LONG BEACH-It’s all about that jazz. For three days, the city of Long Beach, like it has been for the last 29 years, was swamped with the infusion of great saxophone play, the rhythmic of sounds of the electric guitar and exceptional vocal fireworks.
The cool sounds of smooth jazz took over the 29th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival that would be hard to duplicate anywhere else. One would think that it would be hard to get mercurial talents like Dave Koz, David Sanborn, Everette Harp, Kirk Whalum, Rick Braun, The Rippingtons, Johnathan Butler, Paul Jackson Jr. and Kim Waters in the same space at the same venue.
Somehow, the Long Beach Jazz Festival, which has built itself up as a major player in the summer jazz concert platform in Southern California, manages to pull off this feat year after year. There’s a bit of a soul connection with the sounds of smooth jazz being intertwined with fans on an intimate level.
The music meets you in a good place. Anyone that showed up the annual 29th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival might be able vouch for that. All three days provided clarity to that thought. But if you attended the festival on Day 2, you were in store for a real treat. It was a day where one artist would follow behind an act and top off what the previous artist did.
Everette Harp brought his saxophone playing ways to the joint that got folks moving and bumping in their seats. The best way to describe Harp’s version of the smooth type of jazz he plays can be summed up in the word: swag.
Flexing biceps that would make Lou Ferrigno blush, Harp got the sun-drenched crowd up and moving as he played many of his more uptempo songs from the stage. The only disappointing thing about Harp’s set was the sax man not collaborating with Jeffrey Osborne, the day’s closing act, in performing “Jeri’s Song.”
If you never heard of “Jeri’s Song,” you haven’t been listening to good music. With Osborne as the featured vocalist on Harp’s “Common Ground” CD, “Jeri’s Song” takes you on a quiet intimacy quest with the better half you desire to be with.
Let’s put it like this: “Jeri’s Song” is not one of those songs you want to play when you’re kicking it with your buddies.
This writer was kind of hoping that Harp and Osborne would join forces on stage to perform this touching love song. That didn’t happen, but when it came to doing up the love songs theme, not too many folks can outdo Osborne.
Osborne, who made a name for himself as the leader singer for LTD, before marching into greater heights as a solo artist, can still hit the “A” note better than most. With a set that included an homage to the late and great George Duke, whom he credits with bolstering his solo career, Osborne revved up the audience with some of the ballads he made famous when he was a member of LTD.
Well, you might say that Osborne broke out the hits. Not all of them, but there were enough of his old songs to fill up Osborne’s hour and fifteen minutes set. Osborne first did his ode to relationships and marriage with the his single, “We’re Going All The Way,” before delving heavy into the LTD stuff.
Breaking out with “Concentrate on You,” “Where Did We Go Wrong,” and “Love Ballad,” Osborne, looking energized and sounding as good as he’s ever has, had the crowd swooning at every lyric he sung. The best part of the evening took place when Osborne, feeling a bit frisky, got off the stage and ran out into the audience to get some crowd participation with his “You Should Be Mine (Woo Woo)” song.
In between Osborne’s closing act and listening to Harp’s engaging saxophone, The Rippington’s, featuring Jeff Kashiwa, brought their refreshing sounds to the festival. The electric trio of Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun, better known collectively as BWB, gave Osborne a run for his money as top act of the day with their dynamic performance.
Norman and his guitar, Whalum and his saxophone, and the trumpeteer Braun, got the audience on its feet with their blend of Memphis blues, tangy jazz and electrified funk. One of the biggest and hidden gems were the artists performing on the JAZZTYME Stage. If you have not heard of the name Niki J Crawford, you will soon.
Hearing Crawford is like listening to a hurricane blending its thunderous roar into a serene rose petal. Crawford is like an explosion of perfect harmony with lasting vocal power. She is the real deal. Listening to her will make you stop in your tracks. It won’t be too long before Crawford steps out from the shadows into the national spotlight.
She may even be the headliner of the Long Beach Jazz Festival someday. That would be a win-win for both the city of Long Beach and for the festival.