The 28th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival (LBJF) took place this past weekend at beautiful Rainbow Lagoon, in downtown Long Beach, California and featured a wide range of Jazz and Rhythm and Blues performers from the legendary guitarist, Stanly Clarke to songstress Stephany Mills for three days of music and fun.
Friday brought a smaller crowd just festival, but that did not stop the performers such as Jeff Bradshaw who brought out Chrisette Michele and keyboardist Frank McComb. The anticipation built for the Bradshaw set, as the vocal crowd waited for Michele, but was disappointed by the song arrangement from Bradshaw who’s greedy love for the spotlight left time for Michele to perform only one song, that ended the show. Ironically, the song she sung was ‘Epiphany (I’m Leaving)’ and the surprised crowd stood like a neglected lover who was surprised at a public break-up.
“So I think I’m just about over being your girlfriend,” Michele, who floated like an angel in a pair of hip hugging pants, flowing cotton shirt and sparkling stiletto pumps, repeated as she walked towards the side stage exit, “I’m leaving, I’m leaving,” she sung.
Then she was gone and the crowd, who initially refused to leave, had to be coaxed by the beloved festival’s founder, Al Williams, who explained that the show had to end because of the curfew imposed by the city.
Other Friday performers included Earl Klugh and his nimble fingers showed how a guitar could actually send sounds that ranged from a piano to a xylophone in tonal range.
“[The LBJF] is one of the highlights of my year,” said Klugh after his afternoon show, “I enjoyed the show and the audience seemed to enjoy the show.”
Al came out of retirement to host Friday’s performances and he even expressed his approval of his daughter’s management techniques running the show for the second year in a row.
“[Kimberly Benoit] is doing a great job,” said Williams, “She picked the line-up, this year, and I’m proud of her.”
Williams has been spending his time working on a new album and he said it will be released next year.
Unlike other festivals, the Long Beach Jazz Festival boasts of a Health and Wellness Pavilion, the brainchild of Festival Director Kimberly Benoit, who has filled the second stage with speakers talking about healthier cooking, healthcare, natural foods and how its attendees can eat better. Among the Pavilion’s many speakers is award-winning actress Kiki Shepard.
Saturday brought sun and people by the multitude, as the event resembled festivals of old and hinted that the attendance problems of the past year are no more. Even the luxury cabanas contained cheering dancers and every seat in VIP held a body. Even the tents were erected along the outer grass line that surrounded the shimmering waters of the lagoon. Attendance aside, sponsors of this year’s festival included McDonalds, Lincoln Automotive Company, Northrop Grumman, Union Bank and Radio Free KJLH among other. This increase in quality sponsorship no doubt contributed to the addition of the Friday shows that were missing from last year’s schedule.
Closing the day was Stephany Mills, who although short in stature, was big in voice commanding the thousand or so audience members some of who crowded the stage in hopes of catching a up close glimpse or better yet, a hand shake. Mills performed all of her hits including ‘Home,’ ‘I feel Good All Over,’ ‘Never Knew Love Like this Before.’
Also performing on Saturday was Jonathan Butler who was joined by his daughter, Jodie Butler who sung background.
The crowd seemed to thin out a bit, as tents were dismantled, but the LBJF faithful where treated with a classic musician with Brian Culbertson who moved seamlessly from the keyboard to the trombone in a highly energetic show.
Where on Saturday the guitar ruled, Sunday’s theme was definitely the keyboard and piano with performances by Keiko Matsui, Gerald Albright, and Al Williams Jazz Society featuring the legendary Barbara Morrison. Morrison’s voice stayed strong and her mind sharp, despite her ailing body that required her to remain seated during most of her blues centered performance. Being a witness to classic musicians like Morrison, Butler and Clarke who are all getting up there in age is what the LBJF is really all about. Real music played by real musicians.
Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds showed that he could still woo the women as he unbuttoned his shirt and ran off stage and around the audience in an energetic but lackluster performance that was only held up by the quality of his songwriting ability and his superb production. Highlights of his show included covers of hits he wrote for the Deal, Bobby Brown and New Edition along with a duet with saxophonist Gerald Albright.
Closing Friday night’s show was the infallible Poncho Sanchez, whose band produced and mix of Jazz and Afro-Cuban harmonies that left the crowd salsa dancing in the isles.
For more information on the Long Beach Jazz Festival, go to www.rainbowpromotion.com.