*Playboy Jazz Festival-The Tradition Continues.
Hollywood-The Playboy Jazz Festival returned to the iconic Hollywood Bowl, June 14-15, 2014 for its 36th edition. For 35 years, the festival sailed under the Playboy banner. The 36th edition is under new management, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, who promised and delivered a well attended and well received festival.
Tony White and J.B. Dyas deserve a “Keeping Jazz Alive” Award for their dedication and commitment to jazz education. Once again, the LAUSD/Beyond the Bell All City Jazz Big Band opened the show with a solid set of jazz on the tunes “Lowrider,” “Ginger Bread Boy,” “Blue Bossa,” “Everyday I Have the Blues” featuring vocalist Alice Chen and closed with “I Mean You.”
The New Jump Blues featuring actor Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas came out to jump, jive and wail during their fun and entertaining set on the tunes “Chicken Shack,” “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” “Keep On Churnin’,” “Rum & Cola” (calypso), “Don’t Roll Those Blood Shot Eyes at Me,” and “All She Wants to do is Mambo.” Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas gained famed as an actor on the mid-70’s television series Starsky and Hutch and appeared in countless films such as I’m Gonna Get You, Sucka and Foxy Brown, and a recurring role on Everybody Hates Chris.
Saxophonist Tia Fuller made a return engagement to the Bowl. She was booked fronting her own band. The crowd and I were groovin’ on “Ralphie’s Groove,” and continued with “Decisive Steps,” “Lil Les,” “Body & Soul,” and concluded with the title track from her latest CD “Angelic Warrior.”
There seems to be a pattern here. A non-jazz artist usually captivates and engages the crowd at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Case in point, Allen Stone’s soulful; gospel tinged set engaged the crowd as if one were in a different setting for a different genre of music. He held the crowds undivided attention during the following tunes “Love,” “Say So,” “Quit Callin,” “Unaware,” and a shout to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown on the tune JB’s Groove,” and concluded his crowd pleasing set with “Satisfaction” that sums up the feeling of the crowd.
Kenny Baron Trio with special guest saxophonist Ravi Coltrane was the highlight for me for the entire weekend, as well as for other jazz purist in the crowd. They performed a brilliant set of straight ahead jazz to usher in the dinner hour on the tunes “And Then Again,” “Phantom,” “Cook’s Bay,” and delved into the Thelonious Monk songbook on “Ask Me Now,” and “Well You Needn’t.”
Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 got the party underway once again while representing the Crescent City of New Orleans. They thrilled the crowd on “Dixie Walker,” “Viper’s Drag,” “Booker Time,” “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” and “Big Chief.”
The festival continued to evolve a notch with an always entertaining set by Dianne Reeves, Jamie Cullum, Big Band sounds provided by Arturo Sandoval Big Band with special guest Patti Austin and Monica Mancini.
Day one of the festival concluded with an All-Star group of musicians for a special celebratory tribute to the late, legendary George Duke. George Duke was a headliner at last year’s festival and a frequent festival participant over the years. Participating artists featured Al Jarreau, Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler, Paul Jackson, Jr., Byron Miller, Greg Phillinganes, Lil John Roberts and Josie James with John Beasley as Musical Director.
Sunday, day two of the festival got underway with a rousing performance of the Esperanza High School Jazz Band directed by Brad Davis. They immediately got the crowd’s attention opening with “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “It’s Just Talk,” “Moanin,” and “Don’t Get Sassy.”
James Cotton Blues Band with special guest Big Jay McNeely proved once again that the blues is alright. A dose of the blues is just what the good doctor prescribed for their afternoon set on the tunes “Noel Neal Boogie,” “How Can A Fool Go Wrong,” “Blues in my Sleep,” “Blow Wind Blow,” and “He Was There.” Saxophonist Big Jay McNeely joined the band for “Big Fat Mama,” and his classic timely hit “There’s Something On Your Mind.”
Juan DeMarcos & The Afro-Cuban All-Stars spiced up the festivities with some fiery hot Latin rhythms. They took the tempo up a notch while cooking on the following tunes “Barbaridad,” “Dos Gardenias,” “Chan Chan,” Tumba Y Bongo,” “Sabrosura Natural,” and “Candela.” I was completely surprise at not seeing a huge conga line form that snake around the Bowl as in years past. There were some couples dancing to the contagious sounds laid out by this tight ensemble.
Jon Batiste and Stay Human was another festival highlight. Musicians from New Orleans have a unique way of connecting with the crowd. Jon Batiste engaged the crowd right away on “People in the World,” “Let God Lead,” “You & I,” “The Entertainer,” a bluesy rendition of “St. James Infirmary,” “Shreveport Stomp” by Jelly Roll Morton, while channeling James Booker and Professor Longhair and concluded his set on an upbeat note “Sunny Side of the Street.”
Jose James, Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, Craig Taborn and Eric Harland: PRISM, Fantasia, George Benson with special guest Earl Klugh and Los Amigos Invisibles added their special touch to enhance the festival going experience for the crowd and left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of all in attendance.
Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based Writer, Music Reviewer and Photographer. Contact him via: [email protected]