The Soul of the Long Beach Jazz Festival

Text by Ricky Richardson, pictures by Peter B�hi

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A precedent record setting throng of people crowded unto every inch of grass at the Rainbow Lagoon for the 21st Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival, August 8-10 presented by Rainbow Promotions. Nary could a speck of grass be seen by mid afternoon as a colorful array of blankets, towels, beach chairs, pop-up tents and umbrellas blanketed the grounds of the festival. Southern California�s premiere music festival presenting the best of jazz, R&B, Latin jazz and neo-soul was sold out for the entire weekend. A pleasant jazzy breeze hovered over the festival all weekend.

The festival got under way on Friday night with welcoming remarks from Al Williams - jazz festival founder, local city officials and sponsors. Pastor LeBlanc delivered a prayer for the festival. Festival organizers honored our military by playing a recording of �America� by Ray Charles while the crowd stood facing the American Flag on the stage.

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The musical portion of the festival got under way with a Friday Night Cool Down with the talented guitarist/vocalist Joyce Cooling. Singer/composer Michael Franks returned to the delight of the crowd with his well-known witty and sensual lyrics. Kem a popular neo-soul singer brought the house down with his soulful voice singing material from his current CD�s Kemistry and Kem Album II.

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The Long Beach Jazz Festival Talent Search contest is an event that encourages upcoming jazz musicians. Two winners were selected with each given the honor of opening the festival on Saturday and Sunday. Lina a very talented singer/songwriter performed some jazz standards as well as original material from her previous CD�s Stranger on Earth and Morning Star. I look forward to seeing and hearing from this emerging star.

On Saturday in the festival pavilion area Luis Cruz Beltran and Jose Rizo Jazz On The Latin Side All-Stars cooked up some hot salsa and Latin jazz.

Chicago native Nick Colionne - guitarist/vocalist is a popular artist on the smooth jazz circuit. He emerged onto the stage with an explosive energy opening his set with two original tunes. He slowed the tempo down on �Rainy Night In Georgia� and dedicated a tune to a member of the crowd entitled �Melting Into You.� He caused a mild frenzy while roaming thru the crowd playing his guitar and posing for photographs.

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Keyboardist Keiko Matsui flew in from her home in Japan to for the festival. She dazzled the crowd with material from her latest self produced CD Mayo. She concluded her set with a Latin tinge song to get the crowd dancing. Funk/Soul/Jazz group Down To The Bone laid down some danceable grooves that rocked the crowd.

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Saxophonist/singer/songwriter Mindi Abair is my home girl from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Florida. Her tight band consisted of a guitarist, bassist and a drummer. The entire group inter-acted well with the crowd as well as with each. The crowd was entertained on �Smile,� �Save the Last Dance,� �Every Time,� �Flirt,� �Mojo,� and she allowed the band to stretch out on �The Joint.� She concluded her set with �Lucy�s� a popular song on the airwaves.

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Saxophonist Kirk Whalum is a versatile musician whose sound has been described as melodic, soulful and vibrant stirred in with some R&B, gospel, rock and jazz. He was wailing with some Memphis soul on the following �All I Do Is Think About You,� �After Thought,� �Use Me� with his brother Kevin Whalum supplying the vocals, and �Misty� with some straight ahead jazz grooves.

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The Whispers one of the most respected and enduring vocal groups in the music industry took the crowd on a ride down memory lane with some of their classic hits and performed songs from their latest CD For Your Ears Only to close out the festival on Saturday night.

Saxophonist J Anton Boykin the jazz search winner opened the final day of the festival. The 19 year old wowed the crowd with an eclectic mix of smooth jazz, gospel, Latin and R&B from his debut CD My Name is J.

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The Al Williams Jazz Society featuring Ms. Barbara Morrison was next up to entertain the crowd. They dedicated their set to Ronald Henry a long time employee of Rainbow Promotions. The group performed �Angels Passing� and �Everything Must Change� in memory of Mr. Henry. They also performed �Cold Duck Time� by Eddie Harris and Les McCann. Vocalist Barbara Morrison joined the group to sing �I Love Being Here With You� and of course the feeling is mutual with the crowd. She also performed a song by Percy Mayfield �Send Me Someone To Love.�

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The Super Stars of Jazz Fusion was my favorites of the entire weekend. Hopefully, we will be seeing more of these pairings at future festivals. The All-Stars consisted of Roy Ayers, Tom Browne, Miki Howard, Lonnie Liston Smith and Wayne Henderson. The crowd and I were grooving to the sounds of funk-fusion, soul-jazz, acid-jazz, jazz funk, jazz bop and neo-soul.

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Sax man Euge Groove was �Born 2 Groove� gave the crowd an energizing, funky grooves to dance to throughout his always pleasing set.

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One of the festivals most pleasant surprises came during the performance of soulful vocalist Chrisette Michele. She performed songs from her debut CD I Am. Looking around, I could see several people singing along to �Let�s Rock,� �Like A Dream,� �Love Is You,� and homage to Motown on �Reflections� and �Ain�t No Mountain High Enough.�

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Also performing on the Second Stage were Lina, Karina Nuvo, violinist Michael Ward and the ever popular DW3.

There isn�t much one can say about conguero Poncho Sanchez that hasn�t already been said. He and his group have been heating up the Long Beach Jazz Festival with some fiery Afro-Cuban rhythms for almost two decades.

Tight funk band the Commodores closed out the festival on a high note. They performed one classic hit after another �Easy,� �Night Shift,� �Brick House,� �Still,� �Zoom,� �Sail On,� and �Three Times A Lady.�

Now is the time to start to get on the mailing list for Rainbow Promotions to stay abreast of futures shows like the one in February 2009 and to be one of the first people on your block to purchase tickets for the 22nd Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival, August 2009.