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When to Tune In or Take Five at the Weekend’s Playboy Festival

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can’t stay tied to your seat for the entire 8 1/2 hours of music scheduled each day during this weekend’s Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, right? So when’s the best time to plan those trips to pick up a box lunch or that second bottle of wine, or just mingle?

Depends on what kind of music you like. In its attempt to be all things to all people, the festival is sure to have performers you won’t mind hearing while you wait in line for refreshments, no matter how broad your tastes. Here, based on the scheduled order of appearance, are our tips on when to visit the lunch line or go to the loo.

One quick bit of advice: Fashionably late is out this year. Stragglers on either day will miss some of the most interesting acts.

Saturday’s festivities begin at 2:30 p.m. with the Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Ambassadors, a straight-ahead collection of young musicians who’ve been honored by the Washington, D.C.-based organization. Joe Lovano, arguably the most ambitious, critically acclaimed saxophonist on the current scene, follows with his quartet. Straight-ahead fans should be glued to their chairs.

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Then the party gets into full swing with pianist Eddie Palmieri’s octet, a group whose rhythm-minded, Afro-Caribbean leanings will please both mainstream and dance-happy fans alike. This is no time for anyone to be away from the action.

Singer Dianne Reeves is next with her down-home scat and storytelling (instrumental snobs are excused here) followed by the electric band the Yellowjackets. Acoustic fans should seek comfort now, but be back for the premiere of Jackets’ keyboardist Russell Ferrante’s suite “On the Pulse of Morning,” which includes the 40-voice Crenshaw High School Elite Choir (see below).

From there, it’s a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie with the big band of Lalo Schifrin, the celebrated composer of the original, now-omnipresent “Mission: Impossible” theme. Party animals can break when McCoy Tyner, the deep, dynamic pianist who’s been at the forefront of his craft since his days with the John Coltrane quartet, adds equally skilled and serious saxophonist Michael Brecker to his trio. Lovers of Tyner’s smart style can head out when contemporary band Fourplay (Bob James, Najee, Nathan East, Harvey Mason) plugs in. Crooner Tony Bennett (is there anybody who doesn’t like him?) closes.

Sunday packs most of its true jazz acts into the daylight hours, with a strong lineup of pop-oriented acts beginning at sunset. The Washington Preparatory High School Jazz Band directed by Fernando Pullen opens at 2 p.m. Then, T.S. Monk, drummer and son of the great composer-pianist Thelonious Monk, leads his quintet in tunes from the senior Monk as well as music out of the hard-bop, Jazz Messenger tradition.

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Monk’s fans might want to skip funk-minded saxophonist Everette Harp’s set that follows. But be back in time for trombone legend J.J. Johnson, the man who single-handedly pulled the slide out of the swing era and into the future. (Johnson’s 1985 festival appearance with cornetist Nat Adderley still looms large in memory). Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s harmonically dense brand of fusion, decorated with Shorter’s always stimulating soprano and tenor play, follows.

Then it’s master of ceremonies Bill Cosby’s gathering, the Cos of Good Music II, which should have wide appeal with its distinct groove and blues emphasis. Dual organists Joey DeFrancesco and Charles Earland and soulful sax men Stanley Turrentine and Lou Donaldson will be featured.

Likewise, Cuban pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdes and the 14-piece band Irakere can potentially please all jazz camps. And judging by Valdes’ Los Angeles performance of a few months back, this, along with the Ferrante premiere, promises to be among the festival’s highlights.

Jazz purists may want to head to the parking lots before the big, electric bass sound of Stanley Clarke takes over, followed by pop vocalist Gladys Knight (sans Pips). The closer, onetime Stray Cat Brian Setzer and his rock-influenced big band, is a good choice for a party but won’t please jazz purists. But if you’re caught in stacked parking, you may have no choice but to listen.

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Segue Alert: Sometimes the most exciting musical moments happen as the revolving stage swallows one band and reveals another. One of the best such changes happened in 1979 when a highly charged contemporary set from Joni Mitchell’s Mingus Tribute band faded into an equally dynamic though decidedly traditional set from Benny Goodman, effectively underscoring the bridges between the swing and fusion eras.

Segues to watch this year include the Yellowjackets’ handoff to the Schifrin Big Band on Saturday, and the Cos of Good Music II’s turnover to Valdes and Irakere on Sunday. Most promising sets for the fest’s famous dance and conga lines: Eddie Palmieri on Saturday, Jesus “Chucho” Valdes and Brian Setzer on Sunday.

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World Premiere: This year’s fest takes a refreshing break from its party-hardy reputation when the Crenshaw High School Elite choir, directed by Iris Stevenson, and vocalist Lori Perry join the Yellowjackets to premiere sections of keyboardist Russell Ferrante’s suite “On the Pulse of Morning,” inspired by the poem Maya Angelou delivered at the 1992 presidential inauguration.

“I heard [Angelou] do the poem that [inauguration] morning for the first time and I wasn’t really prepared for the impact it had on me,” Ferrante says. “It’s a wake-up call to all of us to treat each other with dignity and respect, a call to higher instincts. And that appeals to me.”

Composer Ferrante says that Senior Vice President of Festival Productions Darlene Chan was enthusiastic when he proposed the idea of presenting the piece at this year’s festival and steered him to Stevenson and the Crenshaw choir. Perry will also sing with the ensemble as it presents two movements of the three-part suite.

The inclusion of the piece lends a rare note of seriousness to this year’s event. Playboy should be encouraged to include such ambitious premieres in future festivals, possibly by commissioning pieces from deserving artists, as has been done for years by the Monterey Jazz Festival. Such an approach would certainly raise the artistic reputation of the festival currently known as the West Coast’s biggest jazz party.

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Playboy on Film: Archivist Mark Cantor has again collected rare and unusual clips of some 50 jazz artists for this year’s edition of Playboy’s “Jazz on Film” showing, scheduled for the Center Green Theatre in the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Cantor says the highlights of this year’s two-hour showing include a clip of trumpeter Clifford Brown appearing on Soupy Sales’ 1956 variety show “Soupy’s On” and a newly discovered performance by saxophonist Lester Young. Also on tab are rare jukebox videos from the ‘40s that will include performances from Gene Krupa, Count Basie and others.

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Don’t Touch That Dial: Thinking of enjoying this year’s festival from the comfort of your own home through the magic of radio? Think again. KLON-FM (88.1) will record this year’s festival for broadcast over the Fourth of July weekend, but there’ll be no live Playboy broadcast this year. Information for all Playboy events: (310) 449-4070. Some selected tickets for each day of the festival were still available at press time.


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