Venue: Hollywood Bowl (Saturday, June 14-Sunday, June 15).
Throw in a couple of glorious big bands, and whatever else happens, you've got a jazz festival to remember. The Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl deposited just such a pair during the weekend, thus showing itself worthy of its 30th anniversary.
The Diva Jazz Orchestra touched on the accumulating history of jazz itself, not only with its classic, cooking charts but with an affectionate tribute to the late Tommy Newsom, the great unsung tenorman who was "Mr. Excitement" in the old "Tonight Show" band.
They called it "Rachel's Dream," after the Benny Goodman classic, but it sounded an awful lot like "Three Little Words," and it was played by clarinetist Janelle Reichman with remarkable warmth and a beautiful full sound.
The same words could be used for the band as a whole, driven by the leader Sherrie Maricle at the drums and Angeleno Jennifer Leitham on bass, with Tanya Darby on lead trumpet and Sharel Cassity on lead alto saxophone. They made Saturday's auditory reputation.
On Sunday, Roy Hargrove accomplished the task with a shockingly brilliant full band, loaded with killer soloists. The innovative charts rivaled those of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, sounding sometimes like Goodman, at others like Woody Herman and, on one long and thrilling number, like John Coltrane playing "Africa Brass."
John Clayton's son Gerald manned the keyboard, backing skybound solos by an alto player and a trombonist, not to mention the leader's trumpet work. The horn sections were precision ground, each of the three speaking as one voice. No infiltration was permitted.
Roberta Gambarini sang a couple of ballads but did not sound as happy as she had with the indefatigable James Moody and his savvy little combo, which featured Terence Blanchard on trumpet. They played Dizzy Gillespie's 60-year-old "Bebop" as enthusiastically as if they had just come across it this week.
Concerning the handkerchief-waggling tradition, it took place with but a little persuasion from Dr. John and his Lower 911. The doc waded through the swamp goo exuded by his funksters, undaunted by the massive destruction of his home place.
They floated by with "E La Bas," "Right Place Wrong Time" and other classics. Dr. John did mention that they needed a new second line down there.
The Sunday crowd found no need for hankie waggling during its ration of funk, delivered by Keb' Mo' with a beat that caused sufficient waggling in other quarters. Using his bright red electric guitar, he gave lessons in how to play the blues that Eric Clapton could profit by -- not that he doesn't profit enough already.
The topic of profit having been brought up, we come to Herbie Hancock, the Grammy-winning piano genius who gave the festivalgoers a sample from the disc that won him the prize this year. Sonya Kitchell and Amy Keys sang "I Wish I had a River," and Wayne Shorter contributed some very apt passages on his soprano saxophone. Paddling with him along the River of Possibilities -- bound for "Cantaloupe Island," of course -- were the able Dave Holland, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Chris Potter on bass, drums and saxophones, and for a mighty climax, an unstoppable airborne flock from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
Dee Dee Bridgewater told of her own journey to the Red Earth of Mali, accompanied by some footage of Africa on the Bowl's huge video screens. There were several duets from this album celebrating the ancient legacy of Africa, including one with Kabine Kouyate, dressed in tribal robes and singing a stirring 12th century piece, in English.
Bridgewater, sad to say, has declined in the vocal direction of Al Jarreau, who sang like a stuntman the night before.