In its 36th year the Playboy Jazz Festival shows no signs of slowing down. Every year the festival brings in Jazz legends, upcoming artists, and major stars spanning the realm of Jazz. For over 30 years legendary comic Bill Cosby was the master of ceremonies and handed over duties to actor/comedian George Lopez last year who also handled the duties this year. Just before 3:00 PM Lopez took the stage to welcomed the audience and announce the first band of the day; the LAUSD Beyond The Bell Jazz Band. The band is under the direction of Tony White and J.B. Dyas. From the sound of the band there was no way to tell these musicians were all teenagers as they all played very professionally. It was a nice start with middle school and high school students since they are the future of Jazz. To keep the festival moving the stage would rotate immediately after each performance as Lopez hosted each group and then they would start playing. Once a band ended the next one came on right after which kept the festival running smoothly and on time which allowed for 10 groups to fill 11 hours without stopping. 2014 is not only the 36th year of the festival, but it is also 75 years of Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl. The background of the stage was embellished with iconic Playboy Bunny logo which lit up at night as well as a neon sign hanging from the stage. If there was one word to describe the first day it would be swingin’. The festival represented a broad array of Jazz from Big Band to Vocal Jazz to Straight-Ahead Jazz to New Orleans Jazz to Jazz/Fusion.
Following the LAUSD band was The New Jump Blues featuring Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas (Starsky and Hutch, Foxy Brown, Everybody Hates Chris…). This set was 35 minutes long. New Jump Blues included a tribute to the late Etta James. The next group was the Tia Fuller (Beyonce) Quartet which has 3 of the best female jazz musicians. Next up was the soulful Allen Stone, who played for 45 minutes/ At 27, Stone may have been the youngest artist over the weekend. Although Stone isn’t quite Jazz, it was a great transition from Jazz to Soul. By the time Stone took the stage, most of the crowd was seated, but they didn’t stay in their seats too long when he was jumping around the stage to get the crowd going. Although Stone just came to fame in the past 2-3 years, it seems like he’s been around much longer with his great vocals and songwriting. The funniest part of the day was when Stone said “Did you remember to bring sunscreen? Man I’m pale as sh*t.” At 5:35 was one the greatest pianists in Jazz; Kenny Barron with his trio and Ravi Coltrane. Barron was more straight ahead Jazz and instrumental where the performances prior had vocals. Just last week Barron turned 71. By the time Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 took the stage at 6:25 it had finally cooled down but was still bright out. They brought the New Orleans Jazz sound to the festival. During their performance the 5-piece horn section and violinist walked down the catwalk which separates the pool circle from the garden boxes. Up next was one of the greatest vocalists in Jazz; Diane Reeves. Reeves opened with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and half through performed a cover of Bob Marley “Waiting In Vain” was on for 50 minutes. Reeves announced her fantastic band by singing their names. Following Reeves was Jazz-pop singer Jamie Cullem. Cullem had a big slot between Diane Reeves and the Arturo Sandoval Big Band. Cullem even came into the audience to sing and took an audience members bunny ears and wore them. The Arturo Sandoval Big Band had two special guest vocalists Patti Austin and the daughter of composer Henry Mancini, Monica Mancini. Sandoval had a film made about him in 2000 in which Andy Garcia portrayed Sandoval. Garcia played with Sandoval that night on bongos. Sandoval and his big band brought the Latin-Jazz which had the crowd up and dancing. By this time you could see all the light-up bunny ears from front to back. Sandoval and Austin traded off scat-singing. At 9:40 there was one final performance to close out the first day of the festival. This performance was a tribute to the legendary George Duke who played on the same stage just a year earlier at the festival and passed away less then 2 months later and just a year before Duke lost his wife Corine who he was married to over 40 years. To honor Duke, an incredible band assembled by John Beasley (Miles Davis, Steely Dan, James Brown) of George Duke alumni played. The musicians were Ndugu Chancler-Percussion and vocals (Weather Report, Michael Jackson), Paul Jackson Jr.-Guitar (Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston…), Greg Phillinganes-Keys and vocals (Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder…), Byron Miller (Herbie Hancock, Chaka Kahn, Marvin Gaye…), Lil John Roberts (Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Jeff Lorber…), Stanley Clarke (Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Return to Forever) with vocalist Josie James of the original George Duke Band and the legendary Al Jarreau. Diane Reeves came out to sing as well. This is a performance to be talked about for weeks to come. The tribute Duke had it all some of the best musicians anywhere, great solos, soul, and funk. The first day ended at 10:50 and started again Sunday at 3:00 P.M. as well. After the show ended George Lopez came out in a Kings jersey which had the crowd cheering even more. George Lopez ended with saying “We love Duke, we love Playboy, and we love the L.A. Kings. Present was Duke’s family which were shown on the big screens.