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All That Jazz

An Adventurous Lineup at 23rd Playboy Festival

The June event's roster includes the long-awaited debut of legendary drummer Max Roach.

February 23, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This year's Playboy Jazz Festival takes a giant step forward in the mission that was established 23 installments ago--the presentation of the world's best jazz. The lineup of artists, announced Thursday at the Playboy Mansion, is the most solidly jazz-based program in the last few years.

Anyone who came away from the Ken Burns jazz documentary with the notion that not much of significance has happened over the past 40 years should pick up a ticket, fast. Enlightenment, in the form of a superb array of adventurous performers, is all over the schedule.

Although the individual programs for the two-day event, on the weekend of June 16-17, have not yet been determined, it's worth taking a look at the overall stylistic groupings that are represented in this year's event, officially labeled the 23rd annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

In the category of straight-ahead, no-holds-barred jazz groups, there's a plethora of riches in this assemblage of talent, which is representative, across age and genre, of the vital essence of jazz in the opening years of the new century. Legendary drummer Max Roach, amazingly, is making his Playboy Festival debut.

"I can't tell you how many years we've been trying to get him on the stage," says Richard Rosenzweig, president of Playboy Jazz. "So you can imagine how delighted we are to be able to announce that he'll be here this year."

Saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter, an influential, much-admired musical force for most of the 40 years skimmed over in the Burns series, will make a kind of farewell-to-the-local-scene appearance before he moves from Los Angeles to south Florida. His all-star quartet, with which he will tour this summer, includes pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

Charles Lloyd, like Shorter, is one of the most influential of the post-John Coltrane tenor/soprano saxophonists. Playing perhaps as well as he has in his four-decade career, Lloyd's quartet will include the extremely compatible guitar playing of John Abercrombie.

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, a Grammy Award winner and one of the best of the young-lion trumpeters who emerged over the past decade, is rapidly developing a distinctive style and sound.

The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, led by yet another superb trumpeter, Jon Faddis, will also add saxophonist Michael Brecker as a guest star. The highlight of their set will be the performance of a tribute suite to John Coltrane, titled, appropriately, "A Love Supreme."

Master of ceremonies Bill Cosby's annual all-star jam band, The Cos of Good Music, is bursting with talent this year, with a lineup that includes Joe Lovano, Stefon Harris, James Morrison, Ralph Moor, Benny Green and others--a virtual mini-jazz festival in itself.

That's a pretty impressive congregation, by any standards. And Rosenzweig sees it as a good example of the festival's goals.

"This has been a jazz festival from the very beginning," he says. "Sure, we've had to adapt to the times, include acts from the world music, the pop and the Latin areas. But that's pretty much true of most jazz festivals that have to reach out--as we do--to a large market to fill a lot of seats, around 36,000 for our two days at the Bowl. Still, we've always tried to stay true to our mission, and I think we're doing it especially well this year."

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Looking beyond the hard-core jazz ensembles, there's a lot of other music to praise.

They may not take a traditional route to get where they're going, but the acts in the group of jazz crossovers couldn't do what they do if they were not fundamentally, at the root of their creative imaginations, jazz-based.

Medeski, Martin & Wood have the groove-oriented sound that reaches out to younger audiences. Expect to hear traces of funk, hip-hop blues, rock and even a trace or two of avant-garde in their spirited presentation.

One could make a pretty good case for David Sanborn as one of the most imitated saxophonists of his generation. He'd be the first to credit such blues predecessors as Hank Crawford, but Sanborn's sound and phrasing are among the most original of the post-Charlie Parker era.

David Benoit's elegantly melodic piano style has surfaced lately in his versions of music from the "Peanuts" cartoons. But an articulate connection with the harmonic approach of Bill Evans lies at the root of his playing.

You can't have a jazz festival without vocalists, and Playboy 2001 has a trio of performers that reaches from one end of the jazz spectrum to the other.

Nancy Wilson is a virtual singing legend, as comfortable with soul-tinged pop as she is with Sarah Vaughan-influenced jazz.

Keely Smith, a '50s icon who has dramatically returned to fashion with the Swing revivalists, performs with the hard-driving, intensely rhythmic accompaniment of the Frank Capp Juggernaut.

And Banu Gibson, with her big, rich-toned voice and innate understanding of the blues, will bring a rich gumbo of musical New Orleans to the festival.

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