*A stellar lineup was once again presented at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival, the 41st, at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood CA on June 8 and 9.
The two day festivities, which was once again hosted by comedian George Lopez, is always just as much fellowship and camaraderie as it is music listening and appreciation. As usual, it brought in a packed and diverse crowd.
Day 1 kicked off with the Valencia Vikings High School Two N’ Four Vocal Jazz Ensemble, doing their thing with skill belying their age. The all-female band, Jazz in Pink, was up next and all I can say is OH WOW! I had never heard of them, but I will never forget them or their rendition of, “I’m Every Woman.” That is when the party was officially started. Terrace Martin and Benny Golson’s 90th Birthday Quartet were the next two up and did their job of keeping the party going. They were good, skillful and entertaining, albeit to me, the weakest of Saturday’s performers, although between the Jello shots and bouncing balls, no one else would probably agree with me.
One of the highlights of the day/evening was a “Celebrating Ndugu Chancler” tribute, honoring the late super drummer, that included Ndugu’s fellow Locke High School alum, keyboardist extraordinaire Patrice Rushen, Sheila E. and T.C. Carson, who some of you may know better as Kyle Barker from the television show “Living Single.” I’m sure Ndugu would be proud of the way they performed three well-known songs, all of which had Ndugu’s print stamped all over it. They got down and dirty on “Let It Whip” by the Dazz Band, which was written by Ndugu, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” on which Ndugu had the drum solo and George Duke’s “Reach for It,” which had everyone partying as though their life depended on it. Patrice Rushen’s keyboard solo was incredible and I would have liked to have heard from her. Everyone involved in the tribute did Ndugu justice.
Terence Blanchard had a hard act to follow, going behind Ndugu’s tribute, but the Grammy award winner made it do what it do. African singer Angelique Kidjo, who sang and danced her rear off, in her gold African attire, followed him. She had everyone doing the salsa and wanting to visit the motherland. I really enjoyed Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Bela played a mean banjo and his solo was awesome. The group had a honky tonk/funk feel and every musician was on point.
Sheila E., who was part of the tribute to Ndugu Chancler came back on stage to perform her own set. The barefoot master percussionist had something for everyone. She was patriotic, singing the National Anthem as well as positive, delivering a spread the love type message, which included instructing the audience to tell someone they didn’t know that they loved them. She also took time out to say happy birthday to her mentor, Prince, as well as perform two of his songs, “Purple Rain” and “Baby I’m a Star.” A Sheila E. performance would not be complete without her signature song, “Glamourous Life.” She did not disappoint, especially by ending it with one heck of a drum solo. Sheila E. still has it.
Playboy Jazz Festival newbies, Kool and the Gang, celebrating 50 years in the business, rounded out the evening, coming on strong, beginning with “Hollywood Swinging,” continuing with, “Get Down On It,” “Celebration” and “Summer Madness,” which was the bizness and sounded just as good as the original song. Although they did not perform my favorite, “Take My Heart (You Can Have it), what they did perform they performed well. I would have preferred for them to have shortened the songs in order to perform more. Maybe next time. The Verdict? Playboy Jazz Festival Day 1 was off the chain, hook and hinges.
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via MzSportsJunkie@gmail.com