LA’s BEST Jazz Festival is PLAYBOY at the Hollywood Bowl

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The Playboy Jazz Festival is a cultural institution. Veteran LA hipsters abound! The bowl is filled with fricques of all kinds from jazzsters to booty queens. This year’s party at the Hollywood Bowl was great as usual. The two days of nonstophathipstersWEB.jpg jazz for eleven straight hours each day is mildly raucous in a mature adult kind of way. The scene is all about lounging, eating and drinking, listening and boogying to live-as-it-gets music.
This is the first of two posts on the PBJ (aka Playboy Jazz Festival). bootythang2WEB.jpgWe cover the music in this post (Saturday only). The next post will cover wine strategy for a day. Dotor√© is the Master of Ceremonies in our box [ed. pictured below] and is being mentioned to replace Cos when he steps down…if ever.
The music is never bad. Sometimes an act may be repulsive or downright over-the-hill but even Al Jarreau has his fans. The festival music director’s job is to manage the musical lineup which cannot easy. God knows what considerations s/he has to make other than who performs when. This year the lineup was off a beat or more as placement for the acts could have been better.
For example, Kurt Elling performed in the mid afternoon when EllingjazzsingerWEB.jpghe probably would have been better right before or during the traditional dinner hour as the sun was going down. Elling’s uber-groovy scatting and singing was worth the crowd’s rapt attention but he had to compete with the soporific effects of an audience already exposed to a couple hours of bright bright sun. Was Al Jarreau EVER this cool? [ed. No]
Elling was followed by the benign Javon Jackson (curiously introduced by Cos as the tallest saxophonist he knew) who was followed by the lively if gimmicky Naturally 7 – East Coast acapella instrumentals. While they did get the crowd worked up so does a good circus act. They should have been spinning plates. The guys who emulated screeching guitars were coolest but I would have rather seen Jimmy Page.
The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra stormed through the dinner hour [ed opening photo above]. They should have switched spots with Elling when the locomotion from the 20 piece (?) swinging band would have boosted the energy level like a flood of Red Bull. Instead they filled the 7 slot wrongly positioned between the day’s two purest jazz artists, Marcus Miller and Chick Corea.
The opening pro act was Jake Shimakabukuro from Honolulu. Jake stood bravely before the crowd that was still settling in with only his ukulele between himself and everyone. His polite Hawaiian manners were also ill-timed such that the crowd could easily overlook his skillful performance. His material – ukulele interpretations of pop songs – was not exactly thrilling. A couple years ago we saw Hiromi in this spot and even though we remarked then that the early spot was unfortunate as she was spell-binding, she rocked the house. An innovative performer is the right person in this spot but she should be steaming hot and fresh like Hiromi was in 2008. That’s how you kick things off at PBJ.
Three exceptional artists performed Saturday: Trombone Shorty, Marcus Miller and Chick Corea,.
tromboneshortyWEB.jpgTrombone Shorty‘s quartet looked like they had just arrived from their college graduation. They came on in second position which was the wrong spot. Billed as a New Orleans band the crowd was ready to wave their hankies – which they did – but the group were really more about Miles style than Preservation Hall.
marcusmillerguitar1WEB.jpgMarcus Miller was in the 6th spot but he should have been second or third. Despite his youthful looks he played with Miles in the early 80s and his very young and highly talented trumpeter Christian Scott successfully channeled Miles throughout the set. This set and the one by Chick Corea produced the day’s most satisfying jazz. When Marcus put on his christianscott1WEB.jpgbaritone clarinet the jazz geeks in the crowd sharpened their focus on him. Very rare and cool.
Chick Corea should have followed Marcus Miller. Every Playboy show needs a legend and he was the 2010 star. His quartet included the equally legendary Roy Haynes on drums, Kenny Garrett on sax and Christian McBride on stand up bass. The four men set a tone that could only be approached but not met. They were the apex of the day appearing two sets from the finish which, at last, was well-timed.
A disappointing late cancellation resulted in a second consecutive appearance of the Pete Escovedo family orchestra. With son and daughter Micheal and Sheila E they played hard rocking Latin Jazz that is geared to advance digestion. They were a hoot and their appearance was also perfectly on time.
mrpbjWEB.jpgSax for Stax was the evening closer. We left before they finished their second song.
Here is tBoW’s IDEAL PBJ lineup. We have to fill 10 slots. We pray Mr. PBJ will concur.
#1 – The opener has to wow the crowd; compel their attention with sheer virtuosity and high energy. We loved Hiromi here. Need someone breaking out who is spectacularly talented to fill her heels.
#2 – This is the spot for a Naturally 7 type set. Baba Maal or Bela Fleck fits well.
#3 – Let’s get jazzy. Gary Burton? Randy Brecker? Sure.
#4 – More hardcore jazz. Gimme T Monk’s inheritor. Who is that?
#5 – Big band time. So many to choose from. Count Basie anyone?
#6 – Dinner time. Need a cool performer. The prime spot for Kurt Elling or someone smoooooth like that. Jamie Cullen filled this spot in 2008 one year and was super.
#7 – Le digestif performer. Chick Corea or Hiromi or Manhattan Transfer. Make me move.
#8 – Keep it rocking with Stanley Jordan or Stanley Turrentine. A nice mix of smooth and soulful pop jazz. The Stanley slot.
#9 – Toughest spot of the day. Has to be hot but not the climax. I like a guitarist here. Maybe Santana. Killer pop in the dark hours always a good bet.
#10 – Need somebody big who can rock the house. My choice? Earth Wind and Fire. Just try to leave early in the middle of their set!

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