The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza was cracking Sunday afternoon when the Playboy Jazz Festival selected this venue, as it does every year, to host one of its free community concerts.
The energy was high among the hundreds of people attending the event. Anyone from 8 to 80 could be found there in a linen suit or sundress.
“We’re waiting for Patrice Rushen!” said one of the partygoers still standing in line. “I’ve been listening to her music for years; that sista is talented.”
The adoration of the gifted Rushen was an obvious indicator why the enthusiastic came out to show their support for the annual event. They came out to hear good music. Rushen, Paul Jackson Jr. and Ndugu Chancler gave them what they wanted.
The crowd continued to grow as the silky voice of radio personality Adai Lamar from local radio station KJLH, echoed throughout the lot.
As Lamar played many popular ‘Old School’ songs to keep the audience company before the trio of stars did their thing, a group of youngsters from the Harmony Project came on stage to perform.
One of the highlights of their performance was from an autistic high school-aged young man named Adam. When his music sheets blew away, it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.
“He just kept on playing as if it never happened,” said one the organizers. “It’s okay, though, because the kids work really hard at a craft that is difficult for most adults to understand.”
As they left the stage, I had a chance to talk to Mr. Walden, the group organizer. Walden said he was pleased with the group’s performance.
“Harmony Project is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide free instruments and free lessons to students. We practice every Saturday at the Barbara Morrison Club–anyone interested should come check us out.”
The Jazz Classics Trio was in effect. Paul Jackson Jr., the guitarist, was dressed to the nines and ready to go on stage.
Jackson, a regular on “The Tonight Show,” briefly shared with us what type of musical projects he’s been working on lately.
“Well, you know, God has been good,” Jackson said. “You can find me, of course, on the Tonight Show. I’ve also been working on a Jeff Roberson record, and a new record for myself which is scheduled to come out by the beginning of this year.”
On his left was the beautiful Rushen, dressed in a cute black and green ensemble with twisted braids, gold hoop earrings, and stunning shades to match. It was evident that the queen had arrived.
And my man Ndugu was looking as fly as ever in a white dashiki pants suit with blue trim, all smiles, and ready to perform. As the three artists hit the stage the crowd went crazy with applause and shouts of admiration, shouting out “We love you!!”
Among those mingling in the crowd was MC Doug E. Fresh, who took in the concert before getting on a flight out of town. The longtime rapper said he liked what he saw.
“There’s a nice atmosphere here,” Fresh said. “This is cool.”
At the end of the two hour funk and jazz session, Rushen, Jackson and Ndugu all sat down and signed autographed CDs for their fans.
Welcoming his fans to the table, Ndugu was clearly enjoying the interaction with the audience.
“To be able to carve out a living and a career doing [music] something that you really enjoy doing is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone,” he said.
When asked about her feelings concerning artists sampling her music, Rushen replied, “Well, there’s a part of me that’s usually very flattered because they always do something that’s kind of interesting, but there’s also another part of me that says I’m sorry that they feel they have to do that, because they could be playing it.”
Rushen is a musical genius. A keyboardist extraordinaire, Rushen is a prolific singer, songwriter, arranger, and musical director who has had several Top Ten R&B hits, including “Haven’t You Heard,” “Forget Me Nots,” “Feels So Real,” and “Watch Out.”
Rushen is also the Chair of the Popular Music Program at USC and the Ambassador For Artistry In Education at Berkley College of Music. She is married and has two children.
Ndugu can be found playing the timbales at the Morongo Casino for the Santana Band tribute on June 29, 2013.
The Playboy Jazz Festival will be held June 15-16, 2013 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. For more information you can go to www.playboyjazzfestival.com.