You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Playboy Jazz Festival, Day One

The festival is like comfort food in bad times, as a ritual that one can depend upon and hopefully will never go away.

Jazz writers like to grouse about how nothing changes at the Playboy Jazz Festival from year to year but the names on the program. Yet one can look at this stasis in a different way, as comfort food in bad times, as a ritual that one can depend upon and hopefully will never go away. It certainly helped that there was a fairly even level of quality over most of the first day of the fest, with the knockout jazz-funk of the Marcus Miller Band and state-of-the-art acoustic jazz set of Chick Corea’s Freedom Band as the undisputed high points.

One cannot deny that most of jazz’s major players are gone, but there are still some left — and that certainly contributed to the comfort level on Day One. One of them, Corea, celebrated his 69th birthday Saturday — a birthday cake loaded with trick candles was presented to him by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and he responded with a splendid set where his piano work was every bit as creative as ever, with not a single rote passage to be heard.

Driving his quartet was another surviving jazz giant, Roy Haynes, whose playing at 85 has no right to be as nimble, strong and swinging as it is, but hearing is believing. Christian McBride was the first acoustic bass player all day to get a good, solid tone through the wretched sound system, and Kenny Garrett, at 49, has matured into one of jazz’s alto sax masters. Together, the quickness of their ears and mutual telepathy never flagged.

The protean Marcus Miller flashed several aspects of his talent — as a monster of an electric bass player, as a composer, even as a decent bass clarinetist — with his quintet laying down a powerful jazz-funk groove. The set was mainly given over to a recap of Miller’s association with Miles Davis in the 1980s, where Miller provided most of the tunes and all of the textures for three of MD’s albums. After weaving happily through “Backyard Ritual,” “Splatch,” “Tutu” and “Human Nature” — with muted trumpeter Christian Scott ably standing in for Miles — Miller suddenly realized the crowd would rather party than remember Davis. So he abruptly switched gears to a funkified rendition of “Come Together,” the third act of the day to include a Beatles tune in its set.

If Scott was the designated Miles Davis of the day, tenor saxman Ernie Watts did his ferocious best to channel his hero — and onetime Miles sparring partner — John Coltrane, during Kurt Elling’s set. Wearing cool shades and brown pinstripes, Elling turned in an intelligently programmed batch of songs from Tin Pan Alley to Stevie Wonder, with lots of agile bopscat.

There was no need to channel Les McCann, for the irrepressible 74-year-old funkmaster was there behind a Yamaha synthesizer during tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson’s set — less-exuberant than in earlier times, yet squeezing his unmistakable harmonic signatures out of the keyboard. The sound, alas, was horrible during Jackson’s set, and the engineers nearly ruined McCann’s big moment by not switching his mic on during the first part of “Compared to What.”

Jake Shimabukuro showed what could be done with a simple ukulele with the help of amplification and a huge technique — best illustrated when turning the uke into a miniature flamenco guitar. Likewise, Naturally 7 takes the old idea of a vocal orchestra to a new level — spread out onstage like an electronic hybrid big-band/hip-hop unit. The robust Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, though, still does its traditional big band thing, though not incapable of a surprise or two — like the chart of Motown’s “Where Did Our Love Go” with its round-robin of solos throughout the band.

Trombone Shorty and his second-line-funky-soul band from New Orleans worked hard to get a rise out of the notoriously inert afternoon crowd, and finally succeeded at set’s end. So did the Pete Escovedo Orchestra in the after-dinner slot — and with more than a dash of showmanship, jive and eventual near-anarchy when Sheila E “tried” to strike up “The Glamorous Life”; they had no trouble rousing the dancers in the aisles.

The Bait-and-Switch award goes, hands down, to the alleged Sax for Stax band, which after opening with Isaac Hayes’s “Theme From ‘The Men’?” didn’t play another Stax tune, reverting to the usual smooth-jazz agenda of cliche after sax cliche — made tolerable only by Jeff Lorber’s splendidly funky keyboard.

Playboy Jazz Festival, Day One

Hollywood Bowl, 17,372 seats, $20-$150

Production: Presented by Playboy Enterprises. Performers: Chick Corea Freedom Band, with Roy Haynes, Christian McBride and Kenny Garrett; Sax for Stax, with Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber and Kirk Whalum; Pete Escovedo Orchestra, with Sheila E, Peter Michael and Juan Escovedo; Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; Marcus Miller Band, with Christian Scott; Naturally 7; Javon Jackson Band, with Les McCann; Kurt Elling, with Ernie Watts; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue; Jake Shimabukuro; El Dorado High School Band. Reviewed June 12, 2010. Emcee: Bill Cosby.

More Music

  • R. KellyR. Kelly in concert at

    R. Kelly's Former Manager Turns Himself in on Threat Charge

    R. Kelly’s former manager has turned himself into Georgia authorities on a charge of threatening a man who alleges that Kelly has indoctrinated his daughter into a sex cult. Henry James Mason, 52, is accused of threatening to harm Timothy Savage, who was prominently featured in the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.” Savage alleges that [...]

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Dropped by Sony Music

    Sony Music has decided to dissolve its working relationship with R. Kelly, Variety has learned. No external announcement of the move is planned in the immediate future, says a source, who added that the company took its time to wade through the issues “responsibly” and avoid legal ramifications. R. Kelly was removed from the RCA [...]

  • Ikea Sonos

    Ikea Plans to Launch Its Sonos Speakers in August

    Furniture giant Ikea is getting ready to roll out its Sonos-powered smart speakers later this year: The company revealed in a video Friday that it will launch its Symfonisk line of smart speakers in August. Ikea and Sonos first announced their collaboration in late 2017. Under the plan, Ikea will build internet-connected speakers that are [...]

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    How Fox's Live Version of 'Rent' Honors and 'Enhances' Jonathan Larson's Vision

    In the more than 20 years since Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” first debuted on Broadway, the conversation of adaptation has often come up: Film director Chris Columbus infamously brought the story to the big screen in 2005, Michael John Warren similarly shot one of the final performances of the original theater run in 2008, and talk [...]

  • Foo Fighters Preview Pre-Super Bowl Concert

    Watch Foo Fighters Preview Pre-Super Bowl Concert With Comic Football Video

    Super Bowl week is turning into an extended music festival, with the days before the big game in Atlanta including concerts by Bruno Mars and Cardi B; Migos, Lil Yachty and Ludacris; Future; and the Foo Fighters, whose “DirecTV Super Saturday Night” on Feb. 2 at Atlantic Station with Run The Jewels is sold out [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B’s Anti-Government Shutdown Rant Is Now a Pretty Hot Song …

    Cardi B’s Instagram messages usually have a solid cadence to them, and meme savants the Gregory Brothers have turned their songifying skills to her passionate rant against President Trump and the GOP over the government shutdown. Titled “Yeah B—h / Nah B—h,” the short clips mashes up several of Cardi’s lines with the beat from [...]

  • Album Review: Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Remind

    Album Review: Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’

    As she’s said in recent interviews, many life changes went into veteran indie singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s fifth and latest — and dramatically different — album, “Remind Me Tomorrow.” She summarizes it thus in the album’s bio: “I wrote this record while going to school, pregnant, after taking ‘The OA’ audition,” she says, referring to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content