Everything that glitters does not turn into gold. One exception is the Long Beach Jazz Festival that takes place every year for the past 26 years on the lovely oceanfront of Long Beach, California. Jazz festivals come and go every summer. Every one of these festivals has a different theme and audience it caters to.
There is the smooth jazz crowd. There are those who love and enjoy listening to the nostalgia of big band music. Sometimes you get a combination of both worlds.
The unique thing about the Long Beach Jazz Festival is how organizers are able to drop in the new to go along with the old. The Long Beach Jazz Festival is not just one type of music platform. It is a one-stop shop for smooth jazz, old-school, modern R&B and a dash of blues for music lovers.
This year was no exception at the 26th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival as iconic performers such as Gladys Knight and The O’Jays hit the stage as well as soulful R&B crooners Eric Benet and Howard Hewett and smooth jazz specialists Kim Waters and Euge Groove.
Instead of giving you all of the intricate details about the three-day event we decided to highlight 5 reasons why everyone should mark attending the Long Beach Jazz Festival on their calendar’s to-do list every summer.
5. Elle Varner. Young, hot, beautiful and rocking a voice that can cut right through any wind current, Varner impressed with a high energy performance that got the mostly older crowd into feeling her modern R&B vibe. Backed by a strong musical background, Varner made believers out of doubters who may have thought she may have been a little too wet behind the ears to take the same stage alongside many of the other prominent acts of the show. Varner did more than hold her own. She revved up the crowd and nearly stole the show on the second day of the festival. By having this young star in the lineup, the appeal of Long Beach Jazz Festival got a little bit wider.
4. Sentimental Reasons. Part of attending jazz festivals is that audiences get an opportunity to catch up with some of their favorite artists live and in person. The Long Beach Jazz Festival is the home of variety for festival goers. Part of the experience is having artists that re-capture a time for some of those trying to re-kindle fire on what yesterday used to be. Having singing sensations Howard Hewett, Phil Perry and Eric Benet out front and center crooning love songs was certainly the apple in many female attendees’ eyes. That kind of sentimentality gave this year’s festival a two thumbs up in knowing its audience and what the crowd was looking for. Hewett brought out his legion of fans that have known him since his Shalamar days. Perry is what you may call music’s Renaissance Man, blending the sweet sounds of his high-octave voice seamlessly between smooth jazz and stately R&B. Of course, Benet and his “Chocolate Legs” and “Spend My Life With You” banter was a stupendous hit with the women.
3. Audience Redemption. Great scene, awesome environment for a jazz festival. The Long Beach Jazz Festival couldn’t be at a better location than at the gorgeous Rainbow Lagoon Park. The mostly older crowd is an extension of the three-day concert it attends: beautiful.
2. George Duke. The recent passing of Duke-the great jazz fusion, funk and R&B songwriter and keyboardist-brought a lot of sentimentality to this year’s festival. Responsible for mega-hits “Sweet Baby” and No Rhyme, No Reason,” Duke was a master in the jazz genre. His influence on so many artists is wide-ranging. That was evident at this year’s Long Beach Jazz Festival when a plethora of performers gave tribute to Duke, who passed away from leukemia at the age of 67. Soul balladeer Howard Hewett and Stanley Clarke teamed up to perform and emotionally-charged “Sweet Baby” on the final day of the weekend concert. The day before, Phil Perry and saxophonist Kim Waters delivered a moving “No Rhyme, No Reason” homage to Duke.
1. Icons. There is something to be said about old school. It’s another matter to talk about legends and icons. Gladys Knight and The O’Jays cover both worlds. Together, Knight and the revered trio that make up The O’Jays, symbolizes what great music is all about. There will never be another Gladys Knight. Nor will we see the likes of The O’Jays ever again. That is the sad news. The great news is that whenever you get an opportunity to see history, take advantage of it. Knight and The O’Jays are living history. That history made its way down to the Long Beach Jazz Festival to the delight of attendees. They certainly delighted in the performance of The O’Jays. The three-member group of Walter Williams, Eddie LeVert and Eric Nolan had folks running up to the stage, dancing in the isles and getting dizzy in delirium over some of The O’Jays greatest hits, including Backstabbers, For the Love of Money, Forever Mine and I Love Music. They almost had me running to the stage, but I had to remind myself that I was working so I couldn’t get wild and loose like I wanted to. That is what listening and appreciating good music do to you. It is an out-of-body experience that is like no other.