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Sunny day at Playboy Jazz event

June 12, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Playboy's free community concert Sunday at Warner Park in Woodland Hills was a well-planned program of first-rate jazz, performed in a delightfully green and sylvan setting. It was a breakthrough of sorts as the festival's first such event for jazz fans in the San Fernando Valley, after similar offerings in years past in Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Marina del Rey.

By late afternoon, more than 8,000 people had arrived. And, although no official attendance figures were forthcoming, the closing set by the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band was greeted by many more listeners.

The program opened with a set by the talented young players of the Hamilton Academy of Music Jazz Combo. Next up, singer Judy Chamberlain -- backed by a band showcasing the guitar of Jim Fox and the saxophone and clarinet of Terry Harrington -- sang a remarkably eclectic set. Ranging with ease from the warm-toned ballads of the Great American Songbook to a high-spirited romp through "Jailhouse Rock," she affirmed her status as one of the Southland's most versatile jazz vocalists.

Bassist Miles Mosley's band provided the afternoon's most innovative moments. Singing, playing, rapping and interacting with the audience, he led his players through pieces merging Jimi Hendrix intensity with fiery bebop.

Among an impressive group of young soloists, tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington's nonstop, finger-busting playing was a standout.

Continuing the day's trend toward musical eclecticism, keyboardist Freddie Ravel blended Mozart's "Turkish" Rondo and Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" with a stirring set of irresistibly body-moving salsas.

By the time Sanchez arrived, an entire walkway circuiting the front of the stage was filled with dancers of all ages, from sparkly little girls to professionally adept couples.

Sanchez's music may be a bit formularized, with its juxtaposition of riff-like melodies (he started with "One Mint Julep"), call-and-response vocals and freewheeling solos, but there was no denying its power to bring fun and enthusiasm to an entertaining afternoon of jazz on an early summer's day.

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