Esperanza (Photo byÂ Pete Iovino)
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
The 2010 Playboy Jazz Festival, the 32nd, did its usual outstanding job of headlining something old, something new, something borrowed and something blues. Â But thereÃs no question that the newbies were received as well, if not better, than some of the oldies and goodies.
Master of Ceremonies Bill Cosby announced the debut appearance of PlacentiaÃs El Dorado High School Jazz Band as that group kicked off Day One with a four-song set. The noteworthy band played about 25 minutes and was followed by Jake Shimabukuro, whoÃs been given credit for single-handedly resurrecting the ukulele, showing it can be used to play everything from Bach to funk.
Now, in the past, this early in the lineup the crowd is usually kicking back, enjoying their picnic meals, not really feeling the music. Â That is, until this year when first-timers Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took the stage. Â Ã¬Shorty,Ã® who got his nickname from his brother trumpeter James Andrews who saw him marching in a street parade playing a trombone bigger than he was, also skillfully plays trumpet . . . and sings . . . and dances . . . and leads his band. Â His performances were especially fun and funky on a James Brown groove Ã¬I Feel Like FunkinÃ It UpÃ® to his homage to Cab CallowayÃs Ã¬Minnie the Moocher,Ã® with the crowd fully engaged in the Ã¬hi dee hi dee hi dee hoÃ® response.
A soulful Ã¬When the Saints Go Marching In,Ã® complete with the New Orleanian and his band doing a little side-to-side two-step in unison, had folks waving their white napkins and shakinÃ their groove things.
Recent first-time Grammy jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, along with two-time Grammy- winning Ernie Watts on tenor sax, made his long overdue debut at the Playboy and was followed by hard-bop saxophonist Javon Jackson with special guest star and living miracle Les McCann of Ã¬Swiss Movement/Compared to What/Cold Duck TimeÃ® fame. Â The singer-keyboardist, who suffered a stroke in the mid-1990s, came through the ArtistsÃ Entrance in a wheelchair, but the only evidence of anything physically amiss was if you looked closely at the giant monitors and noticed that he played the piano with relatively straight, not curved, fingers. Â On his seminal Ã¬Compared to What,Ã® thereÃs no denying that McCannÃs enthusiastic stylings still sound good.
Next up was a vocal ensemble that calls what it does Ã¬vocal play.Ã® Â Naturally 7 is an a cappella group that closely emulates real instruments, especially percussive ones as on Phil CollinsÃ Ã¬In the Air TonightÃ® and Simon and GarfunkelÃs Ã¬Sounds of Silence and Scarborough FairÃ® medley.
The venerable Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, featuring elder statesman Eugene Ã¬SnookieÃ® Young on trumpet included drummer Jeff HamiltonÃs tribute to Louie Bellson. And Chick Corea celebrated his 69th birthday with a mostly straight-ahead, mostly underappreciated, set, with his Freedom Band matesÃ³jazz stalwarts Kenny Garrett on sax, Christian McBride on bass and 85-years-young drummer Roy Haynes. Â Corea was presented a cake by his friend and big jazz fan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and serenaded by someone who appeared to be his mom, who sang Ã¬Happy Birthday.Ã®
After Pete Escovedo and his progenyÃ³drummer/singer Sheila E., drummer Peter Michael and percussionist JuanÃ³fired up the crowd with spirit, happiness and infectious rhythms, the first day came to a close with Chaka KhanÃs danceworthy Ã¬AinÃt NobodyÃ® by Sax for Stax, with saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum and keyboardist Jeff Lorber.
Day Two opened with the multitalented L.A. All District High School Band. Â And then, with a name like Jazz MafiaÃs Brass Bows and Beats: Â A Hip-Hop Symphony, you knew the 50-piece orchestra in its debut appearance would throw down. Â And throw down, they did, what with their eclectic mix of turntables, electronic instruments and strings playing a rich stew of jazz and hip hop.
In his standard Festival attire of an official T-shirt, black slacks, socks and clogs, timbale-playing percussionist, Mr. Cosby introduced this yearÃs Cos of Good Music, including Leon Ã¬NduguÃ® Chancler on Cosby-conducted Ã¬OlÃˆÃ® and Ã¬Ruth CaputreeÃ® and a humorous turn on Ã¬Sweet Georgia Brown,Ã® with Malcolm-Jamal Warner sharing his TV dadÃs hosting duties.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band made its triumphant 2nd appearance at the Playboy as masters of the pedal steel guitar.
If asked who made the most lasting impression on SundayÃs crowd, the answer in resounding unison would hands-down be multiracial Esperanza Spalding: Â Her lithe frame played an upright bass taller than she is as well as an electric bass. Plus she sings, her notes voiced with lightness and sweetness, and with uncanny, knowing accuracy and strengthÃ³not only in English but also Spanish and Portuguese, in all languages with passion and soul.
With her signature Angela Davis-sized natural, Spalding utilized a vast array of rhythms, meters, sounds, beats, harmonies and cacophonies, switching mid-song from acoustic to electric bass on Earth Wind and Fire grooves to Ã¬I CanÃt Help ItÃ® by Michael Jackson. Â Her novel audience-participation finale, Ã¬ÃS WonderfulÃ® (from the classic film Ã¬An American in ParisÃ®), sung in Portuguese, had her inviting the crowd to Ã¬go away together to Brazil.Ã®
Truly, it was a wondrous set, as was Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz OrchestraÃs, which, as expected inspired the annual second line dancers into action. Â Standard bearers vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Cedar WaltonÃs quartet showed the audience what swinging jazz is all about, with both jazz masters remaining at the top of their field and very much in their musical prime.
One of the worldÃs top Afro-pop singers, Salif Keita, who hails from Mali, is the rarest of performers: An albino, Keita sang in Malinka, Bambara, French and English, overcoming language barriers through the intensity and sincerity of his vocalizing as well as the beauty of his haunting voice in his debut performance.
Manhattan Transfer wowed the crowd with a slow, funky, heavily percussive Ã¬SpainÃ® by Chick Corea and a swinging Ella Fitzgerald favorite Ã¬A Tisket A Tasket.Ã® Â The wow factor followed with George Benson, who, with the exception of a duet with fellow guitarist Earl Klugh and a cut from his upcoming CD, Ã¬Songs and Stories,Ã® due on August 25, did his standard greatest hits show, though admittedly the crowd never seems to tire of itÃ³especially his funky finale, Ã¬On Broadway.Ã®
The festival came to an official close with Tiempo LibreÃs rousing display of Latin showmanship.