Groovin’ At Jazz Festival
By Ricky Richardson
The 18th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival was held on a picture perfect weekend, August 12-14, 2005. One could not have asked for a better setting. The festival was held on the grassy area of the Rainbow Lagoon, surrounded by trees, and punctuated by a cool breeze.
The festival featured several subtle themes within the festival: Global Jazz and Lady Sang R&B, and The Blues.
Friday night-The festival got under way with jazz from a global perspective.
Hiroshima, a popular L.A. based band played a set of world music mixed with jazz, pop, and seasoned with Japanese traditional folk music. The crowd was entertained by the following tunes performed by Hiroshima as the sun settled over the horizon. “Another Place” sampled along with the sounds of The Temptations “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone”, “One Wish”, and a thrilling solo featuring the drummer and the Taiko player.
Keiko Matsui from Japan played material from her latest CD Wildflower. Keiko Matsui is also a wonderful humanitarian; with the release of her CD Deep Blue she dedicated a portion of proceeds from concerts as an awareness raising project for bone marrow donors. The recent release Wildflower will benefit the United Nation’s World Food Programme in Africa.
The Summer Storm featuring guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Everette Harp, and vocalist Peobo Bryson and Brenda Russell showered the crowd with a popular set of original R&B, and smooth jazz to close out the first night of the festival.
The 2nd Annual Jazz Talent Search was held throughout Long Beach during the summer. The winning group had the pleasure of opening the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Vocalist Ora LaFae Smallwood and the S.O.E. Band performed on Saturday.
The Sevilles-a popular trio of singers backed by The Ohio Trio Plus performed a tribute to Motown. They took the crowd on a musical journey down memory lane with a set of Old School Oldies, R&B, Blues and Jazz standards. This set was one of the few highlights for me on Saturday. The crowd actively listened and also joined the group in singing one memorable hit after another- “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone”, “Please Don’t Go”, “Get Ready”, “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, “My Girl”, “Cloud 9”, “Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down”, “I Need Money”, “The Twist”, “If I Ain’t Got You”, “Nighttime Is The Right Time”, “Down Home Blues”, “Stay Till The Morning”, and closed with “Just My Imagination”.
Vocalist Michael Franks was another highlight for me on Saturday. The silky voice crooner was fabulous as usual on “Lady Wants To Know”, “Tiger In The Rain”, “Sleeping Gypsy”, “Passion Fruit”, “One Bad Habit”, “Your Love Is Like Baseball”, “Popsicle Toes”, and “When The Cookie Jar Is Empty”.
Down To The Bone, Chuck Loeb, and Joyce Cooling were on the bill for Saturday. South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela closed out the evening with his popular brand of Afro-Beat dance rhythms served up with some jazz, R&B, and African township songs in keeping with the global theme mentioned earlier.
On Sunday, I arrived just as Jazz Search winner guitarist James Christopher and his ensemble were poising for photographs for the media after their set.
The line-up for Sunday was the strongest of all three days as evidenced by the large turn out of people who blanketed every inch of grass available.
Keyboardist Kevin Toney kicked off the final day of the festival with a high energy set of original tunes from his upcoming CD 110 Degrees and Rising that also featured an added bonus of a string ensemble. The audience was ready to dance when he played “Walkin In Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park” popular tunes from his days with Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds.
Al Williams Jazz Society filled the straight-ahead jazz void that was absent until now. This tight knit band featured Al Williams-drums, Noland Shaheed-trumpet, Dave Bradshaw-piano, Nedra Wheeler-bass, Andre Delano-saxophones, and Tony Poingsett on percussions. The group featured material from their latest 2 CD’s Let’s Celebrate and Meeting At The Crossroads. The highlight of their set came when Barbara Morrison joined the group for a couple of tunes. She held the crowd (approximately 15,000) in the palm of her hands during her always crowd pleasing and delightful set. She opened with “Endangered Species”, followed by “You Are My Centerpiece”, “All Blues”, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”, “Hit The Road Jack”, and closed with “Sundown”.
Al Jackson and his 17-piece orchestra featuring The Ray-lettes played a well received tribute to the late great Ray Charles. The lead vocalist was none other than Mr. Obie Jesse who was splendid in carrying on the legacy of Ray. The orchestra performed many of Ray’s unforgettable hit songs such as “Outskirts of Town”, “Let The Good Times Roll”, “Busted”, “You Don’t Know Me”, “What I Say”, “Georgia”, “I Got A Women”, “Hit The Road Jack”, and I Can’t Stop Loving You”.
Bob James also performed on Sunday. Vocalist Rachelle Farrell and Angie Stone closed out the festival on a rousing note. The 18th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival marked another milestone in attendance being the premier jazz festival in Southern California.