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ALL THAT JAZZ

Dueling Labor Day Fests a Mixed Blessing for Fans

August 16, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Battling classic jazz festivals will mark the Labor Day weekend in Southern California. Long a favorite holiday time for fans of hot jazz, Dixieland and swing music, the weekend now has three festivals competing for listeners' affections (and greenbacks): the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival, the Irvine Marriott's second annual West Coast Jazz Party and the Sweet & Hot Music Festival.

The Classic Jazz Festival, which has pretty much had a lock on Labor Day jazz for the last 12 years, has experienced an array of difficulties tracing back to the 8th installment.

The bottom line is that the program, formerly sponsored by the United Jazz Clubs of Southern California, is now produced by a new entity, the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival Inc., under the supervision of Orange County businessman John Dieball. And the current directive appears to be aimed at functioning in a more efficient fashion.

The key cutback is in the number of locations, although the number of venues--eight--remains the same. In the past, the programs have taken place at two Los Angeles International Airport-area hotels--initially at the Marriott and the Hilton, later at the Marriott and Stouffer Hotel (which eventually became the Doubletree). This year, the Festival is only scheduling performances at the Doubletree, with a lineup that stars Steve Allen and His Trio, the Terry Gibbs Quartet, the Clara Ward Singers, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and a reunion of George Segal, Conrad Janis and the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.

Enter the Sweet & Hot Music Festival. When the Classic Jazz series--with its revenue-producing room rentals and food and drink sales--was unable to make an agreement with the Marriott, the hotel simply decided to sponsor its own festival. Wally Holmes, who was once the musical director of the Classic Jazz Festival, took over direction of the new Sweet & Hot gala, which will run at the same time as the Classic Jazz programs. Among the Sweet & Hot Music Festival's 200 participating musicians: Ralph Sutton, Tommy Newsom, Howard Alden, Barbara McNair, Herb Jefferies, Jack Sheldon and the Ray Anthony Orchestra.

The West Coast Jazz Party, which begins its second year of festivities Aug. 30, has a mainstream-oriented lineup featuring Ray Brown, Jack Sheldon, the Four Freshmen, Buddy DeFranco, Ron Eschete, Mundell Lowe, Paul Smith, Rickey Woodard and numerous others.

So, for the jazz fan, the upside of all this opposing activity is that the Labor Day weekend will have a lot more jazz from which to choose. The downside is that there's a separate admission for each of the festivals, one--the Irvine--is miles away from the others, and all the programs will be running head to head. It seems a shame that the various managements couldn't work out some sort of consecutive dates to allow the Southland's numerous jazz enthusiasts the luxury of attending all three events.

* L.A. Classic Jazz Festival, (310) 521-6893; Sweet & Hot Music Festival, (310) 641-5700; West Coast Jazz Party, (714) 724-3602.

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Spot That Jazz: Advertising agencies have long been aware of the value of jazz as a mood-setting medium for radio and television commercials. Cadillac's Northstar system ads went a step further by mentioning the names of Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery in a print and television campaign.

But a Nissan Infiniti sales program that began in June takes a different slant, using jazz as an element of ambience and lifestyle. The commercials were shot in a section of Prague in atmospheric black and white. In one commercial, the scene is a small jazz bistro, where singer Nancy Wilson is finishing up a musical set. Spokesman Jonathan Pryce leaves the club, extolling the virtues of the Infiniti over a soundtrack taken from the Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond recording "Take Five." As the ad comes to a close, Wilson is heard in voice-over, speaking the line: "Thinking of you, Infiniti."

"They needed a nightclub singer," Wilson said recently, "and if you look around, there aren't that many people who play nightclubs, so it ended up being me. For the tags, we just sat down for about half an hour and I gave them about 20 different versions."

"Then I told them," she added with a typically throaty chuckle, " 'If you're going to show my face all over the country for this car, why then I need to be in an Infiniti.' I should be getting my Infiniti any day now."

While it's great to see Wilson's image and hear her spoken voice-over, what's unfortunately missing in this spot is her excellent singing.

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