Arsenio Hall (Courtesy photo)

Arsenio Hall, the delightful, funny man, is back as host of the 2023 Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival in June.

Hall gets the specialness of the festival as he is hosting the weekend for the second time. Aside from his tremendous ability to bring joy, the jazz festival occurs on Father’s Day, and fatherhood is an essential facet of Hall’s life.

“I guess I did a good job because they invited me back and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

Hall reminisced about his first attendance at what was then called the Playboy Jazz Festival as the guest of none other than Hugh Hefner and 10; wait for it…playmates!

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“As a young man from Cleveland, this was all new, and man, what an experience.  I don’t remember the festival – if Beethoven or Herbie Hancock played, I would not have known,” Hall said.

A confessed music lover, Hall is looking forward to the weekend for many reasons – hearing the songs of two-time Grammy winner Samara Joy. She reminds him of the greats, especially Nancy Wilson, the legendary jazz songstress who discovered Hall.

The memory of Wilson prompted the recall of his wonderful times with jazz singer Joe Williams. Hall says he regularly opened for Williams at the Parisian Room, a beloved jazz club operated in the early 1980s at La Brea Avenue and Washington Boulevard.  “A great place for anyone who loved music,” he said.

“What I love about the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival is that it gives you more than just jazz music. It’s more of a music festival, and I love that.” The Hollywood Bowl is ‘THE’ venue for music.

“I grew up loving Sly Stone and Larry Graham. My son loves the rapper Drake. One of his favorite Drake songs is ‘NonStop,’ a bass-heavy song,” said Hall, who happily informed his son that Drake’s uncle is the uber-talented bassist Larry Graham (of Sly and the Family Stone and the founder of his namesake funk band Graham Central Station).

“So, imagine Thanksgiving at Drake’s house when he was a kid – Larry Graham, Sly Stone – Drake was destined for greatness,” Hall said.

Hall didn’t hesitate to answer when asked to name a few memorable Hollywood Bowl concerts:

“I saw Dave Matthews and Babyface, who performed everything he’s written, and then he brought out Johnny Gill to sing ‘My, My, My,’ and that did it for me! I also witnessed the incredible performance of the Black conductor, Thomas Alphonso Wilkins; I like a man with three names,” Hall said. “Wilkins is incredible. I hope more Blacks get to see Wilkins conduct; the brother is baad!”

Hall says there’s nothing like the Jazz Festival crowd. This writer likened it to an HBCU homecoming where the atmosphere is electric, expectations of a good time are high, and you see old friends and make new ones. Hall found that description interesting as he says that hosting has a different vibe where others rush around, saying, “We’re going in five minutes!”

Hall pondered the thought that the festival has an HBCU homecoming vibe…”I like that.”

He admits that he has felt the love from the festival crowd. “Before I began hosting, I visited when my friend George Lopez hosted. He brought me onstage and introduced me, and to my surprise, the crowd showed me love,” he recalled.

Of course, they did, Arsenio! Who can forget his eponymous talk show when fans greeted Hall with that infamous chant of “woof, woof.”

Hall was the first Black man to host and produce his late-night talk show. In today’s vernacular, the Black community would say that Hall was “doin’ the damn thang!”

Ever generous, Hall met Lopez, a young up-and-coming comic at the time of his talk show and invited him to appear as a guest 19 times. And so it is; Hall has taken over the reins at the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival, and in true Arsenio Hall style, we throw our fists in the air and say, woof, woof!