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Playboy in Pasadena Showcases Jazz at New Site

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By Taylor Jordan

Musically ambidextrous flutist Hubert Laws and Latin jazz giant Poncho Sanchez will headline the free Playboy Jazz Festival community concert at Old Pasadena Summer Fest on Memorial Day weekend.

The three-day affair, now considered Pasadena’s second largest community event, has grown to more than 100,000 veteran and new jazz patrons. The weekend musical event, surpassed by only the Tournament of Roses parade, will be held in the larger Brookside Park to accommodate the increasingly popular program Saturday, Sunday and Monday, May 29, 30, and 31.

The spacious Brookside Park is located just south of the Rose Bowl and adjacent to the Pasadena Aquatic Center. The new venue offers jazz fans more accessible parking, comfortable seating and room for additional attractions, exhibits and restaurants.

“When the Playboy Jazz Festival first joined forces with the Old Pasadena Summer Fest, we wondered if we could actually fill the audience area at Central Park for two, then three, days each year,” said Bill Farley, Playboy Enterprises Inc. marketing events vice president.

“As it turned out, we were a big part of the summer fest success story and soon Central Park was stretched to its limit,” he added.

The final free performance of Playboy Jazz Festival precedes the free June 17 Jazz on Film evening to be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the paid festival June 19 and 20 at the Hollywood Bowl. It is expected to draw even larger crowds with Laws and Sanchez performing and Southern California motorists driving shorter distances to protest raising gasoline prices.

Admission is free. Parking is available for $5 in the lot off Arroyo Boulevard. Food, beverages, rides and interactive games range from $1.25 to $10. A portion of the food and beverage sales will benefit the Education Careers Academy, Marshall Fundamental School and the Pasadena Scholarship Committee. No coolers, picnic baskets, glass containers, alcoholic beverages, audio recorders, video cameras, barbecues or dogs are permitted. Patrons may bring their own beach chairs.

Additional information: (310) 449-4070 or www.playboy.com/arts-entertainment.

Laws is the second of eight musically inclined siblings and part of the third generation of musical Laws. His grandfather, a harmonica player, performed as a one-man band. His father sang and his mother played gospel piano. The Laws house in Houston was filled with a variety of music, creating a ripe environment for Hubert, brother and saxophonist Ronnie and singing sisters Eloise and Debra to choose careers in the music industry.

Flute was not the first instrumental choice for young Hubert who initially played the mellophone and alto sax. He switched to the flute as a high school teen, playing rhythm and blues until he was introduced to jazz. He first performed the traditional music created by African Americans in a Houston ensemble with pianist Joe Sample, tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder, trombonist Wayne Henderson and drummer Stix Hooper. This group of childhood friends evolved into the Jazz Crusaders.

Laws was also introduced to classical music while still in high school. He played in the school’s concert band and his skills also allowed him to perform with the Houston Youth Symphony. He left Texas Southern University to follow his Jazz Crusaders’ buddies to Los Angeles and gigged with the group until he received a scholarship to Juilliard School of Music. He balanced daytime studies and nighttime work with such legendary artists as Mongo Santamaria, Lloyd Price and Modern Jazz Quartet pianist/composer John Lewis. He also recorded with Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Bob James and George Benson.

Laws is credited as one of the musicians who popularize the flute in jazz music. He also stretched his musical limits into classical work as a premier artist with the Metropolitan Opera Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. He gained even greater notoriety as a solo jazz artist and performing with classical flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal.

Sanchez, a Southland artist who first gained international attention as Cal Tjader’s percussionist, has a reputation for versatility and a riveting conga drummer capable of skillfully playing Latin jazz riffs, old school James Brown soul, salsa, Afro-Cuban, mambo, pop, rhythm and blues and even polkas. His dexterity earned him the respectful title of El Conguero.

Sanchez has also been featured as a special guest performing with The Crusaders. He was heavily influenced by Latin jazz greats Willie Bobo and Cal Tjader as well as the legendary Charlie “Bird” Parker. He honored Tjader, his musical mentor, with the 1995 album “Soul Food,” a tribute also featuring the talents of Tito Puente, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Harris, then celebrated The Crusaders with the album “Freedom Sound.”

He began playing professionally as a teenager, but his big break came when he was discovered by Tjader. He toured with the Latin jazz vibraphonist from 1975 until Tjader’s untimely death in 1982. He performed and recorded with Clare Fischer, Carmen McRae and Woody Herman before forming his own band. He was among the successful stable musicians on the Discovery label, then moved to Concord Picante, the Latin jazz label for Concord Jazz Records. He received his first Grammy nomination while with Concord Picante.

The Saturday lineup for Playboy Jazz Festival in Pasadena includes Laws, Karina Nuvo, Tres-Dos Latin jazz Band, Blue Vision with blues pianist Greg Weins, Thomas Tedesco and South Pasadena High School Jazz Band.

Paul Jackson, Jr., the Henry Mora Orchestra, MALT, Sounds of New Orleans, Rogelio Mitchell and Crenshaw High School Jazz Band are featured Sunday.

Monday performers include Sanchez, Paul Brown, Dale Fielder Group/Force, Zac Harmon, Cathy Segal-Garcia and North Hollywood High School Jazz Band.

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