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Playboy Jazz Festival Ushers In New Era

The 26th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival presented in co-operation with the L.A. Philharmonic Association ushered in a new era for the Historic Hollywood Bowl.

The newly renovated bandshell at the Hollywood Bowl cost a hefty 24 million dollars. Ask any of the 35,000 jazz fans in attendance, they would say that it was worth every penny. An improved sound system was installed as well as a new giant screens, so that people in the nosebleed section could enjoy the entire action taken place on stage. The Playboy Jazz Festival maintains its grand tradition of diversity, mixing tremendously talented names acts and cutting edge artist that features sounds from around the globe.

The talented students from Washington Preparatory High School Jazz Ensemble kicked off the show for Los Angeles premier jazz festival. Fernando Pullum directed this band. They set the tone for the day during their brief set. They were marvelous while playing the following tunes "Don’t Get Sassy", "Mean What You Say", "and closed with two tunes by Jackson Browne, "I’m Alive" redone in a gospel mode and "Running On Empty" played as a waltz.

Legendary saxophonist Charles McPherson was next on the bill. They played a wonderful set of straight-ahead jazz to the delight of the jazz purist in the audience like myself. I listened attentively as they played "Merriment" a song he wrote for his daughter, "Delusion in Blues". They slowed the tempo down on the jazz standard "Be My Love", and closed their set with "Billy’s Bounce" by Charlie Parker.

The Cos of Good Music IX featured an all-star ensemble of musicians, who are individual leaders of other jazz bands. Bill Cosby is the leader of the group that consisted of Geri Allen on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, Ndugu Chancler on drums with James Carter playing saxophones and Wallace Roney on trumpet. They opened their set with "Eddie Harris Goes To Dizzy’s House" you could hear the melody of "Listen Here" and "Night In Tunisia blended together. They continued with "Bright Moments" by Rashaan Roland Kirk and "Turkey In A Straw".

Christian McBride Band electrified the stage with a set of fusion jazz popularized by Return To Forever and Weather Report during the 70’s and 80’s. They opened with "Technical Nightmare", and continued with "Tahitian Mood" and closed with Boogie Woogie Waltz" from the Weather Report playbook.

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela was an audience favorite. The band received a rousing response with the hit song "Grassin In The Grass". The band members were given an extended solo to close out their crowd pleasing set. The crowd asks for and receives an encore from the group.

Popular smooth jazz keyboardist and trumpeter Brian Culbertson played an entertaining set. Michael Lington accompanied him on saxophone as his special guest, as well as his father-playing trumpet.

Yerba Buena got the salsa dancers and the armchair dancers up to dance to their spicy set of Latin rhythms. Their music is like a tasty gumbo from Louisiana. It is blended with African rooted Latin Music, Nuyorican boogaloo, a touch of hip-hop, Motown soul, a pinch of Nigerian Afro-beat and a sprinkling of Middle Eastern themes.

Tony Award winning tap dance master Savior Glover mesmerized the audience with his fancy footwork. A tight-knit jazz band consisting of Tommy James on piano, Patience Higgins-saxophone and flute, Andy McCloud-double bas, James Zollar-trumpet, and Brian Grice-percussions backed him.

Wynton Marsalis and Etta James were outstanding throughout their sets. Day 1 of the Playboy Jazz Festival closed with some hot Latin jazz served up by Jose Rizo Latin Jazz All-Stars. They dedicated their set to the late great DJ Chuck Niles from KKJZ FM 88.1. Jose wrote and performed Mambo Niles as a tribute to MR. JAZZ.

The Hamilton High School Academy of Music Jazz Ensemble "A" opened the final day of the festival with some jazz standards.

Vocalist Katia Moraes and Sambaguru took the audience on a delightful musical journey through various regions of Brazil.

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra came out bopping hard throughout their set. They were smoking on the following tunes "You Better Believe It-Blues For The Count", followed by "Theme For Monterey". This tune was commissioned for the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival. They continued with "Milestones", and closed with "Viva Torado". Gerald invited two beautiful special guests to perform with his orchestra. Barbara Morrison sang "You Made Your Move Too Soon", and "While You Were Stepping Out; Someone Else Was Stepping In". Vocalist Renee Olsted is making a return engagement after she blew the audience away last year with her jaw-dropping version "At Last" by Etta James. She continues to mature musically as evidence on "Summertime", and "Meet Me Midnight". The crowd received a double dose of delight as Barbara and Renee teamed up for "What A Difference A Day Makes".

Roy Hargrove and RH Factor played a hard driving funky set of original tunes. Also on the line-up for Sunday, were Peter Cincotti, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Michel Camilo Trio, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, Femi Kuti, Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade, and concluded with BWB, a smooth jazz group featuring Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, and Norman Brown.

Bill Cosby served as Master of Ceremonies on Saturday, with Kevin Eubanks taking over the duties on Sunday

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