Review: Jazmine Sullivan turns the Playboy Jazz Festival into her own concert

Pop Music Critic

“Do we have any Jazmine Sullivan fans out there?” asked Jazmine Sullivan, and who knows? — maybe she was really unsure.

Onstage Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl, the R&B singer was performing near the end of the annual two-day Playboy Jazz Festival, sandwiched between the Ramsey Lewis Quintet and a grand finale by Tower of Power.

But if Sullivan went in fearing that this wasn’t her crowd — that folks had turned up to see the Count Basie Orchestra or a tribute to Freddie Hubbard tied to what would’ve been the late trumpeter’s 80th birthday — she didn’t need to worry for long: With just a few notes of her outraged 2008 hit “Bust Your Windows,” Sullivan had the place jumping as she sang about taking a crowbar to some dude’s car.


“That was a true story,” she said after the song. “I really did.”

As it happened, Sullivan wasn’t the only strong woman visiting Playboy from beyond the jazz realm.

Lucinda Williams, the roots-rock singer and songwriter, was at the Bowl as well to do a few songs with veteran jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and his band, the Marvels; they have a collaborative album due out this month that presents Williams as a purveyor of mystic Americana.

But here she also performed a rough-edged version of “Joy,” from her classic 1998 record “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” pushing her voice down to a low growl as she laid out a plan to recover her happiness from someone who’d had no right to take it.

Sullivan sang of plans too in “Mascara,” her sly but emotionally complicated portrait of a woman who never leaves the house without makeup on, “ ’cause you never know who’s watching you.”

“Don’t I deserve to be privileged?” she asked with just the right degree of rasp. “Don’t I deserve to get the very best?”


Yet it wasn’t all heartache and warfare from Sullivan.

After wondering whether there were “some good men” in the house, she had the male members of her band get on their knees in front of the women to act out a scene of devotion as Roger Troutman’s “I Want to Be Your Man” played.

Then she got the Playboy audience moving again with “Let It Burn,” her dreamy ballad built on a recognizable sample of After 7’s decades-old “Ready or Not.”

Whether these middle-aged jazz fans were responding to Sullivan’s song or to After 7’s didn’t really matter — they were with her in the moment.

Twitter: @mikaelwood