By Ricky Richardson
Festival Productions organizers of the 29th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival (presented by L.A. Philharmonic Association) were fortunate enough to have a distraction free Fathers Day weekend June 16-17, 2007.
The NBA Finals was finished two days before the festival. Paris Hilton was resting comfortably in her jail cell. The weather was pleasantly warm with a Caribbean breeze hovering over the Historic Hollywood Bowl for this year's highly anticipated jazz festival of the summer.
The festival got under way with the Eagle Rock High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Greg Samuel. The band superbly performed big band tunes of Duke Ellington 'Boy Meets Horn' and a tune by Miles Davis entitled 'All Blue'. The talented young musicians from Eagle Rock High School Jazz Ensemble were cool, calm and poised as they performed at the historic Hollywood Bowl and were humbled and honored to be on the same line-up as other well established jazz musicians.
The staged rotated and things got pretty hot with a performance by Johnny Polanco Y Su Conjunto Amistad. This very busy and very popular L.A. based band played a spicy set of Latin Jazz and salsa. People were dancing in the aisle throughout his set which consisted of 'Llegue', 'Mambo Inn', 'Palo Pa Rumba', and 'Picadillo' - a tribute to the late great Tito Puente, followed by 'Cuarto do Tula', 'Preparato Bailador. It should be noted that Johnny Polanco is proficient at playing thirteen different instruments. He played only three for this show-the trombone, cuarto and vibraphones.
The highlight of the entire weekend came courtesy of a dynamic performance by Angelique Kidjo. She made a bold statement throughout her energetic set as she strutted and danced across the stage and at one time ventured out into the crowd. Ms. Kidjo captivated all in attendance with her singing as well as the dances that she showcased from Africa, Brazilian Samba and Salsa. She was backed by a wonderful band that propelled her hour long set. Rubens de la Corte - guitar, Joao Moto - guitar, Stephane Castry - bass, Ibarhim Diagne - percussion and Harvey Wirth - drums. Their highly entertaining set featured the following tunes: 'Papa', 'Djin Djin', 'Arouna', 'Salala', 'Gi Mi Shelter', 'Malaiha', 'Mama Golo', 'Senamou', Africa', and closed out with 'Tumba'. Don't be surprise if you see Angelique Kidjo on the bill for the 30th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival in 2008.
I was concerned if the band that followed Ms. Kidjo would be able to sustain the crowds' attention. My fears were completely laid to rest when The World Famous Count Basie Orchestra directed by Bill Hughes and featuring Butch Miles came out performing an explosive, swinging set of Basie's tunes. This is what jazz is all about listening to 'Down For The Count', 'Little Darlin', 'Half Moon Street' followed by 'April in Paris', 'and 'All of Me with vocalist Melba Joyce. They concluded their set with a rousing rendition of 'One O' Clock Jump.'
Issac Delgado from Cuba who presently resides in my hometown of Tampa, Florida took the musical entertainment up a notch. Just like the seventh inning stretch seen at a baseball game, Issac Delgado and his band got the crowd up out of their seats, off of the benches to dance to the contagious hot Latin sounds of salsa and the new sounds of timba. Several famous Playboy Jazz Festival conga lines snaked throughout the Hollywood Bowl.
Saturday's line-up also featured The James Carter Organ Trio, Cos of Good Music featuring Dwayne Burno, James Carter, Ndugu Chancler, Vincent Herring, Ron Johnson, Ray Parker Jr., Jeremy Pelt and Larry Willis. The Randy Brecker-Bill Evans SoulBop Band with Hiram Bullock, Dave Kikoski, Victor Bailey and Rodney Holmes, The Phil Woods Quintet featuring Bill Charlip, Brian Lynch, Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin. Chris Botti and Buddy Guy closed out the evening.
The festival got under way on Fathers Day appropriately enough with one of TV's popular sons - Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo - from The Cosby Show) and his group Miles Long. He opened the show grooving with some smooth jazz with a mixture of hip-hop and spoken word. The song 'The Beat Don't Move Me Like It Use To' spoke to the changing world of hip-hop with all of its negative connotations. 'Sprung' talked about his experience with a long distance relationship. Malcolm-Jamal Warner performs in the play Love & Other Social Issues at the Assistance League Playhouse, 1367 N. St. Andrews Place, Hollywood, and CA. conclude on July 1. This is a play about love, loyalty, inner-city life and more, accompanied by a jazz-funk ensemble Call (323) 960-7784 for more information
Pianist Taylor Eigsti is another young rising star on the jazz horizon. He solidified his status during his performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival and at festivals, concert halls and jazz clubs all over the world. He was assisted by Rueben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums and Julian Lage on guitar performing 'Get Your Hopes Up', 'I've Seen It All' by Bjork, 'Caravan' and closed out with 'Argument' based on the chord changes to 'All Blue' by Miles Davis.
The party continued with Nathan and The Zydeco Cha Chas. More dancing in the aisle with secondline dancing and handkerchiefs waving were evidence in the crowd.
The next major highlight of the festival consisted of a performance by Red Hollyway. The legendary saxophonist was celebrating his 80th Birthday with a set of straight-ahead jazz and some blues with special guest Kevin Mahogany. I was tapping my feet and snapping my fingers on the tunes 'You've Changed', 'The Way You Look Tonight', and joined onstage with Kevin Mahogany with 'Time is Getting Tougher Than Tough', 'Fools Rush In', 'What Price Love' and closed out with an up-tempo version of 'Route 66'.
Rounding out day two of the 29th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival featured the talents of Richard Bona, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves, The World Premier of Arturo Sandoval's Mambo Mania Big Band, Etta James And The Roots Band and finished off with Norman Brown's Summer Storm featuring Peabo Bryson, Marion Meadows and Jeff Lorber.