Newport's Jazz Party is 'straight ahead'

The 12th annual Newport Beach Jazz Party will swing into town Feb. 16 for four nights and three days of "straight-ahead" jazz through the Presidents' Day weekend.

Mainstream jazz lovers will once again congregate at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, 900 Newport Center Drive, for nightly concerts, poolside sessions and two jazz champagne brunches.

This year's lineup will feature two international players appearing for the first time at the Jazz Party — Marian Petrescu, of Finland, and the Australian performer James Morrison — as well as returning artists from years past.

The Newport Beach Jazz Party stemmed from the West Coast Jazz Party, which started in 1995. Five years later, the program's co-producers Joe Rothman and John McClure broke away and a new jazz party was born.

"We obviously thought it would be a good time to have another jazz party," Rothman said in a phone interview. "We had built up a good following in five years with a lot of people around the country, as well as locally. We have a large international and national contingent that comes, other than California."

Twelve years later, the Jazz Party is still on the rise in Newport Beach. And now, fresh entertainment is on the horizon for this year's festival, organizers said.

"We've never opened with two big bands on the first night, because that's obviously an expensive undertaking and also logistics are not that easy," Rothman said.

The Grand Opening Night on Feb. 16 will launch the weekend with a tribute to Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.

Ken Peplowski — who played with Goodman — will conduct the Basie, Benny & Buddy Big Band, which will feature Butch Miles on drums and the Cuban virtuoso trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. A surprise guest artist will close out the evening by conducting an All-Star Orchestra.

"To see two bands like that in one night for the price of one ticket, it doesn't happen very often," Rothman said.

The Feb. 17 program will commence with a group led by trumpeter James Morrison and feature prominent jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton. The second set will be a tribute to Oscar Peterson, featuring pianist Petrescu followed by the Eric Reed Trio. Finally, a tribute to Woody Herman featuring Harry Allen's "Four Others" will bring the evening to a close.

The Jeff Hamilton Trio will kick off things on Feb. 18. The second set will feature Ken Peplowski and his quartet, followed by a rare Southern California appearance by Chicago's Frank D'Rone. Closing the night will be a group starring James Morrison, Scott Hamilton, Ken Peplowski, Dan Barrett, John Clayton, Tamir Hendelman and Jeff Hamilton.

The Jazz Party closes Feb. 19 with Graham Dechter's quartet of John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton and Tamir Hendelman. A solo set by Petrescu will be followed by Pete Barbutti. And ending the straight-ahead jazz weekend will be the renowned Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

During the daytime, ticket holders can attend the pool sessions from noon to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 18 and 19.

The Newport Beach Jazz Festival will encompass the straight-ahead jazz style, which, according to Rothman, generally refers to the Great American Songbook with a beat. The Jazz Party will acquaint all audiences with familiar jazz tunes, played in an improvisational style.

Individual reserved tickets for the evening shows are priced at $60 and $75, while tickets for the Grand Opening Sessions are selling for $40 and $50. Tickets to the poolside sessions cost $30, and it will cost you $50 for a ticket to one of the two Jazz Brunches.

For more information as well as special rates for hotel stay and Jazz Party packages, go to, or contact the Marriott directly and ask for the Jazz Party rate by calling (949) 640-4000.

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