After more than 30 years and countless quips and one-liners from the side of the Hollywood Bowl stage, Bill Cosby has announced he is stepping down as emcee of the Playboy Jazz Festival following this weekend’s 34th annual concert.
“Bill Cosby has been a dear friend since the 1960s and it’s been a real pleasure for me, personally, to have him play such an integral part in what makes this festival so special,” Playboy’s Hugh Hefner said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “His great comedic talent and his passion for jazz, exemplified by his own band, the ‘Cos of Good Music,’ have made his contributions to the continued success of this event immeasurable.”
Cosby’s reign as emcee began with the first festival in 1979, which started as a 25th anniversary celebration for Playboy magazine. Since then Cosby has introduced a who’s who of jazz at the festival, including Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Herbie Hancock and Sarah Vaughn.
Cosby also began assembling his own ad-hoc jazz band the Cos of Good Music in 1995, and he frequently sat in with the band on drums and paced the stage to conduct the band through its paces. In a 2011 interview with The Times, Cosby detailed his long-standing romance with jazz in mentioning his love for the music of George Benson, Thelonious Monk and Etta James while also talking about the root of jazz’s appeal.
“The first record that ever made me laugh in my ignorance was Monk playing “Misterioso,’” Cosby said. “And I laughed and said, ‘I can do that.” What kind of piano playing is that, I can do that with two fingers’ ... . [Then] the solo started.
“Because it’s about the solos,” Cosby added. “It means that you have to really have concentration. Because it’s about what they interpret as artists.”
It’s hard to imagine someone at the Bowl next year who can fill those shoes -- which in recent years were a pair of ultra-casual Crocs -- but whomever the festival chooses has just as much of a legacy to continue as the performers.