By Ricky Richardson
Los Angeles - We are already into the first weekend of Fall. That could only mean one thing; the Watts Towers Arts Center is in full swing (musically speaking, that is).
The Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Los Angeles and the Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center presented the 38th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, on Sunday, September 28, 2014. On Saturday, the annual Day of the Drum Festival was held at the same venue.
Thousands of jazz aficionados and an equal number of art patrons were in attendance for this celebration of all things jazz, blues and a tinge of Latin jazz.
The program got under way with a Yoruba ground blessing ceremony performed by Alaadun. This spiritual ceremony unites all cultures through a thread of common themes and principles.
The Italian Consulate General of Los Angeles and Instituto Italiano de Cultura, Los Angeles sponsored the set showcased by Marco Cappelli's Italian Surf Academy. The tight trio consisted of Marco Cappelli on guitar, Luca Lo Bianco on bass and Francesco Cusa on drums. They were brilliant during their time in the spotlight as they played an entertaining set of music from the soundtrack of vintage Italian cinema.
The festival took a delightful turn for a while as they shifted into high gear. New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band got the second line to snake around the grounds with some New Orleans Trad Jazz music from back in the day. The vibrant and colorful BackaTown Second Line Dancers added another layer of joy to the occasion.
The Phil Gates Blues Band delivered a dose of blues, we could use. Phil Gates guitar riffs penetrated our veins to uplift our spirits with his up-tempo set of Chicago blues. Their set list featured the tunes "My Baby," "I'm Addicted to the Blues," "Loving to the End of Time," "Used Me Up," "Mo Better Blues," and concluded with "Ain't No Midnight Train."
Dee Dee McNeil is a well established jazz singer/songwriter, published poet and activist. She exudes pure joy while performing on stage, which was evident by the smiles expressed by the audience. She was in the company of some top-rated jazz musicians, Sam Hirsh on piano, John B. William on bass, Ricky Woodard, saxophones and Quentin Dennard on drums. Dee Dee sang and dance to the tunes "Hard Knocks," "Eccentricity of Love," "That's My Dream," "Reaching"-a motivational song, and "Peek-a-Boo."
Munyungo's Jungle Jazz laid down some tight Latin rhythms on a couple of jazz standards "No More Blues," and "Oleo." He closed his set with a cup full of pure Azucar! On the tune "Sweet Chanqui."
Musical sparks flew throughout the set presented by the JMP All-Stars to close out the 38th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival. You knew that you would be highly entertained with some heavy straight ahead jazz with a roster that featured Nedra Wheeler on bass, Dr. Bobby Rodriquez on trumpet, Munyungo Jackson on percussions, Jamael Dean on piano, Kamasi Washington on saxophones and Tony Austin on drums. Need I say more?