Playboy Jazz Fest ramps up

Bill Cosby marking 28th year as event MC

Jazz bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and soul/funk outfit Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are among the seven acts making their debut appearance at the 2009 Playboy Jazz Festival. Now in its 31st year, the annual festival will be held June 13-14 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Back for his 28th year as master of ceremonies is Bill Cosby.

Among other festival performers announced during a press conference at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion are the Wayne Shorter Quarter, Kenny G, Patti Austin, Jon Faddis, the Neville Brothers and the Pete Escovedo Orchestra (featuring his children Sheila E., Peter Michael and Juan). A special tribute to the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis' landmark, best-selling jazz album "Kind of Blue" is set for Saturday, June 13. Leading the salute is Jimmy Cobb, who is making his festival debut and is the only surviving member from the original recording.

Also making his festival debut is Quincy Jones' new protege Alfredo Rodriguez. Jones first encountered the 23-year-old Cuban pianist/producer/musical director during a performance at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival. Rodriguez has since defected to the U.S. and was granted political asylum in 2008.

Describing Rodriguez as having the "potential to be one of the most prolific pianists of the 21st century," Jones also talked about his campaign to have the Obama administration establish a new cabinet post: secretary of the arts. He plans to travel to Washington, D.C. for a meeting on May 4 with petition signatures in hand. As of Feb. 26, the online petition site lists 237,162 signatures.

"Music [should be] an educational fundamental like reading, writing and math," says Jones. "Music engages both intellect and emotion; it's a leveling influence. We have some of the most fascinating music history in the world and many kids don't know that."