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Touring the Mother Road

Visiting Santa Barbara

The Playboy Jazz Festival happening at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on June 10th and 11th is often criticized as being formulaic and unadventurous.  It can be predictable and some artists seem to appear there every year. For the 2017 edition there are a few crowd favorites on the lineup such as soul-jazz vocalist Gregory Porter, contemporary/funk-fusion bassist Marcus Miller and Latin jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who all never fail to generate excitement at the festival.

Significantly, this year there is a wide range of variety with 20 different performers, including a high school and a college ensemble and even a few “only at Playboy” occasions. Foremost among them is Celebrating Bobby Hutcherson, Stefon Harris, Musical Director with special guests Roy Ayers and Warren Wolf. Grammy-nominated Harris, a dynamic and also very personable vibraphonist, who studied classical musical with ambitions of being a member of the New York Philharmonic, was strongly influenced by Hutcherson. He passed away last year and was a superstar of the instrument with a zest for playing and captivated audiences during his many performances at Playboy.

“Bobby was one of my all-time heroes,” Harris cited from his home in New York. “I’m really looking forward to paying tribute to such an amazing icon.” The vibraphonist/marimba player previously performed in honor of Hutcherson last fall in Los Angeles. However, this tribute will be on a much larger scale. He explains, “We put together a great band that includes Eric Harlan on drums, Josh Crumbly on bass, and the great Patrice Rushen on piano. The vibraphonists will be myself, Roy Ayers, Warren Wolf and an incredible young player named Joel Ross. So it’s really going to showcase Bobby’s influence across generations.”  

Harris is definitely the guiding spirit for the project and plans to include some of Hutcherson’s most popular compositions, possibly “Highway One,”  “West 22nd Theme” and “Ummh.” At the same time the bandleader stressed that he wants each of his fellow vibe players to have a sense of ownership and that it will be their moment to pay homage to the icon in the manner that suits each of them best, while also being a collaborative effort. At least from Harris’ standpoint only Hutcherson’s originals or tunes he was best known for will be performed.

“A lot of it has to do with the playing of course, but it’s also in words,” the bandleader emphasized. “I’m looking forward to being able to stand up in front of an audience and tell the world how much this man meant to me, not only as a musician, but as a man. He was an amazing mentor who allowed me to watch him record in the studio. Every time I showed up at concerts he and Rosemary (Hutcherson’s wife) were so incredibly kind and encouraging to me.  Many people just think about the instrument, but Bobby’s gift transcended it by far. He was an incredible composer and an artist in the broadest sense. I feel fortunate to have spent time with him and am eternally grateful.”

From a vastly different perspective is all-women ensemble The DIVA Jazz Orchestra led by drummer Dr. Sherrie Maricle. This will be the band’s third appearance at Playboy and the last time was in 2004.  “Very, very excited and its one of those sterling moments, like playing Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center or any of the great concert venues, always a thrill to be playing at the Hollywood Bowl,” exclaimed Maricle during a break from practicing in Pennsylvania. Her band was conceived by Stanley Kay, who died in 2014, and previously managed Maricle’s idol drummer Buddy Rich. It was based on women big bands from the ‘40’s (documented in Judy Chaikin’s film The Girls in The Band). After initially picking Maricle he went on a nationwide search for other female players of her caliber and formed the 15-person band in 1992.

“In this day and age with a big band it’s hard work to keep working,” Maricle noted. “But we’re always fueled by the excitement and energy of the music that’s fun and wonderful to play. We’ve created an amazing library with hundreds and hundreds of originals arrangements and compositions that helps us connect with audiences. We’re very mainstream and straight-ahead, rooted in the concert big band tradition like Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman. That’s kind of the model for us and then we take it to another level with our own twists and turns.”

The band is like a family and many of the players are longtime members. Lisa Whittaker on lead trumpet has been in the band as long as Maricle, while others such as Jami Dauber also on trumpet have been members for 20 years. Like any musical group people move on to do other projects and some of the notable past band mates have been reedist Anat Cohen and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Also some of the players have family obligations, move and two of them were in military bands as well.

The bandleader though made sure to mention that men have been in DIVA too. Maricle recalled, “For a minute there we had Anat’s brother Avishai in the band with us because I loved the way he played.” There is no hard-cast rule about men but the drummer-leader first and foremost wants women to get opportunities to be professional jazz musicians. “We love playing with each other, been together so long and there’s no reason to change it. Musically, we’re energetic and powerful, but mixed with the right amount of finesse.

“We’ll probably do “Special K” in honor of the founder and at least one of his tunes such as “Did You Do That?” featuring our tenor sax players, a clarinet feature for Janelle Reichman who always brings the house down and naturally something with a drum solo. Our music is accessible to listeners, yet challenging and fun for the players—we’re going to swing like crazy and if there was a roof we’d swing if off!”

JUNE 10TH, 2017
    •    Marcus Miller with special guest Rahsaan Patterson Including a Salute to Al Jarreau
    •    Corinne Bailey Rae
    •    TajMo': The Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' Band
    •    HUDSON with Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield
    •    Arturo Sandoval Latin Big Band
    •    Celebrating Bobby Hutcherson, Stefon Harris, Musical Director with special guests Roy Ayers and Warren Wolf
    •    Jacob Collier
    •    The Django Festival Allstars
    •    The California Honeydrops
    •    CSULB Pacific Standard Time Vocal Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Christine Guter

JUNE 11TH, 2017
    •   Gregory Porter
    •    Common
    •    Lalah Hathaway
    •    The Kenny Garrett Quintet with JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble, Pat Taylor, Artistic Director - A World Premiere Collaboration
    •    Miles Mosley & The West Coast Get Down
    •    Carl Allen & The Art of Elvin
    •    The DIVA Jazz Orchestra
    •    Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles
    •    Hamilton De Holanda Trio
    •    The LAUSD/Beyond the Bell All-City Jazz Big Band under the direction of Tony White and J.B. Dyas

George Lopez, master of ceremonies

Playboy Jazz Festival
June 10-11, 2017
Hollywood Bowl
2301 Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(323) 850-2000