The 17th Playboy Jazz Festival, being held June 17-18 at the Hollywood Bowl, offers listeners a fully stocked buffet of jazz performers: Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington Jr., Benny Carter and Los Lobos.
Yes, Los Lobos. The L.A.-based rock band, which festival producer George Wein called a “world music” group at Tuesday’s press conference announcing this year’s lineup, seems to fit into the festival’s history of booking diverse performers such as Ruben Blades and King Sunny Ade to augment its straight-ahead and contemporary lineup.
“They’re good musicians,” Wein said of Los Lobos. “I think they do a tremendous job.”
Wein has been espousing such eclectic lineups featuring non-jazz performers since he started the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.
While maintaining he’s a “jazz purist as far as the music that I love and play,” Wein insists that a broad-based program like Playboy’s is necessary if a festival is to go beyond being a “a cult situation” that doesn’t fill the house. (With few exceptions, Playboy packs the Bowl with a sold-out crowd of more than 17,000 fans.)
“I have always drawn criticism for this, but I use something that is not jazz that will draw the public, knowing that when they hear the jazz, they will like it,” he says.
The producer says that while he loves straight-ahead jazz, “you can’t have too much of it” at a festival. “If we did, we’d draw 7,000 fans instead of 17,000.”
Ultimately, Wein feels, all jazz musicians benefit from a festival like Playboy. “Festivals are the greatest public relations jazz has,” he says. “People write about jazz, clubs usually book more jazz right after a festival leaves town, and many of those keep a jazz policy going.”
Comedian Bill Cosby will again be master of ceremonies at this year’s festival and will lead a band, The Cos of Good Music, that may well be one of the weekend’s musical highlights. Cosby, who sometimes plays the drums, will lead a group that features saxophonists Stanley Turrentine, Charles McPherson, James Carter and Craig Handy, pianist Benny Green, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Greg Hutchison.
The Saturday program, which runs from 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., includes Carter with legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham, saxophonist Boney James, Los Lobos, singers Al Jarreau and Ernestine Anderson, pianists Joe Sample (with a trio) and Horace Silver (with his Silver/Brass Ensemble), trumpeter Donald Byrd and the New Black Byrds, flutist Herbie Mann’s Reunion Band (with pianist Les McCann, saxman David (Fathead) Newman and guitarist Cornell Dupree) and the all-female big band, Diva.
The talent lineup for Sunday’s show, which runs from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., is made up of saxophonist Washington Jr., pianists Hancock and Geri Allen, the fusion band Hiroshima, orchestras led by Gerald Wilson and the Cuban bassist Cachao, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, singer Kevin Mahogany and the Brecker Brothers.
The festival itself will be preceded by a monthlong series of free community events that feature Tom Scott, The Meeting, Susie Hansen and Everett Harp.
Tickets for the Playboy festival may be purchased by mail until April 1, when tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster. For an mail order form, call (310) 449-4070 during regular business hours.
Another Heath in the MJQ: Albert (Tootie) Heath, one of the classiest of jazz drummers, has joined the Modern Jazz Quartet, replacing Connie Kay, who died in December. Heath’s partners in the MJQ will be John Lewis (piano, leader), Milt Jackson (vibes) and Percy Heath, the new drummer’s older brother (bass).
“I’ve got my first steady job in a long time,” said Heath, 59, who resides in Altadena and who has played with many greats of jazz, among them John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk.
The drummer makes his first appearances with the MJQ at New York’s Blue Note club on June 20-25, and performs at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 14. Heath continues his affiliation with the co-op band the Elders, appearing March 17-18 at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, where the group will record “live” for Fantasy Records.
Birthday in New York: This week, the famed Village Vanguard jazz club in New York City has been celebrating its 60th anniversary. Among the artists appearing are singer-pianist Shirley Horn, comedian Dick Gregory, poet Allen Ginsburg and pianists Bobby Short and Jimmy Rowles. The club was founded by Max Gordon in 1935 and has been run by his widow, Lorraine Gordon, since 1989, when Gordon died. Throughout the years, the room has served host to the giants of jazz, from Miles Davis and Monk to Bill Evans and Coltrane.
Datebook: Drum maestro Billy Higgins will be feted at the first annual Los Angeles Jazz Day, taking place Saturday, 1:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., at First Lutheran Church, 1300 E. Colorado St., Glendale. “We are acknowledging Billy’s passionate contribution to jazz’s development and his commitment to, and support for, young musicians,” said Steve Rowe, the event’s producer. Appearing at 1:30 p.m. will be Higgins, Black/Note and the B Sharp Jazz Quartet, while at 7:30, it’s Cecilia Coleman, Bennett Brandeis and many others. Concerts are free, donations invited. (213) 245-4000.
Eddie Harris, Tony Williams and Andy Simpkins are among the numerous musicians playing a benefit for keyboardist Johnny (Hammond) Smith, to be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at Tatou Restaurant, 233 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Proceeds from the event will go to offset medical expenses recently incurred by Smith. Tickets are priced from $15 to $25. Information: (213) 467-0819.
Tuck and Patti bring their “Love Is All There Is” musical and personal philosophy into the House of Blues on Monday, (213) 650-0476.