This is a 2 writer review – Richard Bilow reviewed Saturday. Keith Block reviewed Sunday. Intro is by Keith Block.
What use to be the Playboy Jazz Festival is now the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival. The first Playboy Jazz Festival took place in Chicago in 1959 with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, and Bobby Darrin on the bill.
In 1979, the festival was reborn in Los Angeles, where the two-day event continued for over four decades each June at the Hollywood Bowl. The litany of talent included a “Who’s Who” of jazz greats: Count Basie, Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Chick Corea, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie were just a few that I personally saw.
The pandemic put an end to the Playboy Jazz Festival, but fortunately the event returned last year, as the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival (HBJF).
I was excited about this year’s lineup, since it was curated by Kamasi Washington and Herbie Hancock – two musical heroes of mine! Like many other current “jazz” festivals, there was less emphasis on jazz and more on creating an upbeat party vibe to get the crowd dancing. By Keith Block (see his review of Day 2 below).
Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival 2023 Day 1
Day 1 Review by Richard Bilow
The Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival is an extra special event which always has a great vibe. It is particularly refreshing these days to see the rainbow of humanity which makes Los Angeles so special all in one place, not just getting along but rejoicing together.
I usually attend with my childhood friend Keith who covers most of the music events reviewed on LAArtParty.com and EatTravelGo.com. Keith seems to know who’s on the rise in music before they go big. He introduced me to Kamasi Washington and the West Coast Get Down, long before they became well- known. We saw them at tiny venues like the Piano Bar, where I once had to climb on a table to make room for Ryan Porter to join the band. When I found out that Kamasi was working with Herbie Hancock to curate this year’s festival, I knew I had to be there at least one of the two dates.
Here are my highlights for Saturday.
As the sun dropped behind the hills surrounding the venue, a wonderful breeze began to blow. It was hot when the show began, so this was a welcome change that came just as Lionel Loueke and Gretchen Parlato took the stage. Loueke’s swirling grooves with Parlato’s soothing vocals created just the right vibe for the moment. The addition of a percussionist along with Louke’s shift to guitar synthesizer created an interesting sound which maintained the vibe but with a different texture.
Poncho Sanchez was next with his classic Latin flow. Congas, bongos, timbales, piano, trombone, trumpet, sax, and bass created a full sound with sex appeal. We were all on our feet and dancing. For many, the band’s rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” was a highlight of the performance. Poncho of course gave a shout out to his good friend Herbie, before they delivered their uniquely Latin version of the song.
Next on stage was Aziza, a modern jazz supergroup featuring bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland. The band went abstract right away with Loueke taking the first solo. Then Dave Holland brought the audience back to earth a bit with a beautiful acoustic bass solo. As the show progressed, there was a constant flow that reached way out into a dissonant syncopated frenzy and then came back to a more accessible musical place. Holland obviously loves playing with this group, judging from the constant smile on his face.
Two-time 2023 Grammy winner Samara Joy, named Best New Jazz Artist by Jazz Times in 2021, was next. At only 23 years old, she has a style all her own and the most precise vocal abilities imaginable. Her sound and range seemed reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald, and her original songs were detailed relatable stories. The space she provided for her band to swing and shine with their individual solos made this my favorite performance. Samara is clearly thrilled to have her career on the fast track, and she shared her gratitude with the audience. Like Kamasi, her heroes are now her fans.
Saint Paul and the Broken Bones is a breakthrough Southern Soul band. Lead singer Paul Janeway’s sound and stage presence were a contrast to everything that came before, but they had a lot of fans in the house. The band gave it their all, and Janeway did something I have never seen at the Bowl before. He walked way up into the audience and sang his heart out amongst the crowd. When he made it back to the front, he literally fell to the stage, crawled his way to the edge, and sang while laying down.
Finally, it was time for Kamasi, and he came out firing. Rather than slowly build to his full intensity, he started at 10, took it to 13 and then passed the baton to his band members. I have always loved seeing Kamasi’s smile when his father Rickey takes his turn. Pianist Cameron Graves somehow manages to work a heavy metal edge into his solos, and I was happy to see bassist Miles Mosley on stage with all of the West Coast Get Down players. Everyone was given a chance to shine.
Bell Biv DeVoe closed out the night. Nearly everyone was on their feet and dancing from the very first note. Some of those on their feet were dancing their way to their cars, but that is to be expected after 7 hours of back-to-back performances.
Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival 2023 – Day 2
Review by Keith Block
The second day of the festival opened with traditional jazz from the LAUSD Beyond the Bell All District Jazz Big Band featuring Charlie Young. Then, “the godfather of gospel bass” Andrew Gouché and Prayze Connection played an inspired set of gospel classics.
Next up was Butcher Brown, who I have been listening to and was looking forward to seeing. The band is a proud throwback to the great progressive jazz-funk bands of the 70s with a 21 st century hip-hop, garage punk, and future funk twist. They refer to their own music as “hip hop Mahavishnu.” They played a high energy set featuring songs from their upcoming album Solar Music.
Boukman Eksperyans followed and provided the increasingly jolly crowd with a worldly high-energy sound that fused traditional Haitian and Caribbean rhythms with rock and reggae.
Then, New Orleans brass band, The Soul Rebels took the crowd’s energy up a couple notches with their distinctive brand of soul, funk, R&B, rock, pop, and jazz. The audience got even livelier when Bounce Music Master Big Freedia joined the band, getting her twerk on during an outstanding three-song set: “I Heard,” “N. O. Bounce” and “Gin in My System.”
After Big Freedia, we all boarded a time machine with Digable Planets who released their debut album ‘Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) in 1993! The bowl gave the rap trio (backed by a full band) a lot of love, as they delivered “It’s Good to Be Here, “Where I’m From,” “Pacifics,” “Escapism (Gettin’ Free)”, “Nickel Bags,” and “Graffiti”. As the band began their Grammy winning, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” the crowd rose to their feet!
R&B and jazz vocalist Ledisi, with her outstanding four-octave soprano range, wowed the Bowl audience. Her stellar performance included “Add to Me,” the colorful scat-accented “Alright”, the autobiographical “Pieces of Me,” her latest single “I Need to Know” and the passionate Grammy winning ballad “Anything for You.”
The collective West Coast Get Down had the honor of closing the festival. The all-star lineup includes Kamasi Washington, Rickey Washington, Miles Mosley, Tony Austin, Cameron Graves, Ryan Porter, Ronald Bruner, Brandon Coleman, and Patrice Quinn. The members grew up together in Los Angeles, and I had the honor of seeing them play small clubs around town, when they were developing their sound and growing an audience.
The band is basically the same as Kamasi Washington’s, but the collective allows all its members to shine individually including pianist Cameron Graves, bassist Miles Mosely and keyboardist Brandon Coleman. The group provided the ideal musical foil for Grammy-winning guests Leon Bridges and Raphael Saadiq.
Bridges led a three-song medley featuring powerful versions of “Born Again,” “Bad Bad News” and “Kings and Queens.” The interplay between Bridges’ vocals and Washington’s sax was a highlight. After Bridges, the horns went on a journey with a Joe Henderson medley of “Resistance” and “Giant Feelings.”
Kamasi then introduced Raphael Saadiq, who came out playing electric bass. He rocked the stage with Herbie Hancock’s “Come Running To Me,” followed by his own tunes “You’re the One I Like,” “Sunlight” and “Skyy, Can You Feel Me.” Saadiq left to loud applause, and West Coast Get Down wrapped up the festival with Mosley’s funky “Abraham” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” which featured an amazing solo by Kamasi.
It was a perfect way to spend Father’s Day and welcome the summer of music at the Hollywood Bowl. Find out about upcoming shows on The Bowl’s website – https://www.hollywoodbowl.com/
CLICK HERE to find out about past Hollywood Bowl Events & the Jazz Festival.