As a jazz fan, you really have to savor the select moments of the Playboy Jazz Festival, which began its 34th installment Saturday at its longtime home, the Hollywood Bowl.
Because as a stand-alone, multi-day barometer of the state of the music, the festival doesn't measure up to internationally known siblings such as Newport or Montreux — not that Playboy even tries (only by the most generous definition could some of the past weekend's acts, like Ozomatli, Sharon Jones and Robin Thicke, ever be considered jazz").
But as an instrument for checking in on the enduring connective power of music, Playboy's diverse and generally party-ready lineup stands on its own in a city as sprawling and occasionally difficult to capture as Los Angeles. The festival has become a summer tradition in Southern California, and this weekend marked a farewell to one of its constants: longtime emcee Bill Cosby, 74, who last week announced he would be stepping down.
As a result, it wasn't much of a surprise that some of those memorable moments revolved around Cosby. Though the comic legend and 1980s sitcom star only glancingly addressed his departure on the first day with a white, festival-branded T-shirt that read 301/2 Years" across the back and Thank you" down either sleeve, the times when he was onstage reminded the crowd what they would miss in the years ahead.
Conducting his band the Cos' of Good Music — an ad hoc collection of young jazz talent assembled by Cosby in various forms since 1995 — Cosby was all long reaches and exultant gestures in guiding the group through head-bobbing post-bop, flexing the sort of joyful physicality immediately familiar to anyone who caught Cosby during the opening credits of The Cosby Show." But watching Cosby finally sitting in with the band behind a drum kit, countering and complementing the rhythms of fellow drummer Ndugu Chancler, you could tell Cosby's involvement with the festival may sometimes appear to be all in fun, but it was never a joke.
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