Rhythm Will Be Queen at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival

by A. Scott Galloway

Music Editor
The Urban Music Scene

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon – crystal clear following a night of heavy winds – as host Bill Cosby and producer Darlene Chan announced this year’s exciting lineup of The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. The festival returns to Father’s Day weekend – Saturday June 16 (3pm-11pm) and Sunday June 17 (3pm-10:30pm) at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. As always, the cultural and musical diversity of the collective likens it more as The Playboy World Music Extravaganza.

For this writer, the group I am most anticipating is Spectrum Road – a jazz-rock power quartet assembled to pay homage to the late, great drummer Tony Williams and his pioneering band The Tony Williams Lifetime. This group, which has been performing primarily in Europe, consists of leader/bassist/singer Jack Bruce (best known as a founding member of the rock legends Cream), drummer Cindy Blackman (a vastly accomplished player in straight ahead jazz who was also once the drummer for Lenny Kravitz), guitarist Vernon Reid (leader of the Black Rock band Living Colour) and organist John Medeski (of contemporary jazz torchbearers Medeski, Martin & Wood). This promises to be an electrifying performance.

Another female drummer will be presenting a memorable ensemble. Terri Lyne Carrington will lead a multi-cultural all-female group that will bring to life her latest album, The Mosaic Project, which just triumphantly won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. For this festival performance, Carrington will be joined by vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Carmen Lundy, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Helen Sung, guitarist Linda Taylor and bassist Mimi Jones.

Jazz and piano legend Ramsey Lewis will be bringing his Ramsey Lewis Electric Band to perform numbers from his most outstanding recent album Taking Another Look, which features him revisiting his `70s high-watermark of Fender Rhodes-driven funk and soul, highlighted by several numbers from his 1974 classic Sun Goddess as well as electric versions of recent acoustic compositions.

The Cookers will represent mainstream jazz with a once in a lifetime assembly of  veterans consisting of trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, saxophonists Billy Harper and Craig Handy, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart.

Bassist Christian McBride brings his recent Grammy-awardees the Christian McBride Big Band to the proceedings. And Bill Cosby will once again lead his hand-picked ensemble The Cos of Good Music with a set that will include singular takes on Ray Noble’s “Cherokee’ and John Coltrane’s “The Last Blues.”

Among the most compelling performances of the weekend will be those by artists from other corners of the world. They include energetic 8-piece ensemble Chico Trujillo from Chile’, Afro-Pop singer KG Omulo from Kenya, and an ensemble of young lions that Quincy Jones has dubbed Global Gumbo, featuring bassist/vocalist Richard Bona, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, drummer Francisco Mela and pianist Alfredo Rofriguez.

New Orleans will be represented at its most traditional with the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Soul Rebels Brass Band with its infusion of R&B and Hip Hop (featuring original Meters members Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste, along with Ivan Neville of Dumpstaphunk).

Finally, an eclectic variety of pop music will be on tap – from the modern blues of Keb Mo’ to the Latin Funk of Sheila E, (leading a special group comprised of musicians from five of her existing groups), the touchstone soul of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings to the chart topping blue-eyed soul of Robin Thicke, from smooth jazz sax star Boney James to L.A.-based festival favorites multi-culti upstarts Ozomatli (closing out Saturday night in their 10th anniversary).

As is tradition, each day’s concerts will begin with the playing of scholastic bands: The LAUSD Beyond the Bell All City Jazz Band (conducted by Tony White and J.B. Dyas) and the Calabasas High School Jazz Band (under the direction of Joshua Barroll).

(A. Scott Galloway has attended 30 of the 34 Playboy Jazz Festivals. For this special career anniversary, Mr. Galloway will be covering this year’s concerts in his extensive in-depth style within The Urban Music Scene for the first time.)

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