The three-day event, formerly known as the Queen Mary Jazz Festival, will celebrate its 25th year of existence at Rainbow Lagoon Park. Though it is known to showcase a who’s who of jazz, the festival’s founder believes its longevity goes deeper than music.
“First of all, we run it like a family. There’s people that met at the jazz festival that later in years got married and their children are now grown and attending the Long Beach Jazz Festival,” Al Williams (pictured above) told EUR’s Lee Bailey. “I think we’ve always tried to treat our customers in a very fair family-oriented atmosphere. I think that that’s one of the main reasons, the artists that we use.”
The family-friendly vibe is one of many factors that have appealed to those who attend the festival, which started in 1978, the same year another legendary event, the Playboy Jazz Festival, launched. According to Williams, the Queen Mary Jazz Festival was created after a conversation he had with friends about bringing jazz artists together in one location. After receiving approval from the management of the Queen Mary, Williams started booking acts to perform. The Queen Mary Jazz Festival, which took place the following year, proved to be a success, with performers that included Glory Lynn, Cal Jater, Willie Bobo and Jimmy Witherspoon.
Ultimately, the festival would switch hands after two years as the Queen Mary’s management decided to do their own festival without Williams. The jazz drummer resurrected the event in 1987 with a new name (The Long Beach Jazz Festival) and a new location (Rainbow Lagoon Park), where it has remained since.
Over the years, the LBJF has attracted the likes of Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock, Gerald Wilson, Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Roy Ayers, Chuck Mangione, Chic Correa, Stanley Carke,Gil-Scott Heron, and George Duke as well as current R&B sensations, Angie Stone, Melanie Fiona, Leela James and Charlie Wilson.
This year’s festival, which kicks off Friday (Aug. 10) and runs through Sunday (Aug. 12), will continue to showcase jazz and soul with The Blackbyrds, Ronald Isley & The Isley Brothers, Kirk Whalum, Leela James and The Dream Tour featuring
David Sanborn and Brian Culbertson taking the main stage. Other performers include Williams as well as Eric Darius, Diane Reeves, Poncho Sanchez, Keith Sweat, Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, Rick Braun & Richard Elliot, Chrisette Michelle and Soul of Summer featuring, Jonathan Butler, Warren Hill and Maysa.
With jazz incorporating more R&B into the mix, Williams is concerned that the elements which separate jazz from other genres could get lost in the shuffle.
“The genre has changed so much over so much that real jazz festivals, I don’t think they occur any more…now we’re getting the next generation of people that probably have never really heard real jazz.,” stated Williams, who isn’t affected by the loss of smooth jazz radio on the festival.
In order to preserve jazz, Williams is actively promoting the genre among youth with his support of a jazz program at Long Beach Poly High School. In addition, the musician, along with a panel of judges, holds a contest to select the best group to open festival.
“We try as best we can to keep the youth involved,” Williams says, “because that’s the only way it’s gonna last,”