion, eagerly discussing high points in the story, re-living aspects of the plot, feeling strongly – pro or con – about what we had just seen, was an essential part of seeing a movie.

Driving home from Scozessi’s performance at Vitello’s, Faith and I experienced similar feelings, recalling the pleasure of hearing such a fine array of songs, delivered with so much musical authenticity.  We even had a small disagreement, disputing whether or not Scozessi had tended to make too liberal use of her sometimes edgy chest tones.  But there was no dispute over the quality of the strains of music that remained with us, soothing our ears well into the high decibel sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend.

Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Dolores Scozessi’s album, “A Special Taste.”  Fortunately writing liner notes does not cause me to lose my sense of musical objectivity.

Quotation of the Week: Hugh Hefner

June 9, 2009

Hef With Red Robe outside

“My life has been a quest for a world where the words to the songs are true.”

Hugh Hefner


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