Playboy Jazz Festival still an L.A. star after 37 years


Even after 37 years, the Playboy Jazz Festival remains the biggest event of its kind for Southern California music fans.

Now in its second year as a co-production with the L.A. Philharmonic (and Herb Hancock, its creative chair for jazz), the latest installment of the festival is among its strongest in years, particularly for those who never fully embraced its annual nods toward the crowd-pleasing smooth-jazz genre.


Playboy Jazz Festival: In a preview of the Playboy Jazz Festival in the June 9 Calendar section, the Blue Note-assembled group Our Point of View was described as performing a repertoire mostly of classic covers from the label. While early promotional material indicated this was the vision for the group, it has since evolved to primarily covering music written by each band member. —
Whether jazz is a form best experienced in 17,000-plus venues like the Hollywood Bowl is a topic for a separate conversation, but there’s no denying Playboy’s power to pull jazz fans together for an early summer celebration. Following are seven acts from both days not to miss.


Melissa Aldana, Saturday

A Berklee College of Music graduate who studied under the likes of Joe Lovano and Greg Osby, this Chilean-born tenor saxophonist was marked as a talent to watch since becoming the first female winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute’s saxophone competition. She built upon that promise last year with an assured debut on Concord, which gave her intricate, patiently unfurling ventures ample opportunity to shine in a nimble trio.

Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party, Saturday

Ozomatli, King Sunny Ade and Tower of Power may inspire more dancing, but nobody on this weekend’s bill will deliver more joy than this eclectic tribute to one of pop music’s earliest stars. First performed in 2011, Moran’s joyful love letter to Waller was distilled into his brassy, R&B-shaded 2014 album “All Rise,” which was aided by guest vocals from Meshell Ndegeocello. Already one of the most inventive jazz artists today, Moran’s boisterous stride piano runs are bound to grab the ear, even while his fondness for performing in a giant replica of Waller’s cigar-chomping head grabs your eyes.

Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Saturday

The master may have left us last year after his death at 96, but Gerald Wilson’s innovative music and unparalleled ear for harmony remains a lasting presence. Here, under the direction of his son Anthony Wilson, his musical legacy will be celebrated along with his enduring impact as a giant of Southern California jazz, which most recently manifested in the celebrated debut album by one of his protégés, buzz-heavy saxophonist Kamasi Washington.


Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock with the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble, Saturday

How can you go wrong seeing two unquestioned masters who separately and together have contributed to a small library’s worth of landmark recordings? Here the longtime collaborators will be joined by the 2016 class at the Thelonious Monk Institute at UCLA, a seven-piece student ensemble that includes performers from as far as Israel and Australia and as nearby as Downey. This set may not amount to a final exam, but its hard to imagine better teachers.

Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective, Sunday

One of the deans of contemporary jazz, this trumpeter has been heard on numerous soundtracks for the films of Spike Lee as well as his own recordings, which have reliably showcased a keen ear for young talent. Blanchard explores the intersection of jazz and funk with his latest album “Breathless,” which in addition to featuring grooves that should pair well with a cool summer night also features some timely, much-needed social commentary backed by a pair of rising stars in guitarist Charles Altura and pianist Fabian Almazan.

Snarky Puppy, Sunday

Maybe the most unfortunately named act on this (or any other) festival bill, this 12-piece collective also stands out with a furious commitment to defying musical categories. Last year it stormed the Grammys with a win in the R&B performance category for “Something,” a collaboration with Lalah Hathaway, and the group ventured to Europe to record its genre-skipping new album, “Sylva,” which includes the backing of the Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest. The name might sound silly, but the music is no joke.


Blue Note 75th Anniversary Presents “Our Point of View,” Sunday

The venerable jazz label assembled what may be the best band of the weekend while drawing from the impressive talent on its current roster, including Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kendrick Scott, Derrick Hodge, Marcus Strickland and Lionel Loueke. The irony that part of their “point of view” will be dedicated to takes on Blue Note classics isn’t lost here, but seeing the sparks fly from their interplay should spur enticing visions of what could have been if these artists’ full bands were on the bill as well.

Twitter: @chrisbarton


37th annual Playboy Jazz Festival

Day 1: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Melissa Aldana, Morgan James, the Campbell Brothers Present “A Love Supreme,” Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party, Gerald Wilson Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Wilson, Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter and the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble, Aloe Blacc, Eddie Palmieri Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band, Tower of Power

Day 2: The LAUSD All City High School Big Band, the Jones Family Singers, the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band under the direction of John Lee, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Blue Note 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point of View, King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, Terence Blanchard E-Collective, Ledisi, Snarky Puppy, Ozomatli

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 Highland Ave., Los Angeles.

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $45 to $222