By Chris J. Walker
Peggy Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920 was best known for songs, such as the extremely sultry “Fever” and equally stoic “Is That All There Is?” The Grammy Museum is currently hosting the exhibit Celebrating 100 Years of Peggy Lee (runs until the end of October 2022). It was curated by Lee’s granddaughter from her first marriage to guitarist David Barbour, Holly Foster Wells.She cited in discussion with the venue’s Artistic Director, Scott Goldman that the singer was also a songwriter, composer, bandleader and actress with 270 songwriting credits, 1,100 masters, 50 original albums, 800 radio performances, and 200 television appearances.
Wells started accompanying her grandmother on tours starting when she only six years old. From the offset, Lee saw something in her and quickly designated her as the manager of her estate. Of course, then she had no idea what the job entailed. Now twenty years after Lee’s death she sees it as a gift, “That keeps my grandmother with me every day.” The multi-talented singer was a visionary and meticulously kept everything, resulting in it taking years for Wells and her Aunt Polly to archive everything.
The interview/discussion with Goldman was centered around five videos that were shown from the Ed Sullivan Show, and all from different periods of Lee’s career. “One Kiss” displays the renowned singer’s subtle, soft and minimal movement approach. “New York City Blues” co-written with Quincy Jones was her sophisticated and jazzy homage to the city.
Original “I Love Being Here With You” was sung with members of the Armed Forces in the audience, who she dedicated the song to, along with Ray Charles’ soulful “Yes Indeed.” Leiber and Stoller’s “I’m a Woman” was in the ‘60s, and obviously bluesy and sexy, which enthused the audience. The Beatles “Something” rendered in 1970 showed a very mature and pondering side of Lee.
In between the videos that are all on You Tube, Wells and Goldman talked about Lee’s personality and humble background in rural Jamestown, ND. She left there at 17 to find fame and fortune. That didn’t come easy, but the singer persisted and eventually became a member of Benny Goodman’sBand in 1941 for two years. She launched her career as a solo artist afterwards. Included in the conversation was the Lee’s songwriting for Disney’s Lady And The Tramp, the lawsuit for video rights in the ‘80s and Wells time with her grandmother. Q&A covered Lee’s style origins, influences Count Basie, Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Maxine Sullivan, and Lee’s favorite song “The Folks Who Live on The Hill.” Wells was also asked if she sings, which was, emphatically no. For more info go to: www.grammymuseum.org and www.peggylee.com
Carl Hancock Rux, a poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, recording artist, actor, theater director and radio journalist was born in 1975. That was before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Nonetheless, he was strongly impacted by it and compelled to create The Baptism.
The work performed at REDCAT is a three-part poem and tribute to the legacies of important civil rights leaders John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, commissioned by the Lincoln Center. Included in the performance were two versions of the short film The Baptism directed by Carrie Mae Weems. The second one featured an original score by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello.
In the film Rux spoke about his background and how he learned about the Civil Rights Movement through his foster parents, who later adopted him. The multi-talented artist additionally spoke about his brother Ralph contracting AIDS and dealing with New York’s social welfare system to get help for him. Ralph’s death and the support from friends afterwards gave Rux the strength to be fearless.
The live reading of the poems by Rux were interesting and each one was different. The first with a guitar backdrop, was very cerebral and conjectural, yet also moving. The second with piano was livelier, ethereal and philosophical detailing a “generated dream.” The third with both piano and guitar focused on rebirth, regeneration and manifestation—we do not die, we are always becoming… Concretely, the poem related to roads, bridges and gates being blocked, still (protesters/advocates) find a way to progress, despite jail, nooses, knives and guns—because they were not alone.
Taylor Renee Aldridge, California African American Museum Curator and Writer spoke with Rux afterwards about the project. Subjects covered were togetherness in moments of grief, moving forward and working with Reems. The director asked the creative artist when did he become political? The answer was when the political became personal and when he tried to infiltrate systems not set up for him or his family to survive in. The director was also further discussed, regarding Rux’s relationship her through several other projects. Furthermore, Rux’s use of metaphors, especially for Lewis and Vivian was discussed. For more info go to: carlhancockrux.com and www.redcat.org
Four-time Grammy-winning singer, guitarist, composer, actor and real-life cowboy Lyle Lovett, who’s been inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the recipient of the National Reining Horse Association Lifetime Achievement Award, returned to the Greek Theatre with his Large Band after a three-year layoff. The wry-witted troubadour, who incorporates appealing aspects of Western swing, jazz, blues and country into his music opened for headliner, vintage rock/country crooner Chris Isaak.
Lovett with his band that included bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, fiddle, pedal-steel guitar, four brass players and three backup soul/gospel singers, jumped into songs from the newly released album 12th of June. “Are We Dancing” was a tender, sweetly sung ballad, while Horace Silver’s instrumental “Cookin’ at the Continental” showcased the band heating things up with hot interactions and solos. “Pants Is Overrated,” also new, reverted to bandleader’s signature mix of offbeat topics, alt-country, jazz and gospel. While the title track, a soft folk/country ballad celebrated the birth of his now five-year old boy/girl twins.
The remaining show was more familiar to Lovett’s fans and laden with classics such as the funky/soulful “Penguins” and gospel-tinged “I Will Rise Up” featuring Lovett singing stalwartly with the backup singers and playing acoustic guitar as the band poignantly supported them. Not as well-known was “Her Loving Man (Queen of Know)” that was pure country with pedal steel and fiddle accenting the easy flowing vocalist and backing singers.
Alternately, “Pig Meat Man” delved into R&B and jazz with tenor sax showcased, and additionally highlighted by Lovett and the backing singers’ choruses to draw strong crowd reactions. Also, fiddler, Luke Bulla was showcased singing and playing bluegrass themed “Temperance Reel.” The poetic Texas musician saved his most popular songs such as poppy “If I Had a Boat,” jazzy “She’s No Lady (She’s My Wife)” and his high-powered lavishly sung country swing hit “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” for the end, which naturally left the audience who gave a standing ovation wanting more.
Headliner Isaak was more in the vein of early rockers Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison with a good dose of humor included. The yodeling singer/guitarist and his 37-year-old band alternated between hard-rocking songs, softer ones and ballads. In the hard-rocking category were scorching “Go Walking Down There,” the immortal “Ring of Fire,” “Notice the Ring” showcasing a scorching percussive jam and sweltering “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut.
Hits “Somebody’s Crying” and “Wicked World,” along with “Two Hearts” and Latin-flavored “Forever Young” and “San Francisco Days “comprised the softer songs. Representing ballads were Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” featuring fellow Texan Lovett helping out and also the legendary crooner’s “Only the Lonely,” along with “Can’t Help Falling in Love” popularized by Elvis Presley. Overall, after many years of touring, Lovett and Isaak are very comfortable working together and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to alter a crowd-pleasing combination. For more info go to: www.lylelovett.com, www.chrisisaak.com and www.lagreektheatre.com
Since 2021 Juneteenth has been a national holiday, designated by the current President, Joe Biden. The special day was first established on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, TX, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which was known throughout other Southern states and not celebrated. Afterwards, Juneteenth with its auspicious origins was primarily acknowledged in the South and slowly spread to other parts of the U.S. as African Americans migrated.
Now the holiday is mainstream and the Hollywood Bowl had a grand celebration for 2022 with all-star lineup extolling Black freedom and excellence. Satellite network CNN made it a truly a global affair by broadcasting it live. For the Bowl audience that meant two-three-minute blocks for commercials and featured comedians and dance groups during the interludes. Additionally, pre-recorded messages from former First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, producer/actress Susan Kelechi Watson and singer Jill Scott reciting one of her poems were interwoven into the concert.
Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy showcased its most promising young students for a segment with orchestra. Conductors, Hollywood Bowl’s Thomas Wilkins and rising star Derrick Hodge lead the Re-Collective Orchestra, who symbolically were the first all African American symphony to perform at the Bowl during its 100-year history.
Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and bassist Adam Blackstone and Questlove from the Roots were the Musical Directors for all the other musical guests spanning pop, jazz, R&B and hip-hop. Some of the highpoints were: Chaka Khan singing “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman;” The Roots featured vocalist/MC Black Thought and guitarist/vocalist “Captain” Kirk Douglas, who wailed away during “Act Too (Love of My Life) and “You Got Me;” Robert Glasper with MC D Smoke laid down fuse/hip-hop jam “Shine.”
Vocalist Mickey Guyton smoothly rendered Marvin Gaye’s evergreen “What’s Going On” and original gospel-tinged “Black Like Me.” Silky singer Khalid made women in the audience swoon with neo soul jam “Talk.” The same could be said for pop/soul/hip-hop crooners Bell Biv DeVoe who had the audience singing along during “I Thought It Was Me?” and “Poison.”
Universally popular cosmic R&B/fusion mega group Earth, Wind & Fire thrilled the audience with a medley of “Fantasy,” “Let’s Groove” and “September (Do You Remember).” Anthony Hamilton went deep into gospel through “Something About the Name Jesus” and “Optimistic” with Michelle Williams joining him.
Putting a nice bow on the very ambitious and significant sold-out outing was gospel/inspirational superstar Yolanda Adams performing the unofficial Black National anthem “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” The Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are making the Juneteenth concert an annual event and many in the audience were already excited about the 2023 installment. For info go to: www.laphil.com.
Lila Downs, born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, with stints in Los Angeles and Minnesota always strives for authenticity with a strong cultural identity in her music that’s linked to traditional rancheros, cumbias, boleros and Norteños. Additionally, the singer/songwriter/activist and sometimes actor supports political and humanitarian causes that will improve the lives of Latin populations in Central America and the U.S. Through her efforts over the last 25 years Downs has won a Grammy, three Latin Grammys and numerous other awards and citations.
Most importantly, Downs who always dons common peasant costumes when performing celebrates everyday life and families in Mexican towns, away from big cities and tourism. At Cal State LA the singer and her band turned the Luckman Fine Arts Complex into both a party scene and a place for riveting emotions with the audience enthusiastically dancing and singing along.
“Son del Chile Frito” from Downs’ most recent recording Al Chile dynamically got things going with her brass section blazing away. In the same vein, but from an acoustic standpoint was mariachi-like “La Tortolita” featuring violin, trumpet, accordion and cajon, while another similar sounding song featured dancers and spirited singing from Downs. Equally lively was “La San Marqueña,” which drew strong applause.
Much of traditional Mexican life is centered around food and in that light “La Cumbia del Mole” was performed and rejoiced featuring trumpet gallantly soloing to impress the audience. Thematic “La Campanera” also from the latest album slowed things down some to spotlight the bandleader’s lush alto voice, along with traditional ballad “La Martiniana” with only violin, accordion and quatro supporting.
“Mirror” a rock-like ballad sung in English displayed Downs’ falsetto and featured a snarly guitar solo. Strongly differing from that was her solely sung cover of Vicente Fernández “Urge” with the audience clapping along, and folky “Dark Eyes” in English that included spoken word. Also, bolero “Cucurrucucú Paloma” was a beautiful serenade highlighting the band’s choruses with Down’s passionate and rich vocals, which captivated the crowd.
The concert could have easily ended at that point and the attendees probably would have been satisfied. Nonetheless, the singer and band continued with a rocking Norteño and a 15-minute encore to clearly demonstrate they’re truly for the people. For more info go to: www.liladowns.com and www.luckmanarts.org
When speaking with Just Jazz Emcee Leroy Downs before performing with her Cuban-based, all-female sextet Maqeque (translates to the fiery/dynamic spirit of a little girl in an African dialect), Canadian reedist/bandleader Jane Burnet stated. “I consider myself a jazz musician, studied bebop with Barry Harris and love jazz. But I’m jazz musician who works within the context of Afro-Cuban rhythms. I’m not a salsa or Latin jazz artist.” After the quick interview, Burnet and the ensemble, formed in 2014, winning a Juno and receiving subsequent nominations, began their show.
The bandleader interlaced her clarinet and soprano sax playing with Maqeque’s pulsating rhythms and vocal phrasings. Most importantly, the musicians with Burnet, Joanna Tendai Majoko-vocals, Yissy García-drums, Tailin Marrero Zamora-bass, Dánae Olano-piano, MaryPaz Fernández-percussion were high caliber in every way, both soloing and meshing together impressively.
Maqeque the eponymous title track of the group’s first recording was embellished with heavenly vocal choruses over a percolating rhythm section highlighted by dynamic piano runs, with exquisite flute soaring over everything. Included was Burnet and Majoko getting into torrid tradeoffs and a hot percussive jam. Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” started out with a gorgeous solo intro from Olano as Burnet joined in on clarinet before Majoko and the others majestically graced it with their singing. Those numbers pretty much summed up the Cuban/Canadian group’s essence and successive ones were equally stimulating and impressive.
Maqeque is unquestionably worthy of wider acclaim beyond Canada and should be regularly showcased at concert halls and jazz festivals around the world. Burnet mentioned that in order for the group to leave Cuba there is a tremendous amount of paper work and red tape. Hopefully, that will diminish in the future… For more info go to: www.janebunnett.com and justjazz.tv.
The Grammy Museum recently hosted, Living History Live: Celebrating Taj Mahal’s 80th Birthday, born Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr. on May 17, 1942. Conducting the interview on June 16, 2022 was GM’s Artistic Director Scott Goldman. Before the discussion about Mahal’s career and music began, he received a rousing standing ovation and was also sung a belated “Happy Birthday.”
The three-time Grammy Winner and recipient of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement award hasn’t always been in compliance with blues purists. His unconforming musical explorations have incorporated styles such as calypso, reggae, and Hawaiian slack guitar, along with elements of music from India and Africa. On the other hand, Mahal’s lengthy career includes playing and/or recording with blues legends Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightning Hopkins, Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Mike Bloomfield and John Lee Hooker.
From a non-traditional blues standpoint, Mahal was played and/or recorded with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo,’ Toumani Diabaté, Angélique Kidjo, Ziggy Marley, The Blues Brothers, Los Lobos, Jack Johnson, Ben Harperand even the Blind Boys of Alabama. Moreover, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist goes wherever his adventurous spirit takes him and recently recorded Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee with longtime colleague Ry Cooder. Their musical association and friendship dates back to the early ‘60s.
Goldman started with Cooder and the new CD as the first topic for the interview. Mahal recalled how he first met Cooder and formed the Rising Sons band with him, after initially being blown away by his playing. They recorded enough songs for an album, but only released a single and the band broke up afterwards (Legacy Records later put out the record in 1992).
Mahal and Cooder remained friends and eventually played “Statesboro Blues” together in 2014 (50 years later) at the Americana Festival in Nashville. Afterwards, they started communicating more frequently and shared songs. Along the way, Mahal suggested they record something together. After hanging out at Cooder’s house for a couple of days playing and talking, ideas and concepts germinated. Years later Cooder suggested they do songs by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, which they both knew pretty well through different avenues.
Mahal also humorously talked about his family and musical background in Springfield, MA and being exposed to all kinds of music through his parents, their friends and radio. That included jazz, classical, opera, blues and music from the Caribbean where they were from. His early music lessons came from neighborhood kids and also imparted on Mahal growing up was a deep respect for elders. However, in college he majored in Agriculture and wanted to be a farmer. When he couldn’t secure a loan to get a farm, his casual interest in playing music turned serious, taking him to California and connecting with Cooder.
In between discussing songs, breaking down rock songs derived from blues, using four tubas for a project, musical history and guitar techniques, Mahal played and sang. Among the songs were “Celebrating Walkin’ Blues,” “Fishin’ Blues,” “Queen Bee,” and “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes” for a standing ovation. There may be a Part 2 interview in the future. For more info go to: www.tajblues.com and grammymuseum.org
Drummer, composer and educator Dan Schnelle has spent many years supporting topflight musicians such as Billy Childs, John Daversa, David Benoit, Karrin Allyson, Josh Nelson and others, along with conducting clinics and masterclasses throughout the country. Needless to say, Schnelle is always busy with little or no time for his own projects. Through his drive and determination, the drummer eventually found moments to focus on his own material.
The bandleader’s debut recording Shine Thru is the culmination of his efforts and creativity. At Sam First he had a CD Release Party, that was also his grandmother’s 90th birthday, who watched via livestream. Schnelle was supported by David Binney-alto sax, Joshua White-piano, Marcel Camargo-guitar and Dan Chmielinski-bass, which was almost like two groups combined. The saxophonist and pianist injected avant-garde and atonal touches, guitar was in between, adding barbed and fused solos, while the drummer effortless power and bassist easy flowing style provided cohesion with engaging rhythms/textures.
Interestingly, the first selection performed, original “Hypnogogic (transitional state from wakefulness to sleep)” was not on the new release (might be on Schnelle’s next) and was a swirling post-bop excursion. “Nosh Dukish” featured Binney intensely wailing away and White contributing abstract textures that fascinated the audience. The drummer/bandleader finished things off with a powerful and contained battery of percussion.
Ballad “The People’s Republic,“ provided a breather for the group as saxophone spun an enticing, near-Coltrane like web of soulfulness and lyricism that also featured a sumptuous solo by Chmielinski. From a different perspective White took flight for “2nd Orbit” with a segment of Cecil Taylor-like frantic free jazz runs accompanied by Schnelle.
Camargo and Binney additionally put a dose of fuel on the fire with their solos. The title track of the new CD concluded the set. It was thematic and high-energy post-bop, featuring the players expressively interacting and contributing stimulating solos. For more info go to: www.danschnelle.com and www.samfirstbar.com.
Double Grammy Nominated singer, songwriter and educator Sara Gazarek recently did a special show at Just Jazz. Prior to the concert, venue Emcee/Curator Leroy Downs spoke with the singer about her multi-nominated recording (Best Jazz Vocalist and Best Jazz Arrangement) Thirsty Ghost. She said the five-year process was terrifying, hard-forward and also very gratifying, especially from the standpoint of being a first-time producer who also had to self-release the project.
Before getting down to business with Miro Sprage-piano, Karl McComas Reichl-bass, Mark Ferber- drums and Daniel Rotem-tenor sax, Gazarek commented with a little frustration, “I just turned 40. Anyway, I hope that means I’ll stop appearing on the Up And Coming and Best Up And Coming jazz singer polls—I’m 40!” That drew chuckles from the audience and segued into intensely sung/swinging and angst filled “Lonely Hours,” derived from Sarah Vaughan’s same titled 1964 album. Scaling things down a bit was breezy and coyly sung “Easy Love” that she dedicated to her ex-husband and featured a rhythmic bass solo.
Changing things up even more, was charmingly sung standard “Tea For Two” bolstered by a soothing sax solo. Also not on Gazarek’s latest recording was her original ballad stemmed from Tennessee William’s poem “We Have Not Long to Love” with gentle band support. Emotionally tormented “I’m a Fool to Want You” was raw and sung with lush band accompaniment. For even more variety upbeat Portuguese sung Brazilian samba “O Pato (the duck)” was performed and coolly showcased Gazarek’s scatting, with and her sidemen trading off with Ferber.
Gazarek’s outstanding album’s title track, drawn from Brad Mehldau’s composition “When It Rains,” was slow developing, forlorn and solemn. The singer characterized those traits as the feelings she had when putting the project together. Somewhat similar was hauntingly sung “Vanity” from Sarah Vaughan’s 1961 record After Hours that was arranged by the drummer’s twin brother, trombonist Alan Ferber.
Of course, the other standout arrangement was her Grammy-Nominated “Jolene” done by keyboardist Geoff Keezer, which blew the audience away. Wrapping things up was her emotional interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s much lauded “Hallelujah” that garnered a thunderous standing ovation. Gazarek definitely can’t be called up and coming any more—she has arrived. For more info go to: saragazarek.com and justjazz.tv
The renowned Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl is now officially the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival. PJF had a rich history of outstanding, ground-breaking and sometimes legendary performances, featuring many of the top names and legends of jazz and jazz-related music. Debuting in 1979 in celebration of the notorious Playboy Magazine’s 25th anniversary, it was also the second coming of the initial festival held in Chicago 20 years earlier.
Publisher/Editor Hugh Hefner, a devout jazz lover maintained the event and regularly attended as his health allowed up to his death in 2017. PJF stalwartly continued mostly in name only up to the 2020 lock down. In 2022 the festival resurfaced as the inevitable Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival (Los Angeles Philharmonic handled operations since 2014) and completely severed ties with Playboy Magazine.
Concert attendees seemed unphased and/or oblivious to the name change, and as would be expected, were much more interested in the fact—a festival was actually happening. Some of the women enjoying the music wore the traditional Playboy “bunny ears” that lit up at night nonetheless, as temperatures soared into the low ‘90s during daylight hours. Former late-night TV host Arsenio Hall was the new emcee, replacing comedian George Lopez who was at helm from 2013 and took over after Bill Cosby retired.
As many of the “older establishment” participants and audiences have moved on, HBJF much like many other jazz festivals puts less emphasis on “jazz” per se. Instead, an upbeat “party vibe” that was definitely entertaining and danceable was presented. Not exactly a new occurrence for the Hollywood Bowl, just more obvious for the first day.
One of few oases of jazz that day was pianist Gerald Clayton’s ensemble, featuring Marquis Hill on trumpet, Jonathon Kinson on drums, Ben Williams on bass and Logan Richardson on alto saxophone. They unfortunately performed early as the crowd was arriving, yet maintained grace and soulfulness, going from cerebral post-bop originals to jubilant gospel. Additionally, The L.A. County High School for the Arts Jazz under Musical Director Michael Powers spotlighted some of the area’s upcoming gifted musicians.
The audience wasn’t quite ready (more so regarding her outfit and makeup) for the very talented and flamboyant Veronica Swift. She sung intensely and was a juggernaut jumping from Broadway, jazz, blues, funk, R&B and art-rock (Dresden Dolls “Sing”) for probably the festival’s most unique segment. Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms and textures sizzled through Los Angeles-based groups, Jungle Fire and former McCoy Tyner saxophonist Azar Lawrence’s Experience’s sets. Contrarily, Fantastic Negrito possessed R&B, reggae, blues and rock tinges, with a Latin and Cuban underbody.
Funk and contemporary jazz jamming intensified when guitarist Cory Wong took the stage. He wailed away on his wah-wah pedal with even bluesy chops and to the crowd’s delight, and closed his set jamming away with smooth jazz impresario, saxophonist Dave Koz. The Roots closed things with a set the length of a normal concert, featuring their signature mix of hip-hop, politics, social consciousness, rock and R&B to set the Bowl on fire.
In sharp contrast was Lean on Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers. It encompassed light, gentle and stretched out renditions of Wither’s soulful and gospel-derived classics. Among them were “Ain’t No Sunshine” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Lean On Me” and lesser known “Kissing My Love.” As a surprise bonus, Withers’ daughter Kori joined James for “Just The Two of Us,” “Use Me” and “Lovely Day” to set the crowd off.
Sunday, the second day’s selection of jazz was more plentiful and headlined by none other than velvet singer Gregory Porter and his quintet. He immediately charmed and caressed the audience with his warm personality and lush singing. He worked everyone up with “On My Way to Harlem” and “Liquid Spirit,” and then relaxed them through “No Love Dying” and “Take Me to The Alley.” In essence, his was preaching with a pulsating backdrop and only asking for everyone to practice universal love and forgiveness.
Carmen Lundy supported by Julius Rodriguez on piano, Kenny Davis on keyboards, Terreon Gully on drums and Andrew Renfroe on guitar didn’t deviate much from mainstream. The Grammy Nominated singer mostly showcased songs from her upcoming recording, while also taking a slight detour to get into some driving grooving with her powerhouse players. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band 18-person ensemble put a contemporary spin with humor on big band music. They brilliantly shined with the bandleader’s Grammy-winning arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The Lao Tizer Band consisting of Tizer on keyboards, Eric Marienthal on reeds, Munyungo Jackson on percussion, Cheikh NDoye on bass, Gene Coye on drums and TIta Hutchison on vocals were a high wire mix of fusion and funk, with touches of world music. They got the audience charged up at the begging of the Sunday program.
Trumpeter Chief Adjuah (Formerly Christian Scott) showed reverence for his grandfather legendary Big Chief, Donald Harrison Sr., and uncle, noted sax man, Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. though a tribute to Mardi Gras Indians. Utilizing his custom-made instruments, the bandleader explored the African diaspora, Afro-Cuban textures and even contemporary, featuring Elena Pinderhughes on flute and vocals.
Nigerian Femi Kuti & The Positive Force also honored an elder, the bandleader’s legendary father, Afrobeat saxophonist/singer/activist Fela Kuti. Surviving Kuti’s band with three backup singer/dancers in native dress and an eight-person band that included son Made (pronounced “Mah-day”) also on reeds lived up to their name. The younger Kuti’s talents were showcased featuring a circular breathing solo to impress the audience (his father holds the world record 51 minutes 35 seconds). Also, along political lines, powerhouse drummer Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science brought social and racial injustice, LBGTQ rights and income inequality issues to the forefront. Their blistering jamming and assaulting rapping could not be ignored, while also delivering irresistible rhythms and riffs.
Show closer Tower of Power, currently is celebrating 54 years as a band. Three original members, tenor saxophonist Emilio “Mimi” Castillo, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka and drummer David Garibaldi are still going strong. All of the band members injected Oakland, CA rhythms and attitude into the Hollywood Bowl. Mike Jerel, the band’s lead vocalist, who also plays keyboards and trumpet kept the energy up through signature party songs such, as timely “Soul Vaccination,” “Don’t Change Horses,” and “You Ought to Be Havin’ Fun.” For balance and slow dancing, ballads “So Very Hard to Go” and “You’re Still a Young Man” were part of the set. Through the course of the festival Hall exclaimed, “This is the Best Integrated Picnic on the Planet.”
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