30th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
Vocalists always are favorites of the Bowl crowd. Jarreau's voice morphed into instruments for "Take Five" and "Cold Duck Time," also while singing-scatting "My Funny Valentine" and "Since I Fell for You," all this to roars of approval. Vocalist Debbie Davis became an exciting new colleague, their liaison boosting the set's power. Dee Dee Bridgewater staged a tribute to her West African family-rooted region of Mali, merging native voices and instruments with American jazz. The set was a huge departure from her previous Ella Fitzgerald book, but enjoyed by the audience, which arose to dance. Bluesman Keb' Mo' sang a soul-satisfying set of Delta story-telling blues, employing acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica, reflecting the true roots of the music. An earlier set debut of young singer-songwriter Ryan Shaw, which infused new life into R&B classics, had the feel of a joyful revival service.
As one of the most enduring figures in modern jazz, saxophonist James Moody has performed in other bands in the past but led his own this time. He wasted no time in singing his trademark "Moody's Mood for Love." At 83 he still plays with the same fluid expression that made him a titan in Gillespie's All Star Band and one of the all-time tenor sax greats. I was especially glad to hear trumpeter Terence Blanchard playing in his original brightly dynamic style, rather than in his solemn, Katrina-tribute mode of the past year. But vocalist Roberta Gambarini failed to ignite the crowd despite her huge range and scat gymnastics.
Two big bands redefined the ensemble sound. The all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra proved "girls swing hard, too," whether playing upbeat or ballad-style, especially the stylish verve they delivered on "America" from West Side Story. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove led a festival big band for the first time with altoist Bruce Williams as a stand-out soloist. Gambarini also guested and the powerful band proved better- suited to her strong chops and Diane Schuur-style range.
Repeating his emcee chores for the 27th time, Bill Cosby staged his Cos of Good Music X, playing drum set and directing, including a tribute to Jimmy McGriff with B3-man Jerry Peters. Great energy and quality sounds were delivered by pianist Benny Green, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, guitarist David T. Walker, fresh new trumpeter Ambrose Akinsuire, bassist Dwayne Burno and percussionist Ndugu Chancler.
Captivating Japanese pianist Hiromi also returned this year, to dazzle the festival with a stunning set that included an incredible rendition of "Caravan" combining jazz, rock, funk and punkthat would be hard to top. Drummer Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet proved the lasting impact of Thelonious, four horns riffing on the pianist's weird-but-wonderful melodies. Pianist Robert Glaspar's trio fused jazz with hip-hop and soul for an intriguing sound. The two student ensembles earned their place in each day's opening sets.
An added feature this year, at the beginning and end of each day's sets, was a photo montage of highlights of previous 29 festivals, among them unforgettable images of Miles Davis, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Joe Williams and Dizzy Gillespie. The first Playboy Jazz Festival was staged in 1979 in the Hollywood Bowl.