YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


It's playtime

June 17, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Is it a concert? A party? Is it a see and be-seen event? A wildly eclectic happening? Or is it an ordeal? An overexposure to sun, a crowd that can be more involved with partying than listening and an end-of-the-day, glacial exit from the parking lot? Actually, the Playboy Jazz Festival, this weekend at the Hollywood Bowl, can be all that and more. With two days of virtually nonstop music for almost nine hours, the attention spans are likely to swing as wildly as the entertainment, depending on who's onstage. Still, there is no festival like the Playboy -- an all-join-in event in which 18,000 folks share the vibe in a single historic location. Here's why there's so much to love:

-- Don Heckman

1SEE IT NOW: The redesigned Hollywood Bowl is an architectural achievement, enhanced by an improved audio system. But Playboy adds a pair of outdoor, stadium-quality LED screens, visible even in midday sunshine. For once, the folks in the stratospheric areas of the Bowl will be able to see every drop of improvisational sweat, fast-finger grooving and, in Savion Glover's case, the blurred flashes of his swiftly tapping feet.

2FRESH JAZZ: It's always a good idea to arrive early -- less traffic, better parking, more music, more time to bask in the sun. But Saturday there's an even better reason -- the chance to hear the talented young players of the Washington Preparatory High School Jazz Ensemble, an award-winning group directed by Fernando Pullum.

3REUNION: The musical brotherhood and close personal friendship of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter dates back to their days with the brilliant Miles Davis Quintet of the '60s. The combination on Sunday's bill, featuring the sterling bass work of Dave Holland and the musical drumming of Brian Blade, has all the makings of a classic creative encounter.

4THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER'S ARRIVAL: It's the photo-op of the weekend: When Hugh Hefner enters the Bowl from backstage, convoyed by an array of Stepford blonds, whoever is performing onstage is temporarily relegated to second-fiddle status.

5TOE JAM JIVE: Savion Glover (on Satur-

day's bill) calls himself a tap dancer, but he's also a jazz drummer in disguise. How else to describe someone who leaps through flams, paradiddles and rim shot sounds with the power, the alacrity and propulsive swing of an Elvin Jones?

6BOP LIVES: Great jazz players sometimes slip too easily from view. Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, performing Saturday, may be best known for having contributed some Charlie Parker-like playing to the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood's film "Bird," but he's been an inventive improviser in his own right for decades, far too little known.

7SAMPLE THE VIBE: Take a walk around the perimeter of the Bowl, from top to bottom. The jaunt will reveal fascinating layers of energy, style and reaction -- from the cloth-covered, wine-and-cheese feasting of the box seats, to the picnickers in the mid-range seats to the laid-back crowds at the top.

8THE WIZARD AND THE PRINCESS: Sunday's program offers a magical combination: 85-year-old Gerald Wilson, one of the greats of big-band jazz, leading his hard-swinging ensemble in support of a pair of fine singers: the versatile, blues-based Barbara Morrison and the youthful Renee Olstead, 15, who was the surprise hit of last year's festival.

9MARSALIS, PLUS SIX: Many fans of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis believe that he is at his finest with his septet, which is how Saturday's crowd will see him in his 10th Playboy appearance.

10SLIP SLIDING STEEL: Pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph's performances with his Family Band (including cousin Danyell Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on drums) are high-spirited, foot-tapping, funk-driven celebrations of sound and spirit. They're on Sunday's bill.


NO HOOPS FACTOR: Happily for jazz fans -- but regrettably for Laker fans -- there won't be a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, which would have been Sunday evening. So there won't be a repeat of what happened June 14, 1998. Clarinetist Pete Fountain was onstage performing his stylish New Orleans-style jazz when a seemingly disconnected roar erupted from the crowd. Turns out that many were fixated on their miniature radios and TVs when Michael Jordan hit the winning shot to beat the Utah Jazz.

Playboy Jazz Festival, Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. 2:30-11 p.m. Saturday and 2-10:30 p.m. Sunday. $15 to $100. (310) 449-4070.

Los Angeles Times Articles