*Los Angeles – Now in its fourth year, the re-emergence of Jazz At Drew remains one of LA’s best-kept secrets as an established entity within the local community and the Los Angeles Jazz & R&B scene.
It appears that the secret is out. A huge, multi-cultural crowd of music aficionados from throughout the greater Los Angeles region, plus out of state visitors assembled on the campus of Jazz At Drew, Saturday, October 5, 2019.
Jazz At Drew was proceeded the night before by the Charles R. Drew University Alumni Homecoming Weekend. The Homecoming Gala theme, “It’s time to Give Drew Its Due.” This theme fit well for Jazz At Drew.
Jazz At Drew was an all-day outdoor fundraising and community concert produced and hosted by Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) that featured some of the most prolific names in jazz and R&B.
Jazz At Drew emphasis on premier talent in South LA, with international appeal has been the distinguishing factor that allows Jazz At Drew to stand out from the larger jazz festivals in Southern California. More importantly, it displays Jazz, R&B, and Latin Jazz in a range of styles all while being surrounded by a burgeoning and ethnically diverse community.
This year’s concert series on the campus of CDU included a stellar line-up of performers: The Ohio Players, Will Downing, NEXT, Louie Cruz Beltran, Lao Tizer Band featuring Karen Briggs and Eric Marienthal and Toni Scruggs.
Pat Prescott from radio station 94.7The Wave served as Mistress of Ceremonies. DJ Paradise held down the music boards, playing a wonderful selection of tunes in between acts. The festival was held on a beautiful, sunny day in southern California.
The festival got underway with the talented vocalist Toni Scruggs. Ms. Scruggs delighted the crowd with her five octave vocal range on popular jazz standards. The was quite evident on the tunes in her set “”Guess Who I Saw Today” by Nancy Wilson, “Is This Love,” by Bob Marley, “Skylark” by Aretha Franklin, “ I’ll Take Manhattan,” and concluded her set with “Someday We’ll Be Free” by Donny Hathaway. Eddie Brown was a great accompanist on piano.
The Lao Tizer Band featuring saxophonist Eric Marienthal and violinist Karen Briggs plus vocalist Tita Hutchison were the second group to perform. With more than five years since their last release, the Lao Tizer Band has expanded as the band explores anew path on their latest CD/DVD combo Songs From the Swinghouse. The crowd and I were digging every minute of their set which consisted of cover tunes alongside original instrumental tracks. The band performed “The Source,” “16th Heaven,” “Pride/In the Name of Love” with vocalist Tita Hutchison. They continued their set with “Scheherazade Groove” with Karen Briggs on fire playing the violin. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal soared on the tune “Baby Cakes co-written with keyboardist Jeff Lorber. The rename tune “Grandbaby Cakes” renamed in honor to a recent grandbaby. They concluded their set with “New Orleans.” This incredible band consisted of Munyungo Jackson- percussions, Grammy Award winning drummer Gene Coye, and Anthony Crawford-bass.
Louie Cruz Beltran is an entertainer at heart, a bandleader, a superbly skilled conquero, timbalero, vocalist and comedian. He blends Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz, Latin jazz, pop and R&B influences for a crowd-pleasing set. Featured tunes were “Yo Me Voy a Puerto Rico,” “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock, “Harlem Nocturne,” “Spanish Grease” by Willie Bobo, “Timbalero Y Bongo,” and closed his set with “Afro Blue” by Mongo Santamaria.
NEXT has solidified their place in music history. They disrupted the musical landscape of R&B in the late 90’s and well into the new millennium with a string of Billboard charting hits including a pair of #1 singles, as well as delivering a multi-platinum debut Album Rated NEXT. NEXT thrilled the crowd with some of their classic hits “Too Close,” “Wifey,” “Butta Love,” “Anything,” and “I Still Love You,” “What You Want,” “Beauty Queen,” and “My Everything.”
Will Downing- The Prince of Sophisticated Soul” is a living example of the absolute best that smooth R&B and soul has to offer. He always puts on a great show, he stepped it up a notch for the Jazz At Drew crowd on the following tunes “After Tonight,” “Daydreaming,” “Don’t Talk to Me Like That,” “A Million Ways,” and “I Go Crazy.”
The Ohio Players were the perfect choice to close out the show. The band features two of the original members-Clarence “Chet” Willis-guitar and James “Diamond” Williams on drums. Their set was electrifying, entertaining as well as engaging, as they had the crowd up on their feet, dancing and singing along to the hits from their extensive catalog. The crowd were grooving and moving on the tunes “Love Rollercoaster,”” Funky Worm,” “Heaven,” “Fire,” “Sweet Sticky Things,” and “Skintight,” just to name a few.
Jazz At Drew’s mission is two-fold: to support CDU students in health professions and biomedical science through scholarships and professional development opportunities and to provide the South Los Angeles area with excellent entertainment as a commitment to engage the community.
Proceeds from the Jazz At Drew fundraiser will also support CDU pipeline programs that seek to engage youth in math and science grades pre-K through 12 from underserved communities. CDU’s mission of cultivating diverse health professional leaders who are dedicated to social justice and health equity for underserved populations through outstanding education, research, clinical service and community engagement.
Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer.