The 31st Annual Playboy Jazz Festival happens this weekend, one of the West Coast’s biggest jazz parties. And while featured smoove jazz like Norman Connors and Kenny G drives us as nuts as it probably does anyone reading this paper, the Fest does fill seats, sell beers (well, wine coolers), and provide first-time ears for the Vincent Herring and Anat Cohen of the jazz world, for whom a crowd of 20,000 might be more than they play for combined in a year, at least in this country. Grouse all you want, purists, but it’s hard to make a living off you anymore. You’re scarce, you’re cheap and you can’t dance. But you’re still lovable in that music fanatic kinda way, and damn, you do know the good stuff. So the Playboy Jazz Festival ain’t the Jazz Bakery. The crowds there never go for the deep stuff. Worse yet, there’ll be having fun. They’ll be noisy and they’ll be talking. They’ll be laughing and drinking. They’ll be picnicking and dancing smoking giant spliffs and playing chess (well, we saw that once). But plenty of them are listening, too. Because as always there’s outstanding music of all kinds on the bill.
Saturday’s starring attraction has to be Miles Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band, which looks like some killer Jazz Messengers lineup, with trumpeter Wallace Roney (obviously), an awesome pairing of saxists Vincent Herring and Javon Jackson, pianist Larry Willis and bassist Buster Williams. NYC baby, absolutely pure. The Jon Faddis Quartet takes a different tack, doing a more Dizzy-inspired thing, and Bill Cosby has his usual aggregation (great players — this time including Anat Cohen and pianist Geoffrey Keezer — and Cos lecturing us on something or other). Incredibly enough, our own great Jack Sheldon makes his first ever appearance here, and his great orchestra (and crazy banter) will slay the crowd. Pete Escovedo has his excellent orchestra here, too (with daughter Sheila E on the traps). New Orleans is here twice on Saturday, with the New Birth Brass Band doing it really old style (like pre-Satchmo even) and the Neville Brothers doing their soul thing. Two times the funk, too, with the nu-skool bassist Esperanza Spaulding and old school Sharan Jones and the Dap Kings. Sunday has Kenny G. If that really bothers you, go get a beer or three, visit the head, or look for those really stoned chess players. But Sunday also has the Wayne Shorter Quartet (and this is one of the great rhythm trios of our time, with drummer Brian Blade, bassist John Patitucci and pianist Danilo Perez), as real as real jazz gets. There’s also the exceptionalDave Holland Big Band, and the brilliant sax/clarinetist Anat Cohen, who blew minds at Hollywood & Highland last summer. Doing his unique jazz-reggae-Carribean thing is Monty Alexander’s Jazz & Roots. Oh, and Oscar Hernandez & the L.A. Salsa All-Stars,King Sunny Ade’s grooving juju (the other Nigerian music) and Quincy Jones’ latest find — the explosive young Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez. Things start at 2 and run past 10 both days.
Brian Blade, by the way, is also at Catalina’s Friday and Saturday. The guy cooks, and it’ll be a rare chance to catch him in a club one night and at the Bowl the next afternoon and wonder which has the better green room. It seems Catalina’s is picking up a lot of the stuff you might have seen at the Bakery, with Marcus Miller there on Monday doing his birthday thing (not sure with who, but he was just touring with Stanley Clarke), and Christian McBride’s Inside Straight there on Wednesday and Thursday. As the cool name suggests, he is playing it straight-ahead this time, shaking all that Philharmonic stuff out of his bones. Maybe he’ll stop hanging out with all them rich people. And as we’ve been saying (to point of monotony), Charlie O’s is where it’s at in L.A. for the inside-straight seven nights a week. On Friday it’s the mellifluous trombonist Scott Whitfield, and saxist Pete Christlieb arrives on Saturday and Thursday. Bassist Henry Franklin does his ’60s thang on Tuesday, with Azar Lawrence and the McCoy-inspired Theo Saunders. But the high point of the week here has to be Theo Saunders’ own quartet on Wednesday. Brilliant stuff — genius really — especially his originals.
And man we’re gonna miss Matt Otto when he moves. He’s got a tone and feel on the tenor you’d be hard-oppressed to find coming out many other horns these days. It’s gorgeous, and not so much relaxed as it is “un-manic,” with hints of Getz and Dexter Gordon and Prez. They dig that in his new home, Kansas City; his sound is in their DNA. He only has a couple local gigs left, including two at Spazio this week — on Saturday, with pianist Andy Langham, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Lorca Hart; and then on Wednesday in drummer Jason Harnell’s pianoless quartet, with guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Hamilton Price. It’s combos like this that kinda piss us off when people bitch and moan about nothing happening jazzwise in L.A.. These cats are serious. All we need to do is open our ears. The jazz is there, people. It’s we who aren’t.
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(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)