Old Skool and New Skool at Long Beach Jazz Festival

By Ricky Richardson

A record number of music aficionados descended once again on the lovely Rainbow Lagoon for the 26th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival. The festival was held on Friday, August 9th thru Sunday, August 11, 2013.

A sadness as well as joy hovered over the festival with the news of the death of the late great piano player George Duke. Mr. Duke graced the Long Beach Jazz Festival many times in the past. We can take joy in the huge amount of music that he recorded over the years. Our collective prayers goes out to his family.

People arrived Friday afternoon to kick off the long weekend while enjoying the sounds of some of today's most distinquished jazz and R&B artist. The crowd were in for another magnificent musical experience that they come to expect from attending the Long Beach Jazz Festival.

This year's line-up features some easy listening sounds of the saxophones, several R&B crooners, new up and coming crowd favorites, straight-ahead jazz, thumping bass as well as several trips down memory lane each night of the festival.

Billboard chart-topping saxophonist Everette Harp opened the show and contributed another layer of love portion by way of relaxing smooth jazz tunes to set the mood for the evening as the sun dimmed to darkness. Everette Harp opened his set with "What's Going On" and continued with "Holler,"  "Where Were You When I Needed You," "All Jazzed Up and No Where to Go," and several tunes recorded with George Duke "Going Through Changes," and "Central Park West."

Famed R&B and gospel singer Howard Hewett was outstanding during his set as he enticed to lovers to cuddle up a little closer on this cool evening. He performed "Stay," "I'm for Real," "Show Me," "Once, Twice, Three Times," and "Enough" which also was recorded with Mr. George Duke.

Soul and harmony masters, The Whispers took the crowd and I on our first trip down memory lane with some of their classic tunes as they ventured through their extensive catalog of greatest hits to close out the first night of the festival on a lovely note.

A special shout out to KJLH Radio 102.3FM for hosting the VIP Reception on Friday evening. Chef Desiree Edwards of Watts Coffee House prepared and served up some tasty treats: mojito wings(with a kick), shrimp fondue(where and when can I get seconds), fresh fruits, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and habenera cheese to make this evening extra special for the invited guests.

When I arrived at the festival on Saturday, a quick perusals of the grounds let me know that people in attendance were ready to "Celebrate, and have a good time" as evident by the plethora of colorful blankets, beach chairs spread out all over the Rainbow Lagoon. Day two of the festival got under way with some smooth jazz provided by saxophonist Mark Allen Felton on the following "Walk With Me," "Love Me," "Oo We," "Do It," and closed with a tune by Grover Washington Jr., "Let It Flow."

Popular urban soul/jazz group DW3 is all over the Southern California music scene. They frequently perform around town at clubs, concerts, festivals and other private functions. No doubt about it, they engaged the entire festival as they put on a great show during their time in the spotlight with some classic soul and R&B repertoire featuring the tunes "Let The Music Be Your Guide," "Oh My Love," "Before I Let You Go," "Do I Do," "Just Say Yes," and "Sweet Baby" to name a few. The band consist of Eric Mondragon - vocals and keyboards, Damon Reel - vocals, William Mondragon - percussion and vocals; joined by Ricky Lawson on drums, Rick Marcel - guitar and Steve Carias on bass.

The crowd and I were in for a double dose of entertainment with the dynamic pairing of vocalist Phil Perry and saxophonist Kim Waters. They performed material from each others previous CD's as well as the tunes "Distant Lover," and "Living For the Love of You."

Love hovered over the festival all weekend. This was made apparent during the tight set of Elle Varner, an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist on the following tunes "So Fly," "Maybe in Another Lifetime," "I'll Rather Be a Blind Girl," and the crowd favorite "Refill." Ms. Varner played guitar and sang on this gig.

Timeless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The O'Jays performed a thoroughly entertaining set, while taking the crowd on another journey down memory lane on the tunes that had the crowd singing along in unison on "Unity," "Survival," "Give the People What They Want," "Now That We Found Love," and "Lovin You."

Soulful smooth jazz saxophonist Euge Groove expanded on our enjoyment of the festival with a tight set of signature groovin' tunes during his lively trademark performances to close out day two of the festival in grand style.

The crowd and I were in for an extraordinary experience of sounds and fun as the party continued on Sunday, the final day of the festival. How did the time fly by so fast, while we were having so much fun?

The festival got under way with the soulful sultry sounds of Jeanette Harris on saxophone. It is always a treat to witness this captivating saxtress perform live in person. The crowd was amazed at the talent and performance displayed by Ms. Harris on the following tunes "Just Keep Holding On," "Take Me There," "Passing Time," "All I Do" and the title track to her latest CD Summer Rain.

Music promoter, Jazz Festival founder, drummer Al William's Jazz Society consistently provided some straight-ahead jazz with a little touch of funk, blues and a tinge of Latin during their afternoon slot.They opened with "Cold Duck Time," "What's Going On," "The Jodie Grind," and "Everything Must Change." Vocalist Andrea Palm joined the band to sing "Down Home Blues," and "At Last."

Renowned bassist Stanley Clarke dedicated his set to his good friend the late great George Duke. He dazzled the crowd with his mastery and unique techniques on the bass guitar. Mr. Clarke was accompanied onstage with an all-star band of John Beasley on keyboards, Nick Smith on Keyboards, Kamasi Washington on Sax and Ronald Bruner Jr., on drums. The group performed "Funny How Times Flies," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" before vocalist Howard Hewett joined them for "Sweet Baby." 

Singer Eric Benet performed material from his latest CD The One and some earlier material "Spending My Life," "Harriet Jones," "News for You," "Spiritual Things," and "Sometimes I Cried."

The festival continued with a classy set, by a classy lady, Gladys Knight, the "Empress of Soul" with some classic hits "If I Were Your Women," "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," "I've Got to Use My Imagination and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine to name a few.

A party isn't complete, without the deep fried soul, spicy Latin jazz sounds of conquero Poncho Sanchez and his outstanding group. They fired up the festival while the crowd exited the festival in a massive conga line.