Our Review of The 33rd Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival

The 33rd Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival
at The Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood, CA
June 11-12, 2011
By Jerry “The Mouse” Clark

Day One:

As usual the weather cooperates with the Playboy Jazz Festival patrons. After the June- gloom morning clouds burned off, the sun sparkled with delight. Kicking off the festival in long-standing tradition, Master of Ceremonies Bill Cosby introduced The LAUSD All City High School Big Band under the direction of Tony White and J.B. Dyas. Closing your eyes, you would imagine that the likes of Basie, Dorsey or Ellington’s orchestras were gracing the hallowed round shell of the legendary Hollywood Bowl stage.

As the festival goers began settling in, Blue Note recording artist and Thelonious Monk International Jazz Completion winner Ambrose Akinmusire opened his act during the afternoon dinner hour. In the tradition of Armstrong, Dizzy and Miles the young trumpeter displayed an array impressive rhythms and jazz tunes.

The Cos of Good Music delighted the audience for the 14th straight year. Band leader and Master of Ceremonies Bill Cosby has a knack for bringing together each year an all-star cast of today’s brightest jazz musicians, this year featuring Geri Allen (piano), George Bohanon (trombone), Dwayne Burno (bassist), Ndugu Chancler (drums), Anat Cohen (sax, clarinet), Alphonso Johnson (bassist) and Babatunde Lea (percussion) – all displaying an assortment of styles.  

The music of New Orleans is alive and kicking. This year Playboy celebrated the sounds of the Crescent City by honoring Treme’, the neighborhood of the birthplace of jazz (a true American art form). HBO actor Wendell Pierce of the miniseries “Treme” introduced “A Night in Treme” an assortment of New Orleans brass musicians. Thirteen well known New Orleans musicians of the Rebirth Brass Band showcased during the set, including the likes of Kermit Ruffins, Dr. Michael White and Big Chief Donald Harrison. The performance had a definite Mardi Gras in June vibe.

SF Jazz Collective celebrated “the music of Stevie Wonder” with a rich array of timeless classics. The group composed of jazz musicians and band leaders masterfully interpreted classics “Superstition,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Creepin’.” Band members included Stefon Harris (vibes), Robin Eubanks (trombone) Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Greg Osby (alto saxophone), Edward Simon (piano) and Eric Holland (drums).

Dianne Reeves embraced the early evening crowd with the 1933 Arlen & Koehler standard “Stormy Weather, the Abby Lincoln gem “Throw It Away” and the current pop tune “32 Flavors” by Ani Difranco.  Amazingly blowing the audience away with her versatility, Dianne shared her musical experience and spirit in song.  She has graced the stage at the Playboy Jazz Festival eight times in the thirty-three history of the event, paving the way for a future ninth performance.

Helping to settle the evening meal and burning off some calories with an aerobic workout the crowd danced to the sounds of the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra. It is a Playboy tradition to kick start the evening with an Afro Cuban–Salsa party. The band leader provided the excitement to launch the evening’s festivities.

The face of Fourplay has changed a third time with the addition of Chuck Loeb (guitar) replacing Larry Carlton. Still three of the original performers Bob James (keyboard), Nathan East (vocals-bass) and Harvey Mason (drums) masterfully pleased fans with the welcomed Chuck Loeb. Chuck added spice to the chemistry of the Fourplay sound.

Topping off the evening with anticipation The Roots featuring Terence Blanchard closed out day one with an explosive display of hip hop, funk, jazz and rock. The performance was an unbelievable exposition of showmanship and athletics. Their energy level surpassed many I have witnessed on the huge Hollywood Bowl stage. Damon Bryson was handling his sousaphone with precision and Ahmir Thompson was slamming the drums. The group played respect to the late Gil Scott-Heron by performing a rendition of his danceable message classic, “The Bottle”
That wraps up day one and looking for a full slate for the Sunday performance.
Day Two:

The gorgeous weather provided the canvas for a day of excitement as the Pullum High School Big Band under the direction of Fernando Pullum performed while we settled in. It is wonderful to witness the future jazz musicians on this grand stage.

The day started out with an array of traditional and Cuban jazz as Carlos Varela, Geri Allen and Her Timeline Band and the Terence Blanchard Band (filling in for Lee Konitz). The sound filled the bowl as the festival patrons feasted on food, wine and music. By late afternoon John Scofield & Robben Ford‘s jazz -rock performance brought the their feet with a display guitars.

To give tribute is a tradition at the Playboy Festival and Sunday was the day for the late Oscar Peterson. Bill Cunliffe and the Resonance Band with Marian Petrescu dazzled the fans with an assortment of Oscar’s standards. Pianist Marian Petrescu amazing renditions of Oscar Peterson compositions rekindled many memories of the jazz legend.  
Naturally 7
, a favorite of Playboy Jazz Festival executive producer Hugh Hefner, excited spectators with a dynamic exhibit of vocal improvisations. Not one musical instrument on stage, these young men mimics the sound of a full band. Their take on Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” drew one of many standing ovations. It felt as if Herbie was right there in the mix. This is one act to be watching for!

Once more a tribute is given with Still Black, Still Proud a group of musicians directed by two sidemen Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis of the legendary James Brown. James Brown experimented with many African rhythms throughout his illustrious career; this tribute marks his many accomplishments. Grooving to tunes Hot Pants, The Payback and many other classics, the spirit of JB was celebrated by all.

The party rolled on with the master of the blues guitar Buddy Guy. His classic set included “Down Home Blues,” “Hoochie Choochie Man” and the introduction of 12 year old guitar genius Quinn Sullivan. Buddy and Quinn dazzled the unexpected mass of party people, on the versatile playing of the veteran and his young protégée. Most of us felt we were witnessing history in the making.

Winding down the 33rd Playboy Jazz Festival was the all-star trio Harmony 3; consisting of Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley and Stanley Jordan. Performing a blend of jazz and R&B, each artist showcased hits recognized the world over in music; includinging Laws’ “Always There,” Jordan’s “The Lady in My Life” and Beasley’s take on Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.”  Maybe we will see a future cd project in the near future.

Well, that wraps up my twenty fifth visit to LA’s number one party of the summer. Twenty five out of thirty three festivals isn’t bad. Look for me to return next year to the 34th Playboy Jazz Festival. Enjoy!

Jerry Clark
The Urban Music Scene

MORE Music Reviews on T.U.M.S.!:

Lalah Hathaway's Starry Starry Homecoming Night in L.A.
L.A.'s RnB Live Club; Serving up "A Night to Remember" Every Wednesday of the Week."
Andrea Helms | Moving Forward
Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio
Rhythm Will Be Queen at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
The Angela Bofill Experience f/ Maysa | at Anthology in San Diego, Nov. 5th
Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis, Play the Blues: Live from Jazz At Lincoln Center
Richard Elliot | In The Zone
Judith Christie McAllister | Sound the Trumpet
Concert Review: Return to Forever IV/Zappa Plays Zappa
Hidden Beach Presents "The Original Jill Scott - From The Vault Vol. 1"
Deitrick Haddon | Anthology: The Writer & His Music
Joss Stone | LP1
Trombone Shorty | For True
Global Noize | A Prayer for the Planet
Medicine – Live at The Black Academy of Arts & Letters
Lorenzo Johnson | Things Are Looking Up
LaTina Webb | Hush
The Jade Element
Al Green | The Best of the Gospel Sessions
Reggie Young | Steppin’ Up
Gail Holmes | I Receive Your Love
Kindred the Family Soul | Love Has No Recession
Jill Scott | The Light Of The Sun
Beyoncé | 4
Patsy Moore | Expatriates
Pat Metheny | What's It All About
Alicia Keys | songs in A minor: 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Ledisi | Pieces of Me
Michael Franks | Time Together
Soul Togetherness Presents The Skip Scarborough Songbook | Various Artists
Monday Michiru | Don't Disturb This Groove
"An Evening With Dave Grusin" (DVD-Blu-ray Disc)
Raphael Saadiq | Stone Rollin'
Dennis Coffey | Dennis Coffey
Mateo | Love & Stadiums