HOLLYWOOD (News4usonline) – An immediate observation about the Hollywood Jazz Festival is that things are quite different these days at the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Jazz Festival used to run under the guise of the Playboy Jazz Festival.
The Playboy Jazz Festival was founded by Playboy Magazine icon Hugh Hefner. When Hefner passed in 2017, things changed afterward for Southern California’s best jazz event.
The festival was canceled altogether in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2021, the festival changed its name from being known as the Playboy Jazz Festival to the more stylized Hollywood Jazz Festival. The name change was not the only thing that left the building.
Checking out the festival on Day 1 of the two-day concert event ended up with some mixed results. As a smooth jazz enthusiast, what was clearly missing was the smooth in the jazz. The good thing about jazz, however, is that it is not bound up under one umbrella. It covers a wide gamut of musical liberties. The Roots anchored the first day of the 2022 Hollywood Jazz Festival. Good for them.
However, what seemed to be missing from the all-day concert was that dash of smooth jazz. No Dave Koz. No Boney James. No Gerald Albright. No Keiko Matsui. No Brian Culbertson. No Alex Bugnon. No Norman Brown. No Kirk Whalum.
As heralded as that group is with respect to each individual, the festival this year did not have that super heavy dose of artist talent. Then again, that’s the beauty of the jazz genre. Good music comes in any form from a whole lot of people and not the usual suspects. The performers that did participate in the Hollywood Jazz Festival tried to win over the audience by doing what they do.
Let’s take singer Veronica Swift as an example. And let’s make this clear: the lady has been blessed with an extraordinary level of vocal pipes. During her 30-minute plus set, Swift displays as much. Dressed like she was going out to an underground club in a revealing pinkish red outfit that flushed out to be more like a bathing suit than anything else, Swift unleashed her powerful singing voice.
Amid all of the punk rock and heavy metal theatrics she put out, Swift was just as effective with her uncanny ability to scat and push boundaries with her unmatched vocals.
There’s no question that Swift is a talent supreme. However, what confuses this writer is whether or not Swift wants to be a reincarnation of Janis Joplin or follow in the footsteps of a Dinah Washington or a young Pearl Bailey. Maybe she’s all three wrapped up in one bundle. Now the Azar Lawrence Experience came out with the right tone and flavor with their melodic sound.
Azar Lawrence is a homegrown product, having grew up and attending high school and putting down his musical roots in South Los Angeles. As he grew, so did his music. Eventually, Lawrence wound up hanging out and putting out some good jazz with the renowned McCoy Tyner. The music that the Azar Lawrence Experience played is a solid reminder of what this jazz festival used to sound like under its former moniker.
That’s not to dismiss the music that was provided by these other talented artists. It’s an indicator that its a different vibe. That’s not altogether a bad thing. Probably more interesting than anything else was the host of the Hollywood Jazz Festival. After years of comedian and actor Bill Cosby operating as the festival’s emcee, George Lopez took over the reins for a good run. This year’s host was funnyman and former talk show host Arsenio Hall.
Hall (Coming to America) brought his usual sassy humor to the show to help provide comedic relief. Hall is not as cleverly witty as Cosby and doesn’t have that in-your-face comedy as Lopez, but he does have a funny streak that can have you falling out of your chair when he is on. He sounded good and proved to be the right choice to step in for Lopez. Now on with the rest of the show and its summation.
To aptly put a ribbon on this bow of a show was the music of Fantastic Negrito. That name itself tells you to get ready for something different. He started his set with the song, “White Jesus, Black Problems.”
Fantastic Negrito has put out three albums. He has won three Grammys for those albums. The best way to describe the Oakland native sound is to say it is infused with grit and the social consciousness background he comes from.
That sound comes close to resembling the iconic music Sly and the Family Stone produced back in the 1960s and 1970s. As Sly and the Family Stone would say, “different strokes for different folks.” Fantastic Negrito gives you the option of taking his music or leaving it.
If you’re used to a combined revolutionary sound with that of some funk jazz, then you’re invited to the party. If not, this brother’s sound won’t be your speed. Like his name, his music is unique. Sure, this is a small sample from the collection of all the artists that performed during this year’s Hollywood Jazz Festival.
Besides the three artists highlighted here in this article, the festival was graced with appearances by Tower of Power, Gregory Porter, Carmen Lundy, and Femi Kuti & The Postitive Force, among the other acts. What Swift, the Azar Lawrence Experience and Fantastic Negrito represents is a new sound in town and it’s something to enjoy.
Featured Image: The Roots performing at the 2022 Hollywood Jazz Festival on June 25, 2022. Photo Credit: Mathew Imaging/Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
Dennis has covered and written about politics, crime, social justice, sports, and entertainment. Dennis currently covers the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, and Olympic sports. Dennis is the editor of News4usonline.com and serves as the publisher of the Compton Bulletin newspaper. He earned a journalism degree from Howard University.