By Val Vaccaro [Artist photos by Barry Chapman - BazPix Photography]

On Wednesday, July 26th, the 2017 Smooth Jazz New York Cruise series featured BWB -
the jazz supergroup composed of three amazing, popular musicians - trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and guitarist Norman Brown. BWB brought their own special brand of joyful smooth jazz instrumental music, vocals, dance moves, and witty humor to create an exciting, fun, party-like atmosphere, and celebration of music and friendship to an appreciative smooth jazz audience. The talented, tight, and bright sounding BWB supporting band members included John Stoddart on keyboards, Braylon Lacy on bass, and Jay Williams on drums.



This BWB show was part of the 20th anniversary season of the great annual summer Smooth Jazz New York cruise concert series presented by Bill Zafiros of Marquee Concerts (which produced the CD 101.9 Smooth Cruises for 12 years before the missed station went off the air in 2008 after twenty years) along with Rich Engel's Live at Nite music company. 

By Ricky Richardson

Long Beach - Rainbow Promotions, LLC. Celebrated three memorable decades of jazz, Latin Jazz, Smooth Jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, and Soul with 20,000 music aficionados, Friday, August 11-Sunday, August 13, 2017.

This highly anticipated event was held at the Rainbow Lagoon, a gorgeous, well maintain, manicured grassy knoll. This venue offered the ultimate ambiance for a jazz festival.

The Long Beach Jazz Festival featured some of the music industries top notched artists, performing in front of a huge receptive audience. The festival also included a vast array of food, art, and much more.

The festival kicked off with a welcome from Mistress of Ceremony Pat Prescott, Radio Personality, 94.7 The Wave. The 30th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival started promptly at 6:00PM.

The hustle and bustle of the hectic work week has subsided, now it is time for some real fun. The festival got into gear with a dance inducing performance by the group called Jazz Funk Soul with Jeff Lorber - keyboards/piano, Everette Harp - saxophones, and Paul Jackson Jr., on guitar. Rounding out the group was Ron Jenkins on bass and Gordon Campbell on drums. All of these musicians are leaders in their own right, and have collaborated with a who's who in the music industry. Their set featured tunes from each others catalog as well as some new materials. They opened with "Speed of Light," and never slowed down throughout their set that also featured the tunes "Hacienda," "Connections," "Serious Business," "Going Through Changes" a tune written by George Duke and Everette Harp. This tune resonated with the crowd as we can relate in our own way. Their set continued with "You'll Known, When You Know," and concluded with "Monday Speaks." The group paused in remembrance of Chuck Loeb and former member of the band who transitioned several weeks ago, and to remember George Duke, who Everette Harp collaborated and performed with before.

Al Williams, founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival along with his daughter Kimberly Benoit - President of Rainbow Promotions LLC. Came onstage to welcome the crowd and thank them for their continued support as the festival celebrates another milestone.

Rev. Leon Wood, Pastor of St. Marks Baptist Church in Long Beach officially got the festival grounded and onto a great start with a powerful Opening Prayer, with the crowd responding Amen! In unison.

The Hospitality Area was hosted by MDC Concierge-Chef Milton Guinses, Million Dollar Connections. Their motto is "Million Dollar Service at Quality Prices You can Afford." The artists, volunteers and media were well taken care of this weekend in the Hospitality Area backstage. Each evening Chef Milton Guinses delighted our taste buds with a special meal. Friday evening treats were Fried Catfish, Red Snapper and Garlic Fries. Saturday's awesome meal was Buffalo honey mustard chicken wings, jerk BBQ wings, turkey spinach meatballs with cheese and marinara sauce with rice. Are we getting hungry yet? Sunday's grand finale was Slow smoked BBQ Chicken, BBQ rib tips, fried cabbage and baked beans. You can find Chef Milton Guinses on all Social Media platforms. Are you can reach him directly if you need a great chef to cater your next special event. (323)-375-6812.

It only got better and better as the evening progressed. Rachelle Ferrell is an amazing vocalist with an incredible range. She showcased her powerful vocal range during her time in the spotlight, performing some of her classic hits from the past and some recent tunes while playing a beautiful Steinway and Sons piano and a Yamaha Motif ES8 Keyboard. She was aided superbly by Damian Farmer on bass, Eric Brown on drums and Billy Odom on guitar. Rachelle Ferrell set list were "I Can't Explain," "I forgive You," and "Run to Me" just to name a few.

Marcus Miller the phenomenal bass player, arranger, and composer put his exclamation mark to close out the first night of the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Marcus Miller surprise guest were actress Dawnn Lewis celebrating her birthday. Sensational singer Randy Crawford singing "Street Life."

The momentum continued to build up on day two with additional crowd pleasing performances. Jazz in Pink is an extremely talented group of all female musicians. This all star ensemble projects talents, beauty, power and femininity as they embrace the stage. The beautiful ladies of the band are Gail Denise Jhonson - keyboards/piano, Lynn Fiddmont - vocals/percussions, Zuri Appleby - bass, Tomoka Nomura-Jarvis - sax/flute, Dee Simone drums and Darlene Moreno - guitar. They took the crowd and I on a joyous musical journey with the tunes "Uptown Philly," "Kat Girl," "Do Something Else," "Our Love," "Free," "Herbie Hancock Medley," and a rousing version of "Knee Deep Nation." The band received a long, thunderous standing ovation at the end of their set.

Before the crowd and I could relax, an explosive ensemble took the festival by storm. This set entitled "30 Years of Long Beach Jazz" featured a stellar group of musicians, Ndugu Chancler - drums, Bobby Lyle - piano/keyboards, Craig T. Cooper - guitar, Alphonso Johnson - bass, and Bridgette Bryant on vocals. They hit all of the right notes that had the crowd grooving throughout their set that featured the tunes "The Genie," "I Love Your Smile," "The Sweetest Taboo," "How Do You Do" (That Thang You Do), and "So High."

Saxophonist Eric Darius riled the crowd up with cool, smooth sounds. At one time, he roamed through the crowd to serenade several lucky women in the VIP section. Eric Darius set list consisted of the tunes "Let's Go," "Happy," "Going All Out," "Forever Yours," "If I Don't Have You," and "Breakin' Thru."

As if that wasn't enough, Saturday's line-up also featured performances by Nathan East with his sons Jordan and Noah East as he performed "Life cycles," Eleven/Eight," Over the Rainbow, and "Higher Ground."

Will Downing Balladeer/Crooner wowed the crowd on the tunes I Can't Help Myself," "Million Ways to Love a Women," "You Know How to Hold Me," "You Got the Best of My Love," and "Love Roller Coaster." do you get the feeling that love was in the air as Will Downing work his way into and melted the hearts of the women. The evening closed with an excellent set by Boney James.

Jazz patrons who ventured out to the marketplace, wasn't too far from the music. I visited the Jazz, Health & Wellness Pavilion which nourished the mind, body and soul with inspirational words of wisdom by wellness experts and other speakers from treatment centers. Attendees walked away with useful information to help them grow a little more in mind, body and spirit. People were treated to healthy food samplings by Celebrity Chef Ewanda as she prepared a quick, nutritious broccoli salad. This demonstration was followed by a panel discussion entitled Your Food is Your Medicine with Arisa Molineaux as moderator. The panel consisted of Jamie Relei Ferguson (Food Guide and Founder of Be Well Bites), Subriana Pierce (Business Leader, distributor of PhURE Water-electrolyte enhanced premium, cleans, safe, PH9.5 alkaline water), Celebrity Chef Ewanda (Ladies Touch Catering-a full service company offering catering, event planning, private chef services and drop-off meals in Los Angeles and surrounding cities) and Dr. Safa Maiwand (Renowned Dentist). They discussed ways for people to eat healthy, the easy access of fresh fruits and vegetables and foods to afford to maintain and healthy body and teeth. Additional Health and Wellness panels were Eat.Love.Pray (A New Way to Stay Healthy with Dr. Joseph Bryant, Jr., Pren'tis Knight and Charles Wright. Events on Sunday, Celebrity Chef Das prepared a quick, easy, refreshing Summer dish (shrimp lettuce wrap) these recipes can be found in his latest cookbook entitled Now Look Who's Cooking-Culinary Lifestyle Guide). Chef Das was task with preparing a cuisine for former First Lady Michelle Obama luncheon. Chef Das also was a former personal chef for entertainment mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs. The afternoon featured another panel Secrets to Living Well was well attended. On the panel were Charlie Jordon Brookins, Pren'tis Knight and musician/author Charles Wright. Pren'tis Knight-Founder and Creator of ZTEK, an innovative Personal Care line of Skin and surface Products infused with pure silver. The vendors participating in the Jazz, Health & Wellness Pavilion were American Heart Association, City of Hope, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, Let Us, Inc., Meeting Seniors Needs Hotline, Inc., Phure Water Cooking Demo, Susan G. Komen, USC School of Pharmacy, Z-Tek Life, New Image Dental, Nature's Bridge Holistic. Lifeline Training.

Music aficionados rounded third base and heading for home plate as the first two days of entertainment knocked it out of the park. On deck for the final day of the Long Beach Jazz Festival were Al Williams Jazz Society playing a couple of tunes that had the crowd tapping their feet to the beat. This was an engaging and entertaining set by the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Les McCann was the special guest performer during their set. He delighted the crowd with the tune "Compared to What," and slow it down with "With These Hands." It is always a treat for the crowd when Barbara Morrison is on the line-up. She had the crowd up and dancing while she performed some classic jazz tunes. She sang "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," "My One and Only Love" and got to crowd to party with her on "Rio De Janeiro Blues."

Spyro Gyra served up an eclectic gumbo of sounds from their previous CD's plus several selections of current tunes to the delight of the attentive, captive crowd. These are the tunes that the crowd danced to "Secret Agent Man," "Morning Dance," "De La Luz," "Tempted," "Lionel's Den," "Stolen Moments," "Rules by Venus," and "Breakfast at Igor's."

Bob James followed in a similar vein, with his tight band. Bob James dazzled as his fingers danced across the 88's on piano and keyboards. He thrilled the crowd with "Nordis," and sparked the crowd with "Westchester Lady" to name a few. Bob James Band were Bob James - piano/keyboards, Perry Hugh - guitar, Michael Palizotto - bass and Billy Kilson on drums.

Saxophonist Najee and a splendid set by Ramsey Lewis and Urban Nights contributed tremendously to the success of the festival.

Conguero Poncho Sanchez returned once again to close out the festival. This is a great testament to his musicianship and popularity with the crowd, who know that he will always put on an outstanding show. The people grooved as the music moved them that had the crowd dancing, salsa, cha cha, cha and whatever dance moves that pleases them.

What We're Listening To ** July 2017

Jason Miles - Kind Of New 2: Paris Is Blue (2017)
Veteran of the scene, keyboardist and producer Jason Miles comes up with another Kind Of New project, picking up where the seminal Miles Davis album Kind Of Blue left off. While the first Kind Of New album revolved around jazz trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, this new album is a varied all-star affair and is much more groovy and accessible than its predecessor. It oscillates between jazz, funk and world giving the various soloists plenty of space, like trumpet players Russell Gunn, Theo Croker, Patches Stewart, Jukka Eskola, saxophonist Jeff Coffin and guitarist Ricardo Silveira, all doing great solos throughout, with Ricky Kej providing the world element and Maya Azucena some great vocals. Unique, original and entertaining, Jason Miles delivers a batch of outstanding music once again. Very recommended!

Bunny Brunel & Friends - Bass Ball (2017)
Bass lovers watch out, this album is for you! Co-produced by Stanley Clarke, it features world class players like Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and Armand Sabal-Lecco, plus a string of top bass players from France who contribute to this veritable bass fest. Don't miss it!

Darry Williams - Here To Stay (2017)
Bass player Darryl Williams, who makes a living backing the industry's top stars, comes out with his own solo release, featuring guests like Euge Groove, Paul Brown, Jonathan Fritzen, Michael Lington, Jeff Lorber and Scott Wilkie, which results in pure smooth jazz bliss. Thumbs up!

Mark Whitfield - Live & Uncut (2017)
Guitar player Mark Whitfield delivers a raw live set in a trio setting, released on the audiophile Chesky Records, it was recorded with a single binaural microphone at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC recreating a perfect live experience, he is accompanied by Billy Drummond and Ben Allison. This is no-frills straight ahead jazz!

The Soulful Strings - String Fever (1969)
My nod to the past goes to The Soulful Strings, a project by producer Richard Evans who put the string section in the center of the action on these recordings, playing the hits of the day over funky grooves, augmented with jazzy solos. Stood the test of time!

What We're Listening To ** May 2017

Pieces Of A Dream - Just Funkin' Around (2017)
This band is in the business for already 40 years and still going strong, being on top of their game and enjoying every minute of it. On this release, the band is delivering a variety of fresh, catchy smooth jazz tracks featuring the sparkling piano of James Lloyd and the drums of co-leader Curtis Harmon, supported by a great cast featuring Tony Watson Jr. on sax and David Dyson on bass. "On The Move" is smoking. Quality stuff throughout!

Till Brönner - Till Brönner (2012)
This album by German trumpet player Till Brönner must be one of his very best - at least in my book! Many of his smooth and vocal drenched other albums don't appeal a lot to me, but this one being deeply rooted in the 70ies jazz-funk of CTI and Blue Note with plenty of great horn playing checks all the right boxes with me, check out his take on Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar" or Dave Grusin's "Three Days Of The Condor". Get the deluxe edition with three additional bonus tracks, among them a lengthy version of "Little Sunflower". He is supported by an excellent band. Thumbs up!

Mattias Roos - Movin' Up (2017)
Swedish keyboardist Mattias Roos is quite similar to artists like Brian Simpson with his smooth, melodic keyboard playing, the music is very radio friendly and easy on the ear, U-Nam and Elan Trotman guest. Nice!

Dave Weckl Band - Multiplicity (2005)
This is a great fusion album by drummer extraordinaire Dave Weckl, all original material, the band is excellent and features Gary Meek on sax and Steve Weingart on keys. For the discriminating listener!

Arakawa Band (feat. Hitoshi Okano) - Hard Boiled (1981)
My nod to the past goes to this LP from 1981 by the Arakawa Band with special guest Hitoshi Okano on trumpet, lots of groovy jazz-funk tracks. Well worth hunting down!

The second show on Monday morning was done by the German group Nighthawks led by bassist Dal Martino, co-leader Reiner Winterschladen was absent and replaced by a capable trumpet player from New York (sorry, didn't catch his name). The rest of the band consisted of regular members Jürgen Dahmen on keyboards, Thomas Alkier on drums and Jörg Lehnhardt on guitar. They went through several of their sweeping songs, with lots of nice solos, especially by guitarist Jörg Lehnhardt. Their unique brand of music is totally captivating and was well received by the crowd.

This show marked the end of the festival for me, I had to leave in the afternoon to catch my flight and be back home in time for work the next day. Unfortunately, I had to do without the evening shows of rising smooth jazz star guitarist Adam Hawley and veteran band Spyro Gyra who are currently touring Europe. Nevertheless, this year provided numerous memorable musical moments by many of the finest artists in the genre, this festival is getting better each year. Add the hospitality of the hotel, the unrestricted and friendly atmosphere of the event, the many music friends from all over Europe and the world, and you get one of the best smooth jazz festivals you can find anywhere.

Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa opened the early set on Monday morning, supported by Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar and Lutz Deterra on keys. He kicked off his show with the funky "Let It Ride", later showing his sensual side with "Quiet Goodbye" on the alto sax, one of the highlights was "The Asian Persuasion" played on the flute, with a middle part employing the EWI. He later introduced the EWI (electronic wind instrument) further, before he played "Around The World" on it. He raised the heat with "Three Day Weekend" and the funky "Hot Tin Roof" playing some mean tenor sax, winding up this great show. He came back for an encore, doing his biggest hit "Hyde Park (The 'Ah, Oooh' Song)" inviting Grace Kelly who happened to be in the audience onto the stage to join him for some awesome scatting, finishing a perfect show.

Closing the night were Acoustic Alchemy, the legendary guitar duo that helped shaping the whole genre. Leader Greg Carmichael along will fellow guitarist Miles Gilderdale were in fine form, the band consisted of Gary Grainger on bass and Greg Grainger on drums, plus Anthony White on keys. Celebrating 30 years as a band, they went through several of their classic songs like "Mr. Chow" and many others, delivering tons of great solos on acoustic and electric guitars, propelled by a top-notch band. For the last two songs, saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa joined the band. Their catalog stood the test of time well and it was a joy to witness those musicians playing their songs with aplomb and finesse.

Sunday night started with violinist Ken Ford, being supported by Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass and Oli Silk on keyboards. He kicked off his show with "State Of Mind", providing some great violin playing and energetic stage presence, moving all across the stage constantly. He did a cool rendition of Stevie Wonder's "All I Do", before he got really serious with Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness", pulling all the stops. Another highlight was Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess", another musical milestone he did ample justice, with a great solo by Oli Silk in the spirit of the original. A few more songs from his catalog, among them "Butter", plus a stroll into the audience which led to the conclusion of the show, the inevitable "Moments In Love" which has become his trademark song. This was a high energy show by a great and entertaining player.

The second show on Sunday morning featured two veterans of the scene, keyboardist Alex Bugnon and drummer Harvey Mason, backed by Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus special guest Miguel Ramon on saxophone. They started with "Take Five", followed by "The World Is A Ghetto", before they funked it up with Herbie Hancock's "Actual Proof", perfect material for those veteran players that represent the 70ies jazz-funk period well. A highlight of the show was Alex Bugnon's heartfelt rendition of "A House Is Not A Home" that pulled all the stops. Another good one was his Funkadelic/Parliament medley, showing where his musical heart lies. Harvey Mason not only provided a rock solid backdrop, he delivered several awesome drum solos exploring the sounds of his instrument in all directions. They funked it up with "Watermelon Man", done in a decidedly Headhunters style with some funky bass by Orefo Orakwue, finishing their show with Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic" featuring the sax of Miguel Ramon. They returned for an encore, doing Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon", another track where Harvey Mason played on the original recording. This was an outstanding show by two excellent players offering lots of improvisation and interplay.


Sunday morning, saxophonist Grace Kelly appeared, her band consisted of Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus special guest Brian Simpson on keyboards for a couple of songs. She brought things nicely up to speed with her rendition of the Michael Jackson classic "Billy Jean" and a funked up version of "Summertime", before she featured her voice to sing songs like "Trying to Figure It Out" from her latest CD and the beautiful, introspective "Touched By An Angel". She showed her affection with current pop music in the following segment of her show, doing an instrumental cover of Sia's "Chandlelier", then singing Coldplay's "Magic" which was not exactly my cup of tea. Anyway, she more than made up for it with the lively instrumental "Lemon's Make Lemonade" that had a nice Sadao Watanabe feeling, and the encore, a great version of "Georgia On My Mind", finishing an entertaining and varied show.