Halfway through the 2003 Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl season, there still hasn't been a single, full evening of jazz uncluttered by ancillary genres. The season opened with a blues and jazz concert, followed by a gospel and jazz program, then an unsettling performance by bossa nova great Joao Gilberto.
Wednesday night's "The Movie Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard" program promised at least a reasonable amount of jazz from Blanchard's group and singer Dianne Reeves. From that perspective, there were some attractive moments. In the rare passages in which he stretched into straight-ahead soloing, Blanchard played with his familiar mix of articulateness and swing. His film scoring, most of it performed by a small orchestra, simmered with jazz sensibilities, especially in his themes for "Summer of Sam." And Reeves successfully applied her well-crafted style to several relatively lightweight songs from the Lee films.
Beyond that, there was a quick appearance by Chaka Khan, singing "Love Me Still," a song she wrote with Bruce Hornsby for Lee's film "Clockers"; some brief comments by Lee; and sets by guitarist-singer Raul Midon and the potent rap group Public Enemy. A diverse show, for sure, but -- once again -- with minimal jazz representation.
The desire to have the Bowl's jazz programming embrace the music's full panoply of stylistic linkages is understandable. But the fundamental principle of successful programming requires keeping the core audience happy before expanding into other areas.
This year's events have taken an opposite route, starting with related genres before getting down to more focused jazz via upcoming programs featuring Wayne Shorter, Oscar Peterson, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and a contemporary "Edge of Jazz" event.
Even taking into account the Bowl's size, it's hard to understand why programmers seem to have such a difficult time assembling eight solidly jazz-related, thematically imaginative concerts over the course of the summer.