Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
Every June, people of all ages are known to yell, shout or scream four letter words without fear of reprisal. They don�t have to worry about being politically correct and they sure won�t suffer the ire/consternation of others. Grads, Dads and Jazz!!! What were you thinking?
Celebrating 30 years of electrifying performances, magical moments and extraordinary music, Playboy once again presented a world class roster of talent at the 30th Anniversary Jazz Festival, Saturday, June 14th and Sunday, June 15th at the famous Hollywood Bowl. As usual, festival organizers presented a variety of musical genres to satisfy the diverse taste of an equally diverse audience.
I had some errands to run on Saturday. Afterwards, I rushed over to the Bowl so that I could catch the opening act. The festivals always get underway each day by showcasing some remarkable high school jazz ensembles. The honor was bestowed on the Hamilton Academy of Music Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Dan Taguchi. They played about four jazz standards with �Blues In The Access Tooth� as one of my favorites.
The Press room backstage at the Bowl offers the Media contingents a respite from the heat in an air conditioned room. We were able to get a bite to eat courtesy of Festival LLC., compare notes after each performance and share stories of other recent concerts one has attended. The hot topic was the re-union tour of Return To Forever the night before at the Gibson Amphitheatre. The photographers were blessed to be in the presence of world renowned photographer Herman Leonard who was hanging out backstage in the Press room.
The Robert Glasper Trio - Robert Glasper - piano, Vincente Archer - bass and Jamire Williams - drums were unknown to me before the festival. This tight trio from New York left a lasting impression playing material from his previous CD�s Canvas and In My Element on the Blue Note Label. I found myself swaying to �FTB,� �Silly Rabbit,� and �Maiden Voyage/Everything In Its Rite Place.�
Comedian Bill Cosby wore many hats at the festival. He served as Master of Ceremonies, 12th Bowl appearance as leader of �Cos of Good Music.� When he wasn�t laying down some serious licks on the drums, he could be seen conducting the band. They opened with a tune dedicated to the late great Jimmy McGriff featuring Jerry Peters - Hammond B-3 organ, and David T. Walker on guitar. Several tunes stood out during their set �Dear Lord,� �Lime House Light Blues,� and �Moanin.�
Another newcomer on the jazz scene is Hiromi (keyboards/piano) and her band SonicBloom featuring Tony Grey - bass, David Fiucynki - guitar and Martin Valihora on drums. She wowed the audience with her interpretation of �Caravan.�
Saxophonist James Moody was the unofficial Elder Statesman of the festival. He is still delivering hard driving, hard bopping jazz all over the world. He had an All-Star group backing him on this gig, all who is leaders in their own right. Renee Rosnes - piano, Todd Coolman - bass, Adam Nussbaum - drums, and special guest Terrance Blanchard.
Sherry Maricle and The Diva Jazz Orchestra played a crowd pleasing set of original and some jazz standards for the small but loyal jazz purist in the crowd of 35,000 at the Hollywood Bowl. Their set featured many magical moments and was one of the highlights for the opening day of the festival.
Fans of smooth jazz were treated to a double serving with RnR - Rick Braun - trumpet and Richard Elliott - saxophones. The crowd were up and dancing throughout the Bowl to their smooth grooves.
Los Angeles favorite conguero Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band served up a potent mix of a pinch of R&B, a dab of soul, marinated with some Afro-Cuban jazz with guest vocalist Eddie Floyd. You can see novice as well as experienced dancers, dancing in the aisles.
The Playboy Jazz Festival is not the only ones celebrating a milestone. Tower of Power is celebrating their 40 Anniversary as well. The band continues to re-define �What Is Hip?� with their distinguished soulful sounds and their patented funky horn-driven music. People were dancing from the top of the Bowl (nosebleed section) all the way down to the exit as Tower of Power closed out the first day of the festival. Other highlights from day one consisted of wonderful entertainment of Dr. John and vocalist Al Jarreau.
Sunday, final day of the festival got under way with another top notched ensemble. View Park Prep Jazz Ensemble directed by Fernando Pullum. These kids were worth arriving early to the Bowl to see them perform. They performed �There�s The Rub,� �So What,� �Two Slip; Lose Lips,� �Meeting Place,� and got down and funky on this Father�s Day with �Father Funk.�
Ben Riley�s Monk Legacy Septet (piano less group) honored the legacy of Thelonious Monk on the following tunes �Brakes Sake,� �Bemsha Swing,� �Bright Mississippi�-based on the changes to �Sweet Georgia Brown,� �Epistrophy,� and �Ryhthm-A-Ning� from their latest CD Memories of T.
Vocalist Ryan Shaw was another newcomer to festival goers. People will not soon forget this dynamic singer as he rocked the Bowl with a set of rock, soul and R&B tunes from his debut CD This Is Ryan Shaw.
Another milestone was celebrated on Sunday. Ivan Lins - keyboards and piano with special guest Oscar Castro-Neves - guitar celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Bossa Nova music paying homage to Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Roy Hargrove Big Band provided me and the jazz purist a set of original straight ahead jazz with a lot of explosive energy. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini joined the band for a couple of songs.
Dee Dee Bridgewater took the crowd on a wonderful journey. She sang and danced to songs from her latest CD Red Earth: A Malian Journey. She mesmerized the captivated the crowd by featuring musicians playing several African instruments (kora, and djembe) and also featured guest vocalist Yocouba Sissoko, Tamani, N�Goni, Mamani Keita, and Kabine Kouyate.
The 7th inning stretch was spiced up a bit with the appearance of Plena Libre from the enchanting island of Puerto Rico. They had very little of trouble keeping and holding the attention of the audience. Some people were busy texting their friend on their cell phones or blackberry�s to get the score of the NBA Finals match, Game 5 between the Lakers and the Celtics. The majority of the audience was busy dancing to the infectious Latin rhythms of plena and salsa of this exciting band.
Keb� Mo� kept the crowd up on their feet and in the party mood by playing a crowd pleasing set of feel good, uptempo blues. You felt like you were part of a tent revival as oppose to a jazz festival.
Herbie Hancock was the hands down crowd favorite of this year Playboy Jazz Festival. He delighted the crowd with some jazz from his extended catalog of LP�s/CD�s. His most recent is the 2008 Grammy Award winning CD River: The Joni Letters. The band was aided and abetted by the presence of Marcus Miller - bass, C-Minus - turntables, and The Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
Guitars and Saxes - Gerald Albright and Jessy J (saxophones), with Jeff Golub and Peter White (guitars) closed out the 30th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival with a fun set of smooth jazz grooves.