By Jenny Peters
It’s an event that people plan for months ahead, making sure to have fun costumes, creative food-and-drink set-ups and the favorite accessory of the weekend, bunny ears of all sizes, colors and LED lighting. We were especially impressed by those who brought their RVs to the Bowl’s Parking Lot B on Friday and simply moved in for the whole weekend. Who knew you could do that?
Doing both days of the Playboy Jazz Fest makes perfect sense, for there is nothing quite like kicking off the summer concert season at the gorgeous Hollywood Bowl. And as usual, the SoCal weather was perfect for spending a long afternoon and evening listening to an eclectic range of musical styles.
Comedian George Lopez hosted each day, but left most of the performing to the talented musicians, who came and went via a rotating turntable stage, which meant there was nary a moment of down time throughout the shows.
Saturday’s highlights included Arturo Sandoval’s inspired set, as that famed trumpeter led his Latin Big Band through a hot set filled with mambos and other Latin beats. Andy Garcia joined him on bongos and Wayne Bergeron on trumpet; Sandoval and Bergeron set the crowd on fire with their matching hot licks. Earlier, the much-anticipated mash-up of two terrific blues-jazz legends, Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’, gave the afternoon crowd a reason to cheer, and Corinne Bailey Rae serenaded the packed audience with her sultry tunes.
Other appearances on Saturday included Stefon Harris, Roy Ayers and Warren Wolf in a celebration of Bobby Hutcherson; The California Honeydrops; the CSULB Pacific Standard Time Vocal Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Christine Guter; and The Django Festival Allstars. Jazz legends Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield combined as Hudson and fulfilled the desires of the traditionalists in the crowd; and young Jacob Collier (Quincy Jones’ protégé) successfully weirded out the over 15,000 attendees, who were mostly feeling no pain by the time he hit the stage with his frenetic one-man band performance.
“If there was a time to smoke marijuana, that was it!” Lopez cracked as Collier hugged him with joy after his freaky performance. Saturday’s exhilarating day closed out with Marcus Miller, whose funky electric bass, Motown sound and guest singer Rahsaan Patterson had everyone singing along to “We’re in This Love Together” as the lights finally came up at close to 11 p.m.
Sunday brought another full day of musical maestros to the Hollywood Bowl, beginning with the LAUSD/Beyond the Bell Jazz Band under the direction of Tony White and J. B. Dyas, followed by the Hamilton De Holanda Trio, The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, and then Carl Allen & The Art of Elvin.
The sun beat down warmly as Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles brought a little Prince homage to the proceedings, then The Kenny Garrett Quintet and the JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble performed a world-premiere music-and-dance collaboration. Gregory Porter wowed the once-again packed venue with his deep and soulful voice. In another bass-led funky set, Miles Mosley slapped his stand-up bass, did lead vocals and led The West Coast Get Down through a series of tunes that had the crowd boppin’.
Lalah Hathaway came next, doing her smooth jazz R&B stylings and finally, in a distinct departure from the “jazz” part of the Playboy Jazz Festival, rapper Common blew onto the stage and finished out the fest with a rollicking performance of his biggest hits. “After 25 years in the game, I’m still hungry,” he shouted to the adoring crowd, who stayed until the very last note faded away.
And as George Lopez said goodbye to the audience he characterized as “eclectic,” he reminded everyone to be back at the Hollywood Bowl at the same time next year for the 40th Playboy Jazz Festival. We’re already working on that RV idea for 2018!
Follow Jenny Peters on Twitter @jennpeters and on Instagram @jetsetjen1