Larry Graham

*Fourteen thousand, three hundred and forty five people converged upon The Hollywood Bowl to enjoy Dave Koz and Friends at the Smooth Summer Jazz concert.

Presented by the LA Philharmonic, performances featured Bobby Caldwell and Sheila E., jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra, vocalist Phil Perry and iconic bassist Larry Graham with Graham Central Station.

Dave Koz has generated fifteen studio albums over the past two decades including his latest release “Hello Tomorrow” and finishes a two-and-a-half month tour on this night. To add even more flavor to this spirited lineup, the legendary Pete Escovedo sits in.

It simply doesn’t get much better than this.

Phil Perry opened the show. With musical collaborations that read like a “Who’s Who in Music” Perry is recognized for his bright, multi-octave range so aptly demonstrated on this night with his amazing cover of the Patti LaBelle staple, “If Only You Knew.” Perry, who toured the country with Dave Koz in 2007, has also recorded an impressive body of work in film music. Tonight he and his incredible band set the tone for an awe-inspired evening; caressing the audience with Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind, and The Spinners, “Love Don’t Love Nobody” – a hit for Perry on his 1994 solo album, “Pure Pleasure.”

As the beautiful Hollywood Bowl stage made its 180º turn to reveal Spyro Gyra, one of the most commercially successful and musically diverse bands of the era, the audience is transported to another place and time by ‘Caribe’ a lazy afternoon kind of song set to a solid reggae beat. A single from the bands’ newest CD, “A Foreign Affair,” with a beautiful sax overlay by bandleader, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, the song is an appropriate introduction to Spyro Gyra’s newest member, Trinidadian drummer Bonny B. a phenomenal talent who at one point was given the stage, where he performed a heated solo sparking momentous applause from the audiences.

When Larry Graham and his band, Graham Central Station took the stage it was as if someone had turned up the heat. It was, after all, this inventor of the ‘slap bass’ or ‘Thumpin’ and Pluckin’ technique that brought the crowd to its feet…and kept them there. Audible before they were even visible, the groups’ emergence from the audience was in itself, dramatic. Fresh off a “special guest” gig with Prince in Copenhagen, Denmark, Graham, clad in his signature all-white, with a hat topped off by a huge aqua blue feather, hit the stage where he performed a brief ‘happy dance’ – grabbed his prominently placed electric bass, held it in dramatic pause above his head and sent the audience into a frenzy before segueing into the group’s opening mantra, ‘We’ve Been Waiting.’

A band with this kind of staying power has obviously gone through some casting changes. On this night Graham took a moment to introduce the groups’ newest vocalist, Ashling ‘Biscuit’ Cole, who takes over the unmistakable vocals made famous by original GCS member, Patrice “Chocolate” Banks. ‘Biscuit’ as she is called, and her powerful alto, had the audience in the palm of her hand by the third song: “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. The band performed their 1975 hit, “The Jam” before taking fans back in time with “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again), and “Dance To The Music” from Graham’s Sly & The Family Stone days. At one point the band exited the stage leaving Graham to work that thumb, alone with the drummer, for a two-minute-forty-five-second bass solo.

For his fans this was nothing short of a Holy moment.

Dave Koz is celebrated as one of the most passionate and skilled saxophonists around and on this night he was on fire. Feeding off of guitarist Randy Jacobs and bassist Andre Berry, the three brilliantly shared center stage; as Koz performed the music that has made him one of the most respected artists of the genre. Performing “Put the Top Down” from Hello Tomorrow (2010) and “Can’t Let Go” (The Sha La song) from The Dance (1999) among other favorites, he definitely gained new fans as some audience members, obviously unaware of the artist’s repertoire screams excitedly, “OMG, this is HIS song!?” Bobby Caldwell and later, Sheila E. have been featured artists on the “Dave Koz and Friends” tour, and they share the stage with him tonight.

Caldwell, who gave Dave Koz his first professional gig in 1985, sings his timeless classic, “What You Won’t Do For Love” and laughs as he shares with the audience how, in 1979, Billboard hailed him as “The Best New Black Artist of the Year.” You had to be there to really appreciate this remark.

Seeing as Bobby Caldwell is a white man.

Fans cheered when Sheila E. came on. The sexy and spirited percussionist played her timbales before bringing her 76-year-old percussionist dad, the renowned Pete Escovedo onstage to join her. Together with Koz, they rocked the house; inviting dozens of fans onstage to dance to the song, “All Around” from the new E. Family CD, “Now and Forever.”

“Now you can put this on your resume. You danced onstage with Dave Koz, Sheila E. and Pete Escovedo!” Sheila E. exclaimed before performing “Glamorous Life” on which Dave Koz did a solo. Before exiting the stage, the former Prince protégé teased the crowd with a few notes that implied she would perform, “Love Bazaar” but no such luck. She exited, much to the crowds dismay, without doing the song.  But Dave Koz brought her back to join him on one last performance, a tribute he said, “to one of our fallen heroes: Michael Jackson.” The audience, who had started to filter out of the stadium, stopped and joined those onstage singing the chant, “Mama se, mama sa, ma ma kusa” as Jackson’s song, “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough” filled the airwaves.

DeBorah B. Pryor is a freelance journalist with more than 400 published articles to her credit. She is an adjunct instructor at UCLA Extension and the author of a communications-based curriculum, “Public Speaking for the Private Person” now on CD. Visit The Art of Communication website at http://www.dpryorpresents.com to learn more about her work.