The Playboy Jazz Festival is iconic in many ways, with a who’s who of jazz and R&B greats taking the stage over the years to show love to fans while promoting their respective genre of the universal language. This year marks four decades of the annual event doing just that, with an all-star line-up that kept the stage and fans in a musically relaxed and pleasant state of mind at the Hollywood Bowl.
Among those celebrating the 40th anniversary of the two-day Playboy Jazz Festival was the iconic soul collective Tower of Power , which had some celebrating of its own to do on the event’s final day with 50 years of entertaining the masses via albums and live performances.
Needless to say, T.O.P. (co-founders Emilio Castillo and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka; Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia, David Garibaldi, Roger Smith, Sal Cracchiolo, Adolfo Acosta, Tom Politzer and Jerry Cortez) did not disappoint as the group took the hat and Playboy Bunny-ear wearing crowd to its hometown of Oakland with its famed 5-man Tower of Power horns blazing in full force. From the opening notes of “Oakland Stroke” to the out-with-a-bang “Knock Yourself Out,” Tower of Power made what they do best pretty clear: making the crowd move and groove with no thought of slowing down.
The hour-long set included T.O.P. hits such as “You Ought to be Having Fun,” “Soul Vaccination,” “What is Hip?” and “You’re Still a Young Man,” which was dedicated to Playboy Jazz Festival emcee, comedian George Lopez. Not one to rest on the classic, T.O.P. added to the festivities with material from its new album, “Soul Side of Town.” While lead singer Marcus Scott thrilled with impressive vocal dynamics, it was nothing but a group thing as each T.O.P. member shined in their respective solo spotlights and dance moves that kept things fun.
The group setting was the order of the day at the Playboy Jazz Festival, with the Ramsey Lewis Quinet, Kneebody, Count Basie Orchestra (with guest vocalist Everett Greene), Charles Lloyd and the Marvels (featuring special guest Lucinda Williams) and Jazz Festival newcomers Parlor Social handing solo spots and props to all members. Lewis and Co. as well as the Basie Orchestra commanded audience attention with hits from their respective catalogs and cover tunes.
Lewis’ conversation with the audience, teasing if they knew anything about the blues, was welcome interaction from the jazz legend, whose skills on the piano remain enjoyable and reliable. Not to be outdone, Greene was the man of the moment as the Orchestra honored the memory of the late jazz singer and Count Basie Orchestra collaborator Joe Williams with its Grammy Hall of Fame selection “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
Prior to T.O.P., Jazmine Sullivan put her stamp on the Festival with hits galore (“Let it Burn,” “Bust Your Windows,””Need U Bad,””Holding You Down (Goin, In Circles)”), a cover of the Roberta Flack staple “Killing Me Softly” and a call for men to serenade their women with a partial rendition of Roger’s classic “I Wanna Be Your Man.” By the time she was done, there was no doubt that Sullivan is in a class all her own with in performing in front of her fans, many of which who turned out in droves to see her live and hear first hand in approval her powerhouse vocals.
T.O.P and Sullivan brought a strong conclusion to the Playboy Jazz Festival, which began on a high note with headliner Anthony Hamilton. The North Carolina soul stirrer was in good company for Day 1 with the likes of fellow performers, Lee Ritenour and Dave Gruisin, Snarky Puppy, Roy Gaines, The Miles Electric Band (performing a tribute to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner), The Matthew Whitaker Trio, The Edmar Castaneda Quartet with Special Guest Grégoire Maret, Monsieur Periné, Daymé Arocena and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts’ Vocal Jazz and Instrumental Jazz Ensembles.
Although the hot weather was out in its full glory for both days of the Festival, it didn’t melt the spirit of Day 2 concertgoers who were in a playful mood socializing, eating and throwing beach balls and balloons around while clapping, salsa dancing and shaking to the sounds of Richard Bona and Mandekan Cubano and getting situated with the LAUSD/Beyond the Bell All-City Jazz Big Band, who opened the show under the direction of Tony White and J.B. Dyas.
Playing alongside Lloyd and the Marvels, Lucinda Williams’ passion and humility were on full display during her set. Jazz great Freddie Hubbard was remembered in what would have been his 80th birthday as the star-studded Hubtones paid tribute to the trailblazer who made his mark throughout the jazz scene until his death in 2008. In addition, fans were treated to a head-nodding, hip-hop twist of the jazz standard Sweet Georgia Brown” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” by Parlor Social.
Back on the scene to emcee Day 2, Lopez inserted jokes, but mostly kept things moving with every turn onstage for the next act to appear. Overall, Day 2 of the Playboy Jazz Festival proved to be a more than worthy cause for friends past, present and future to come together in the name of music on a Sunday afternoon. Quality music, a great time and a positive vibe equal a memorable first time at the Bowl for this reviewer, the newest convert to the Hollywood Bowl experience.