Playboy Jazz Festival

[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly]

We had a helluva weekend at the Playboy Jazz Festival. There was some great jazz, and killer funk, and Eddie Palmieri was so freaking great he blew our minds. Jackson Brown even read an awful poem. Finally Buddy Guy had people getting naked everywhere, even some critics we won’t mention. We were humming along and writing this column when a conga line driven mad by the jungle beat went berserk and burst into the press section, scattering reporters and papers and setting laptops on fire. We lost everything. Even our parasol. But someone handed us some rolling papers and we managed to scrawl some quick notes:      

Oscar Hernandez & the LA-NY Connection are at Vitello’s on Thursday. Hernandez plays such mean piano with those perfect solos for great Latin jazz, and saxist Justo Almario and bassist Rene Camacho are also in this smoking band. As good a follow up to the Eddie Palmieri set at Playboy as you’ll find this week. Maybe you remember Hernandez winning a pair of Grammy’s for his Spanish Harlem Orchestra (who have a local gig coming up, too—details next week.) And like Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez is pissed as hell about the Grammy’s deciding there’s no such thing as Latin Jazz. But we talked about that in another article.

The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach is about as historic as a jazz spot can get in this town. It still cooks on weekends in 11 a.m.-3 p.m. slot, but ya gotta get up sometime. This weekend there’s a pair of drummer led combos reflecting two great LA jazz traditions. On Saturday Donald Dean’s quartet features tenor George Harper and bassist Nedra Wheeler, a musical genealogy that can be traced a couple generations back to Central Avenue, through a lot of Trane feeling, and a looser, bluesier bop. On Sunday it’s the classic west coast jazz sound that once called the Lighthouse home. The drummer is scene veteran Dick Weller, with some nice horns up front—saxist Tom Peterson, trumpeter Clay Jenkins and trombonist Ira Nepus. Lotsa bop too, but with some very tight and well read ensemble skills. It’s summer in Hermosa Beach and the scenery outside is gorgeous, and 11 a.m. is a perfect time for the hair of the dog that bit you the night before. And we were going to wax poetic here but were invited to Hef’s big band orgy backstage. 

Later in the press box sipping champagne and nibbling caviar we thought about how Charlie O’s is in the middle of the boring old San Fernando Valley where there’s no scenery at all. We’ve looked. But inside they have killer sax cat Charles Owens on Friday, backed by the John Heard Trio. Owens’ sax playing is a joy. Without aping Trane he nails him, he runs crazy around all the fifties and sixties greats, plays mean blues and some fine originals, too. We could go on about him forever and would have too but got distracted as a smooth jazz set turned into bloody fist fight in the middle of “Feeling So Good”. Cosby tried to break it up and got beaned by a soprano saxophone. Hef finally called in his security girls and things settled down. But just as we were about to tell you about the brilliant pianist Theo Saunders being at Charlie O’s on Thursday, we were knocked unconscious by a beach ball.

After Hef’s personal nurses revived us with smelling salts and feathers we remembered that pianist Josh Nelson is at the Blue Whale on Saturday. Nelson has that kind of  refined graceful style and you could imagine him saying the hell with all this and switching to Chopin permanently without missing a beat. Problem is he just thrives on improvisation (you should see him cut loose on a boozy weekend night at the Foundry), and the blend of that European melodic structure and the jazz-going-nuts stuff and very original compositions does it for us. He has a nice quartet with him—guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle. A good one. And on Wednesday Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday. No one gets naked at Wynton’s gigs, and beach balls are removed by security, but we love his trumpet playing, it’s drop dead gorgeous on ballads, hot as hell when the band is cooking. Best of all saxman Joe Lovano is featured. Very highly recommended.  And two great jazz nights at the Café 322 in Sierra Madre this week, with the always recommended saxist Javier Vergara on Wednesday and trumpeter Elliott Caine’s quintet on Thursday. Caine always rocks this joint. Both nights will be solid jazz at a great venue. No cover. 

OK, that’s it. We did have a whole bunch more picks written down as usual, we swear, but we took them to the Playboy Jazz Festival and someone ate them. Or smoked them. Or rubbed them all over their body. Something. Jazz fans are scary sometimes.

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