October 6, 2006

The 3rd Annual Santa Barbara Smooth Jazz Festival: A Unique Affair

Text and pictures by Doreen Haywood

SantaBarbara2006.jpgThe 3rd Annual Santa Barbara Smooth Jazz Festival held Sunday, October 1, 2006, from 3:00 p.m. – 9:00 pm, was held on the perfectly manicured lawn in the Hilltop area of the Santa Barbara Zoo, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge and Santa Ynez Mountains. Performing were Superstarzz, featuring Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico and Ray Parker, Jr; Julia Fordham, Chris Standring and Vega. Every aspect of the event seemed like it was designed to evoke the feeling of being at a luxurious celebrity garden party rather than your commonplace smooth jazz festival.

Girafffes_SantaB.jpgDespite the light, intermittent rain showers that persisted throughout the event, the intimate crowd, arrived prepared with umbrellas, rain ponchos, jackets and hats, and took full advantage of the unique environment and upscale setting. Passing time between sets, jazz fans were able to peruse and purchase fine art from local and regional artists, Gary Forssell and noted smooth jazz artist Betty Grace Minor of Miner Works of Art as well as purchase other jazz-themed merchandise from a select group of vendors. Additionally, several patrons indulged themselves in luxurious hand, foot and full body massages provided by Hobo International Men and Women. Others took a stroll through some of the 30 acres of lush botanic gardens that is home to 160 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects where more than 500 animals were exhibited in open, naturalistic habitats.

Wente Winery provided an assortment of fine wines, and healthy food items, prepared by the Zoo’s Ridley-Tree House restaurant, were available for purchase. One popular menu item was the whole ear, slow-roasted, corn on the cob with butter and chipotle sauce. Festival goers were treated to a cooking demonstration, using sustainable seafood and organic ingredients, presented by a local chef. Another atypical jazz festival experience was having a Zoo staff member give a brief talk and present two exotic animals; giving the audience an up close view and opportunity to ask questions.

Mark DeAna, festival co-founder, Program Director and Radio Personality on KMGQ, Magic 106.3 the Sound of Santa Barbara, hosted the Sunday event which was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Auto Group and Mercedes-Benz.

Vega.jpgLocal Oxnard band, Vega, opened the show. The six-man ensemble led by Julliard-bound saxophonist Uriel Vega included Omar Reyna, piano; Brandon Winbush, vocals; Jo Camerena, keyboards; Robert Ruiz, drums; Richard “pinky” Reyes, bass guitar; and Henry Karis, guitar. Mexican born Uriel Vega immigrated with his family to Southern California in 1994, where he quickly became known as a musical prodigy, proficient on drums, guitar, keyboard, saxophone and more. The band won the Camarillo (California) Jazz Festival Battle of the Bands and had the honor of opening for the Rippingtons at that festival in July, 2006.

ChrisStandring_SantaB.jpgNext, U.K. born guitarist, Chris Standring, delighted the audience with songs from several of his CD’s, including "Constellation", "I Can’t Help Myself", and "As" from his latest 2006 release on Trippin' n Rythm Records, Soul Express, which is also the name of his 2006 tour that features Grammy-nominated keyboard artist Jeff Lorber and vocalist Jody Whately. Standring opened his set with "Shadow Dance" from his 2003 Groovalicous CD, and ended with the aptly titled, "Hip Sway" from the CD of the same name. Standring, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1991, has certainly captured the laid back coastal Californian vibe infused with a funky R&B spirit.

JuliaFordham_SantaB2.jpgGracing the stage in a stunning red and black bejeweled skirt, sheer red ruffled sleeved blouse over a black silk camisole and donning a matching red acoustic guitar, Julia Fordham empathized with the umbrella-clad audience and sang a few bars of “In the Rain”, as part of her sound check. From there she took us on a musical journey, singing twelve songs, beginning with Italy followed by a low, throaty version of Michael McDonald’s, "I Keep Forgetting". Fordham showcased her diverse pop, folk and jazz styles singing "Genius", "Porcelain", "Concrete Love", "Happy Ever After" and "Wake Up With You (The I Wanna Song)". She also sang "How I Love You Baby", a song from her latest itunes five-song EP, titled Baby Love, in celebration of the birth of her daughter, who cried out in the audience when she recognized her mother’s voice on the microphone. Very at ease with the audience, Fordham encouraged us to “get funky and shake our Santa Barbara thang”, which many did.

RayParkerJr_SantaB.jpgSuperstarzz, featuring Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico and Ray Parker, Jr. closed the festival with solo, duo and trio performances. The artists’ sustained the intimate setting by sharing endearing stories about their early beginnings and some of the mishaps they encountered enroute to the festival. Ray Parker Jr., a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, shared memories of his early teen years practicing playing the guitar with his Detroit boyhood friend, Earl Klugh. Playing a melody of songs on his box guitar that sustained a long split down the back from its airplane journey, the very charismatic Parker Jr. sang to the women, the lovers, and serenaded his way through the audience, dancing with several women who were eager to be his dance partner. Returning to the stage, Parker, Jr. invited a woman to join him as he sang. His set included his mega hits, "A Woman Needs Love", "You Can’t Change That" and "Jack and Jill".

CraigChaquico_SantaB.jpgWhen introducing legendary Craig Chaquico of Jefferson Starship fame, Parker, Jr. encouraged the audience to check out Chaquico’s legs. It turned out that the airline lost Chaquico’s luggage and he had to perform in a black polo style Tommy Bahamas shirt, cut off kaki green cargo shorts and flip flops. Not deterred by his “surfer dude” wardrobe, Chaquico performed a range of songs including "Café Carnival", "Luminosa", "Gathering of the Tribes", "Return of the Eagle" (which Chaquico dedicated to the US troops in Iraq), and "Sacred Ground". Chaquico also traversed the aisles playing a hot, crowd pleasing number from his Jefferson Starship days, finishing atop a chair with his brown locks blowing in the night breeze.

WarrenHill_SantaB.jpgThe last of the trio to perform his individual set was sax man Warren Hill. Hill made his entrance telling the audience that being at the zoo may pose a problem because it may be difficult to differentiate the animals from the musicians. Hill began his set with a funky version of the Beatle’s “Come Together” and then played an immensely romantic song he wrote for his wife, titled, "Our First Dance". Hill performed searing sax solos and melodic hits, from his Pop Jazz CD, including "Toronto", "Under the Sun" and "Still in Love". Before Hill played "Mambo 2000", he shared how he was inspired to write that tune while trying to entertain his daughter when he was making scrambled eggs for her while at home in Colorado.

Superstarzz, Hill, Chaquico and Parker, Jr. brought the audience to their feet during their two-song finale that included "Ghostbusters" and "Play That Funky Music White Boy".

With an exceptional location and offering smooth jazz fans an opportunity to indulge in the finer things in life, the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival is sure to become a destination festival in the years to come.

Posted by Peter Böhi at October 6, 2006 4:04 PM