George Lopez & Hugh Hefner
*Hollywood – The Playboy Jazz Festival, 35th edition, returned to the iconic, historic landmark Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, June 15th and Sunday, June 16th.
The Playboy Jazz Festival presented in cooperation with the L.A. Philharmonic Association is an annual event in which thousands of music aficionados travel from near and far to attend the festival. The Hollywood Bowl continues to contribute magnificently to the cultural heritage of the City of Los Angeles.
The program got under way by ushering in a new era with multi-talented entertainer George Lopez taking over as Master of Ceremonies. The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble directed by Jsaon Goldman is a remarkable and talented group of young jazz musicians. Early arrivals to the festival were entertained brieftly on the tunes “Low Down” by Thad Jones, “Bags Groove,” by Milt Jackson, with arrangements by John Clayton, and concluded their set with “Cottontail” by Duke Ellington.
Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo servd up a tasty, fiery set of Afro-Cuban jazz and Rumba. Their sounds had enough fuel to start the first conga line of the weekend. The crowd and I enjoyed their take on “I’ll be There” by Michael Jackson with snippets of “Tell Me Something Good” with Ariacne Trujillo on vocals.
Grace Kelly Quintet came onstage swinging hard on material from previous CDs to satisfy the jazz purist in the crowd. She peformed “Filosophical Flying Fish,” and “Night Time to Star” about her ex-boyfriend. The crowd marveled at her youth, as well as her enormous talents as a saxophonist and vocalist. The group took it up a notch, inviting special guest, alto-saxophone giant Phil Woods onstage. They romped thru material from the CD Man With The Hat featuring the tunes “Gone,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” the title track “Man with the Hat” and “People Time. The stellar group of musicians on this gig consisted of Jason Palmer-trumpet, Evan Gregor-bass, Josh Nelson-piano, and Bill Goodwin on drums.
There was a ton of buzz generated about vocalist Gregory Porter prior to making his debut at the festival. He lived up to the hype and upped the Wow Factor. The crowd set-up and took notice as he wowed them with his upbeat vocals from his heart and spirit. He had the crowds rapt attention on the tunes “Painted on Canvas,” “On My Way to Harlem,” “Be Good,” and an amazing version of “Work Song” with an a capella intro and ending. He followed with “No Love Dying” and “Real Good Hands”-which is going to be a classic Valentines Day tune, and help to put fellows minds at ease when they meet the parents of their future spouses.
Robert Glasper Experiment treated and delighted the crowd on a journey thru the inner workings of his latest CD Black Radio. His latest project is a synthesis of sounds with jazz, hip-hop, R&B and Rock. The crowd and I were in for a treat as vocalist Dianne Reeves joined the group to add lyrics to “Afro-Blue” and other tunes.
Vocalist Angelique Kidjo made a return engagement to the festival for another outstanding, high powered set with special guest trumpeter Hugh Masakela. She shared her youthful energy with members of the crowd onstage.
The momentum continued to flow during the sets by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with special guest Lee Ritenour on guitar. Naturally 7 returned for a triumphant, record breaking third time for another jaw dropping set. They blew the crowds mind and knocked their socks off with another brilliant set of vocal play. People are still talking about their set with special guest Herbie Hancock on the tunes “Watermelon Man,” “Chameleon,” and “Rock It.”
Rounding out day one of the festival were Ole Coltrane featuring Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band with special guest saxophonist James Carter, and concluded with George Duke and vocalist Jeffrey Osborne.
The crowd and I returned to the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday for another exciting musical adventure. The LAUSD Beyond The Bell All City Big Band directed by Tony White and J.B. Dyas opened their set with a few bars of “Low Rider” to the delight of George Lopez. They continued their hard bopping set with “Perdido” by Duke Ellington, “Too Close for Comfort” with break out vocals of Alice Chen, “Tenor Madness” by Sonny Rollins, and went out with “Sing, Sing, Sing” with Christopher Astoquillca on clarinet.
Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble, Pat Taylor, Artistic Director, entertained the enthusiastic crowd with music and dance. The Jazzantiqua Dance Ensembles’ every move-step, jump was executed flawlessly with great joy as they performed on the tunes “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson, “Zombie,” “Thanksgiving” and “Trio.”
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet (aka BBQ) honored their dad, the late great Dave Brubeck. This was a fitting tribute on Fathers Day to a legendary artist who gave festival goers so many memorable moments.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo was another crowd pleaser with their awe inspiring A-capella vocals sans instruments of hope, love and peace. It would be wonderful to have Ladysmith Black Mambazo team up with Naturally 7 to create some great music on a future project.
The entertainment continued with Taj Mahal and the Real Thing Tuba Band. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra went full steam ahead during their explosive set of down and dirty blues and straight ahead jazz while celebrating Quincy Jones’ 80th Birthday with special guest Hubert Laws.
Mr. Jones was present and received a standing ovation. The band performed a rousing set of tunes, opening with “I Be Serious About Them Blues,” “Moanin’, “Mod Train,” “Nasty Magnus” and concluded thier set with “Killer Joe.”
Bob James and David Sanborn featuring Steve Gadd and James Genus, India.Irie, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Sheila E contributed tremendously to our enjoyment of the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.
Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based music reviewer, writer and photographer. Contact him via: firstname.lastname@example.org