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Playboy Jazz Festival swings the Bowl June 14-15

Free concert Sunday, ‘Jazz on Film’ Thursday

Posted: May 30, 2008 4:12 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The Playboy Jazz Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary at the Hollywood Bowl the weekend of June 14-15, 2008.

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HOLLYWOOD -- The Playboy Jazz Festival, a favorite of jazz fans from the Santa Clarita Valley and around the world, will celebrate its 30th anniversary Father's Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15, at the Hollywood Bowl.

With performers featuring renowned jazz giants, international superstars and emerging newcomers, "The festival is one of the major party celebrations everybody looks forward to all year long," as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner told The Signal.

Among the topliners set to perform Father's Day weekend are "Album of the Year" ("River: The Joni Letters") Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, jazz-pop vocal legend Al Jarreau, New Orleans favorite son Dr. John, celebrated blues singer-songwriter Keb' Mo', Grammy- and Tony-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, funk forefathers Tower of Power, the fiery Poncho Sanchez Latin Band with special guest Eddie Floyd, and the unpredictable COS of Good Music.

The latter group of all-stars will be fielded by longtime festival emcee Bill Cosby, who On Saturday afternoon and evening will introduce Al Jarreau; Sanchez and Floyd; the James Moody Quartet; Dr. John, Tower of Power; R n R featuring Rick Braun and Richard Elliot; Hiromi's Sonicbloom; Sherrie Maricle & The Diva Jazz Orchestra; COS of Good Music featuring Ambrose Akinmusire, Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Benny Green, Billy Harper, Jerry Peters and David T. Walker; Robert Glasper; and the Hamilton High School Academy of Music Jazz Ensemble "A" under the direction of Dan Taguchi.

On Sunday afternoon and evening, Cosby will bring on Hancock with Dave Holland, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chris Potter and Lionel Loueke; Keb' Mo'; the Roy Hargrove Big Band; Guitars & Saxes featuring Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, Jeff Lorber and Peter White; Dee Dee Bridgewater and Red Earth: A Malian Journey; Ivan Lins with special guest Oscar Castro-Neves; the Monk Legacy Septet featuring Ben Riley; Plena Libre; Ryan Shaw; and the View Park Prep Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Fernando Pullum.

"For me, it's not a matter of any particular performer, it's always the whole event," Hefner said when asked which performers he was looking forward to seeing the most. "But I'm just thrilled and delighted to have Herbie here. He's a friend who goes way back. We're so proud of him and the Grammy win, and what it means not only for him but for jazz in general, the recognition of jazz. That makes it very exciting."

The roster's diversity reflects the many styles of America's original musical art form, its generations of shared influences, and a bright future for jazz.

It's also testament to the festival's longevity, which after three decades continues to be a happy surprise to Hefner.

"We've enjoyed continual support from the community," he said. "In other words, to have sell-out crowds most of the years is remarkable. Before the Playboy Jazz Festival arrived in 1979, the notion was that you could not fill the Hollywood Bowl with jazz. And (festival producer) George Wein had tried, without success. I didn't know it at the time, but the combination of Playboy's promotional ability and Wein's clear ability to find the artists and bring them in has been a winning combination."

"It's bigger than the 20th, or the 25th," Dr. Cosby remarked, when asked what he thought about the festival's 30th anniversary.

As emcee for 27 of those years, the esteemed comedian, actor, author and educator has a singular perspective on the festival's legacy.

"Some fantastic musicians have played the Bowl, and I feel strongly that for my smiling moments, I was right there, 12 feet away from the innovators, the greats, male, female, and the new music that came in under the umbrella of jazz," Cosby said.

Festival preview
With an Oscar and 12 Grammy awards to his credit, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock is an icon of modern American music. His "River: The Joni Letters" tribute to songwriter Joni Mitchell is only the second jazz album to win the "Album of the Year" Grammy. During his five-decade career, Hancock has explored jazz, rock, soul and funk. At the Bowl, he'll be backed by bassist David Holland, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, saxophonist Chris Potter, and guitarist Lionel Loueke performing tracks from "River" and others from his extensive repertoire.

Al Jarreau's innovative and immediately identifiable singing style has made him an international star for three decades. One of the only artists to have won a Grammy in all three categories of jazz, pop and R&B, Jarreau has a roomful of platinum and gold albums. Hit singles have included "We're In This Love Together" and "Moonlighting," the theme song from the popular TV series. This is Jarreau's fifth Playboy Jazz appearance.

Singer-songwriter and blues guitarist Keb' Mo' is another festival favorite back by popular demand. His distinctive brand of Delta blues represents the essence of American roots music. In the past few years, an early album finally went gold (half a million copies) and he picked up a Grammy (his third overall) for "Best Contemporary Blues Album."

Grammy- and Tony-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who's performed at the festival twice before, is well-known as a versatile artist whose styles vary from scat to the hard tones of John Coltrane to the cool blues of Duke Ellington. This year, Bridgewater will take the Bowl stage for the first time with a special group of singers and musicians from Mali to perform music from her latest album, "Red Earth: A Malian Journey." A colorful celebration of her cultural roots, the album and show blend Malian voices, music and traditional native instruments with American jazz.

Grammy-winning Latin jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez, a master of Afro-Cuban rhythms, also returns with his band, but this year with special guest Eddie Floyd, the soul singer-songwriter best-known for his hit "Knock on Wood," in a first-time performance together. Floyd and Sanchez recently collaborated on Sanchez's latest album, "Raise Your Hand," which includes an updated version of the Floyd classic and other hits.

Master saxophonist James Moody, one of the most enduring figures in modern jazz, will make his long-anticipated debut as the leader of his own group, having appeared previously at Playboy as a guest of Poncho Sanchez and Dizzy Gillespie. Best-known for his signature composition "Moody's Mood for Love," Moody at 82 still plays with the fluid expression that made him a titan in Gillespie's All Star Band and one of the all-time tenor sax greats.

Inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame earlier this year, colorful piano player Dr. John will be back with his eclectic New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie. Best-known for his hit song "Right Place, Wrong Time," he continues to crisscross the country performing with his band the Lower 911. Dr. John last brought his gris-gris to the festival in 2006.

Horn-driven sound and high-energy performances blending jazz, funk, soul and rock have made Tower of Power one of the world's greatest rhythm & blues bands." Formed in 1970 and enjoying a renaissance, TOP is back in the studio and may preview a track or two during this year's Playboy Jazz Festival set, their second.

Two of the hottest superstars on the contemporary jazz scene, Rick Braun (trumpet) and Richard Elliot (tenor sax) have joined forces as R n R. Braun and Elliot represent the best elements of smooth jazz genre, and R n R's eponymous debut album was an instant #1 hit.

Also redefining the contemporary jazz scene is young pianist Hiromi, who made her U.S. festival debut at Playboy Jazz in 2006 and is back by popular demand. Fronting her own group, she creates a new dimension of sound with her eclectic combination of traditional piano, bass and drums and blending jazz, rock, funk and punk.

Voted one of the best Big Bands in the world by Downbeat, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra is making its festival debut this year. Led by drummer Shari Maricle, the 15-woman ensemble swings with the best of them. Hard charging and forceful, the group exudes all the excitement of a historic big band, but with today's progressive sound and energy.

For the 10th edition of his Cos of Good Music ensemble, emcee Bill Cosby has gathered another stellar lineup of veteran musicians, including Monk Institute Trumpet Competition winner Ambrose Akinsuire; accomplished bassist Dwayne Burno; world-class drummer and percussionist Ndugu Chancler; jazz pianist Benny Green; tenor saxophonist Billy Harper; keyboardist Jerry Peters; and rhythm guitarist David T. Walker.

Making his festival debut is 27-year-old Robert Glasper, who articulates bold ideas about what a jazz piano trio can achieve. Not long after Glasper arrived in New York, Ben Ratliff of the New York Times declared that the artist's threesome "deserves comparison with the best of the newer piano trios, those led by Jason Moran, Bill Charlap and Brad Mehldau." Vibe magazine declared that Glaspar's "remarkable debut shows why cats from Mos Def to Roy Hargrove have sought him out - providing that subtlety and soul are natural allies."

Although Grammy-winning trumpet great Roy Hargrove has performed at many previous festivals, he will make his debut this year on Sunday's show as the leader of the Roy Hargrove Big Band. Always seeking to find challenging and colorful ways to flex his musical chops, Hargrove has left his indelible imprint on a vast array of jazz genres, from Latin and be-bop to a jazz/hip-hop hybrid with his ensemble The RH Factor. Hargrove's signature interpretations of diverse musical forms make him a true ambassador of jazz.

The Guitars & Saxes Supergroup tour, a staple of the smooth jazz genre every summer since 1995, features players who are superstars each in his own right. The 2008 ensemble blends urban and retro soul rhythms, blues rock and breezy, melodic guitar sounds by funky R&B-flavored saxophonist Gerald Albright; ultra-melodic British-born acoustic guitarist Peter White; charismatic, blues-fueled electric guitarist Jeff Golub; and grooving Philly-bred keyboard whiz Jeff Lorber.

Veteran jazz drummer Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet presents an innovative way to hear the intriguing, classic music of Thelonious Monk. The Septet (four horns, guitar, bass and drums) illuminates Monk's infamous melodies and harmonies with new clarity as horns and guitar share the responsibilities for Monk's own rhythmic and dynamic "comping" style. The group's explosive 2006 debut on Concord Records included fresh interpretations of 11 Monk compositions, eight of which originally appeared on three of the key recordings Riley made with the pianist. The septet includes Bruce Williams (alto and soprano sax), Wayne Escoffery (tenor and soprano), Jay Brandford (baritone), Freddie Bryant (guitar) and Koyoshi Kitagawa (bass).

One of Brazil's most-recorded and best-known composers, singer-songwriter Ivan Lins, has teamed with another Brazilian legend, guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, for their first Playboy Jazz gig as a duo. In his 35-year career, Lins - whose hits include "Madalena" and the Grammy-winning "Dinorah, Dinorah" - has recorded 27 albums and brought his music to jazz and pop fans in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Japan.

Adding to the multicultural mix at this year's show is Plena Libre, a 13-member Afro-Rican group founded by bassist Gary Nunez. Making their festival debut, the group has become an ambassador for the new sounds of Puerto Rico, taking its updated blend of roots music to many parts of the world. Reclaiming the long-ignored Puerto Rican folkloric music derived from the 100-year-old genre of Puerto Rican plená, Plena Libre has received many prestigious awards in their native Puerto Rico and was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best Tropical Traditional Album, for the group's 11th release, 2005's "Evolución."

Also making his festival debut will be 27-year-old singer-songwriter Ryan Shaw, nominated for a Grammy award earlier this year for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for "I Am Your Man" from his critically acclaimed 2007 debut album "This Is Ryan Shaw." His repertoire blends powerful original contemporary R&B songs, classics and overlooked gems by legends such as Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson and Bobby Womack. Out to revive the passion and soul of what's considered the golden age of rhythm & blues (1960-1972) for a new generation, Shaw combines down-home warmth with uptown vitality.

In keeping with a longstanding festival tradition, local high school jazz bands will open each of the days' performances. The Hamilton High School Academy of Music Jazz Ensemble "A" opens under the direction of Dan Taguchi plays Saturday at 2:30 p.m., while the View Park Prep Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Fernando Pullum takes the stage Sunday at 2 p.m.

Wein is producer of the Playboy Jazz Festival for the 30th consecutive year, with Darlene Chan the associate producer for both the Playboy Jazz Festival and Festival Network, LLC. Hefner is executive producer and Richard Rosenzweig is president of the Playboy Jazz Festival.

For more information, call the Playboy Jazz Festival hotline at (310) 450-1173 or visit www.playboyjazzfestival.com.

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