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Jarreau and Moody Stand Out at Playboy Conference

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By Taylor Jordan

Everybody else at the Playboy Mansion was talking, but Al Jarreau was doing what he does best: singing.

Jarreau and legendary saxophonist James Moody were the highlights of the Feb. 27 press conference to announce the silver anniversary artists who will perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl June 14 and 15.

The presence of Moody, beloved for both his skills and his compassionate character for five decades, and multiple Grammy-winning vocalist Jarreau added an exciting edge to the simple reciting of those who will play the main stage on Father’s Day weekend at the bowl and Southern California venues for the free community concerts in May and June.

Moody, a stalwart master with amazing dexterity on alto, soprano and tenor saxophones, is best known for “Moody’s Mood for Love,” his improvisational twist on the jazz classic “I’m In The Mood For Love.”

Over the past 50 years, he has played with many of the legends who’ve played at Playboy jazz festivals and who have gone on to celestial ensembles. These include Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Hampton and Ray Brown.

Moody is obviously a seminal saxophonist of the bebop music when he puts the horn to his lips. But the reverence he receives from critics, fans and artists is always obvious when he shows up for a gig, be it at the little Mexican cafe owned by Jerry Casillas of San Bernardino, prestigious world stages or a bowl filled with nearly 8,000 devotees of Playboy Jazz Festival.

The adoration and respect given Moody didn’t wait for his arrival at the mansion.
As artists, reporters and producers waited for shuttle buses in a Wilshire Boulevard church parking lot, people crowded around Moody as soon as they saw him. He was equally warm with all, whether they were strangers or longtime friends.

Jarreau, who wowed Playboy’s 20th anniversary finale concert with fireworks and fine voice, stretched his vocal talents to his spoken communication. He sang in testimony to actress Victoria Rowell's beauty and in appreciation to Playboy producer George Wein.

He burst into the chorus of “C.C. Rider” when an adoring fan reminded him of his stupendous performance for the opening of the Kansas City Jazz Museum. He sang with the same bluesy enthusiasm that had 20,000 K.C. fans dancing in the street and hanging from the windows of nearby buildings.

And he burst into an awesome preview of “Take Five,” the classic signature piece he’ll perform with piano legend Dave Brubeck at Playboy this year, when Wein announced the dynamic duet to a burst of applause.

Everyone voiced amazement, including Hugh Hefner, Wein and Playboy public relations director Bill Farley, that the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles celebrates its 25th year in 2003. The festival will also launch the 50th anniversary celebration for Playboy magazine, created in 1953 by Hefner.

Jazz and Playboy have been joined at the hips and hearts since the inception of the magazine in 1953. The first issue featured a story on Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. Miles Davis was the subject of the first Playboy interview in September 1962. Since 1957, the Playboy Jazz All-Stars recordings have highlighted the best in the business, including Miles, Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Jack Teagarden, Frank Sinatra and famous others.

Jazz was not a background sound for Playboy clubs and television series. It was played live and well by such legends as Nat King Cole, Buddy Rich, Della Reese, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Cannonball Adderley.

The 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago presented three days of musical magic with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Bobby Darin. It was the first American indoor jazz festival. Approximately 68,000 fans paid $5.50 for five shows.

Trivia note: Playboy Jazz Festival President Richard Rosenzweig still has his 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival souvenir jacket. He wears it once a year, on Dizzy Gillespie’s birthday.

Twenty years later, Playboy Jazz Festival “came roaring back in Los Angeles,” Farley said. “It was to be a one-time event, but it was so incredible that here we are 25 years later.”

Chuck Niles, KKJZ disc jockey and the grandaddy of jazz radio, modestly sat on the back row at the press conference. For a few minutes, his tall, lanky form went unnoticed. He sat and surveyed the array of artists and watched the excitement of media reps scrambling for interviews and photographs. A quiet smile slowly shaped his lips and put sparkle in his eyes.

“This is one I definitely wanted to make because it’s the 25th,” Niles said about the annual press conference. “I’ve been here since the beginning. Who knew it would last this long?

“I’ve stuck with it because I live here in Los Angeles and I’ve been on jazz radio all these years,” Niles continued. “Jazz has allowed me to hang out with the greatest artists in the world. At the risk of sounding corny, jazz is part of my life, all my life.”

Niles lamented “the great ones” who’ve died, but he said death is a rite of passage no one escapes. Others, mentored by the legends and acknowledging the inroads into creativity made by those legends, are still coming, he said.

“I saw two last night who I think are two of the greatest I’ve ever seen,” Niles said. “It was Benny Green and Russell Malone. The first time I saw Russell was at the Playboy festival. And Green has also played Playboy several times. They were just incredible. God Almighty good!”

The 2003 silver show from 2:30 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, includes: Boz Scaggs, Boney James, Daniela Mercury, Dave Holland Quintet, Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band with special guest James Moody, Hiroshima, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Lizz Wright, Fanfare Ciocarlia and Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble.

Ndugu Chancler will lead the L.A. Home Grown All-Star Big Band, a Saturday aggregation that will include Paul Jackson Jr., Patrice Rushen, Tom Scott, Ernie Watts and others.

Besides Jarreau and the Brubeck quartet, the Sunday show from 2 to 10:30 p.m. features Roy Haynes Quartet, King Sunny Ade and African Beats, Issac Delgado, Bobby Rodriguez Salsa Orchestra and the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. Richard Elliott, Peter White, Jeff Golub and Steve Cole will perform as Guitars and Saxes.

The Cos of Good Music VIII, master musicians hand-picked by perennial Playboy Jazz master of ceremonies Bill Cosby, includes Chancler on drums, bassist Dwayne Burno, tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Harold Mabern, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and alto saxophonist Keschia Lynn Potter.

The Sunday lineup lastly features the Dave Brubeck Institute Quartet: saxophonist Tommy Morimoto, trumpeter Anthony Coleman III, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown.
Farley warned festival tickets are sold out to the $32.50 level. Interested fans must act now, he said. Tickets and information: (310) 449-4070 and www.playboy.com/arts-entertainment and, after May 4 if tickets are still available, at Ticketmaster or the Hollywood Bowl box office.

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