Photo and Text By Ricky Richardson
Long Beach - For two decades the Long Beach Jazz Festival has been showcasing the best in jazz, R&B, and smooth jazz as the premier jazz festival in Southern California.
To mark the 20th Anniversary of the festival, founder Al Williams delivered as promised to pull out all the stops. Highlights for this year�s festival included a nightly fireworks show with performances by some of the best and brightest in the jazz, smooth jazz and R&B genres. The festival debuted the inaugural "Long Beach Jazz Festival Lifetime Achievement Award" and the "Al Williams Jazz Heritage Award".
For the first time, an additional stage was set up in the pavilion area to showcase local talent.
Friday night - Pastor Raymond LeBlanc of First Lutheran Church of Long Beach said the opening prayer to officially get the festival underway. Reggie Harrison - Long Beach City Manager, presented Al Williams a Proclamation on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Long Beach Jazz Festival.
The Gerald Wilson Orchestra came out swinging hard with some straight ahead jazz. Gerald featured most of the band as featured soloist. The band opened with "Blues For The Count" featuring Brian O�Rourke in the piano chair. Gerald received two Grammy nominations one for the song "Romance" - (Best Instrumental Composition) and a Grammy nomination for the CD Theme for Monterey (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance). Saxophonist Scott Mayo was the featured soloist. The band also played a tune by Miles Davis that they helped to popularize "Milestones" featuring the saxophone section - Kimasi Washington, Carl Randall, Randall Willis, Scott Mayo, Luis Van Taylor and Jack Nemis. They closed their set with "Blues For Yna Yna."
The Long Beach Jazz Festival presented Gerald Wilson with its inaugural "Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the jazz world. Another award was presented to Howard Rumsey. Mr. Rumsey received the "Al Williams Jazz Heritage Award" for his contribution to the west coast jazz club scene for his clubs Concerts By The Sea (Redondo Beach, California) and the world famous Lighthouse Jazz Club in Hermosa Beach, California.
The second half of the program featured Dianne Schuur (vocals, piano). Deedles as she is fondly called captivated the audience with her charm, sense of humor and most importantly of all-her high reaching vocal octaves. She opened her set with a name sake tune "Deedles Blues" arranged by Frank Foster of The Count Basie Orchestra. Ms. Shuur continued with "I�m Traveling Light", "We Will Be Together Again", she sang "Save Your Love" with her husband by her side, finished her set with "Everyday I Have The Blues", "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Besame Mucho".
Warren Hill and Guitar & Saxes featuring Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Golub, and Tim Bowman closed out the festival on Friday night.
Saturday - The Long Beach Jazz Festival organizers continued the tradition of having The Jazz Search Winners be the opening act for the final two days of the festival. Phinnie O�Leary Jackson a vocalist with lots of potential was the winner of the vocal section of the competition. Look out for her debut CD - Phinnally Phinnie in early 2008.
Eric Darius who has toured extensively with various smooth jazz artists is finally the leader of his own group. The title of his latest CD - Just Getting Started - is an appropriate title in that Eric is letting the smooth jazz community know that he plans on being around for the long haul. Eric performance was my favorite of Saturday afternoon. Eric and his tight band had people up and dancing on "Groove On", "Joy Ride", "Love TKO", "Chillin Out", "Let�s Stay Together", "If I Ain�t Got You" by Alicia Keys when he ventured out into the crowd to serenade several lucky women. He continued his crowd pleasing set with "Slick", "Back At Cha", "Steppin Up", and concluded with "Night On The Town."
Soul Express featuring a couple of original tunes by guitarist Chris Standring, followed by saxophonist Everette Harp. They concluded their set with an appearance by Jody Watley. She took the crowd down memory lane with some hits from the past - "Looking For A New Love", "Still A Thrill", "Your Love Keep Working on Me", "Borderline" and concluded with "Real Love."
Vocalist Leela James came out performing a high energy set of R&B tunes before she slowed the tempo with some original tunes from her debut CD - A Change Is Gonna Come. Leela James is a small woman with a gutsy voice who entertained the crowd with some soul/neo-soul tunes.
1 + One featuring Ndugu Chancler and Patrice Rushen and Jazz Attack consisted of Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler, Richard Elliott and Peter White were other artists contributing to the success of Saturday�s program.
Sunday, the festival opened with a nice set by The George Lesiw Band. They performed material from their debut CD - Anuta Was Here that reflects the tradition of improvisional jazz mixed with fusion and "rockin� blues." This tight band from New England has a loyal following on the East Coast. The tight trio features George Lesiw - electric guitar, Preston Murphy - acoustic bass and Gil Hawkins Jr., - drums.
Al Williams Jazz Society played some straight ahead jazz to the delight of the jazz purist in the crowd. Barbara Morrison - a popular jazz and blues vocalist captivated the crowd with "Summertime", "Endangered Species", and "Down Home Blues", and finished another crowd pleasing set with "They Call Me Sundown." In between songs, she kept the crowd in stitches with a couple of hilarious jokes.
The final day of the festival could have been labeled Sax Attack in three parts. Part 1 featured Ronnie Laws followed by - Part 2 - a high octane set from the Sax Attack (Steve Cole, Kim Waters and Jeff Kashiwa) and finally, Part 3 - a set by Najee.
Vocalist Lalah Hathaway the daughter of the late great vocalist Donny Hathaway was also popular with the crowd.
The festival wouldn�t be complete without an explosive hot Latin jazz and salsa set by conguero Pancho Sanchez, a perennial crowd favorite.
The festival concluded with some fireworks.