August 29, 2009

The Ultimate Summer Groove in Southern California

By Ricky Richardson

The 22nd Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival was held on August 7-9, 2009, at the gorgeous grassy knoll of the Rainbow Lagoon.

Al Williams, the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival and his staff of Rainbow Promotions and volunteers were blessed by the weather Gods with some ultimate Southern California weather. The weather was tolerable but pleasant with a nice breeze all weekend.

Al Williams welcomed the early arrivals ready to keep off their weekend at day one of the festival Friday evening. The crowd was asked to stand in remembrance of our Military veterans as a recording of “America” by Ray Charles were played. Everyone remained standing while Pastor Raymond LeBlanc said a prayer.

This year’s festival was dedicated to the late great NBA player and jazz musician Wayman Tisdale. The program got under way with saxophonist Eldredge Jackson a new rising star on the smooth jazz, Adult Contemporary music scene. Eldredge Jackson and Listening Pleasure played a set filled with smooth and funky grooves on “Ain’t Nobody,” “I Like That,” “Hello” and “Rock With You.” The bands debut CD Listening Pleasure was co-produced and several songs were written by Wayman Tisdale.

Saxophonist David Sanborn got down with a high energy set of material from several of his award winning CD’s as well as featured tunes from his latest recording Here & Gone. Throughout his set, Mr. Sanborn kept moving and grooving seamlessly from straight-ahead and improvisation jazz to pop/rock and R&B sounds.

A Summer Storm poured down on the Rainbow Lagoon featuring Norman Brown - guitar, Eric Darius - alto sax, Gail Jhonson - keyboards and Brenda Russell replacing Patti Austen to close out the first evening of the jazz festival. Their current tour is dedicated to the late great Wayman Tisdale.

Al Williams, Founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival, is a noted drummer. Day two Saturday got under way with Eric Seats as he introduced new talent through “The Next Great Drummer.” Their set was well received by the audience. I’m hoping that this will be an annual event to open the festival on Saturday’s. All of the talented drummers were featured in the spotlight as Eric Seats guided the group thru several genres of music.

Composer, Producer, Arranger, keyboardist Dr. Clarence McDonald took the crowd on a musical journey of tunes that he wrote and recording that he performed on including the hits “”What Is This” by Les McCann, “Best of My Love”- The Emotions, “Lovely Day”-Bill Withers, “Summertime,” “Heaven Help Us”-Ray Charles, “Just For Your love”-Earl Klugh, “I Like The Way You Move.” Vocalist CJ Edmonds or CJ Hammonds performed superbly with the band.

Bassist Brian Bromberg is another musician in demand as a sideman. Their set was good as the group performed original tunes and tunes that Brian Bromberg recorded with other jazz greats such as  “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock.

Hiroshima turned it up a notch with their blend of contemporary sounds with Asian instrumentations from their latest CD Legacy which will be released in the coming weeks. “Red Beans & Rice,” “I’ve Been Here Before,” “Another Place,” and One Wish” were some of the highlights of their set.

Jazz piano legend Les McCann Swiss Movement featuring saxophonist Javon Jackson were grooven as only Mr. McCann knows how to groove with jazz hits “Compared to What,” and “Cold Duck Time.”

Vocalist Ledisi was the first of a trio of neo-soul singers to grace the stage. She was enthusiastically received as she showcased her soulful, sultry voice from her previous CD’s Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue and Lost & Found.

The jazz festival crowd was ambushed with a crowd pleasing Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliott to close out the second day of the festival.

Sunday, the final day of the festival got under way with the Jazz Search Winner. I didn’t arrive to the festival in time to catch her performance.

Al Williams Jazz Society featuring Al Williams - drums, Nedra Wheeler - bass, Dave Bradshaw - keyboards/piano, Tony Poinsett - congas, Dr. George Shaw - trumpet, and Doug Webb performed well in their usual Sunday afternoon time slot. The band performed “First Light,” “Sandy’s Smile,” “Cantaloupe Island,” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” In the absence of Barbara Morrison, a guest from the VIP section - Barbara Burton joined the band to sing the blues “Rock Me Baby.”

The combination of two great guitarists Marc Antoine and Paul Brown cause a musical frenzy when saxophonist John Klemmer joined the band to perform his classic tune “Touch” from the CD Touch. If you like smooth jazz, this CD is a must have for your music library. This song continues to get radio airplay.

Saxophonist Steve Cole and vocalist Leela James pumped up the energy of the festival, and fully engaged the crowd in their back to back respective sets. Both artists received a standing ovation at the conclusion of their sets.

The festival concluded with straight-ahead jazz set by Ramsey Lewis Trio followed by festival headliner Angie Stone who performed her brand of soul, R&B, and neo-soul that has made her internationally famous.

For two decades, thousands of people have been enriched by the sounds of straight-ahead jazz, smooth jazz, R&B and neo-soul at one of Southern California’s premier jazz festival - Long Beach Jazz Festival. Now would be a good time to plan on attending the festival in 2010.

Posted by Peter Böhi at August 29, 2009 1:00 PM