Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Beat Goes On At Long Beach Jazz Festival


By Darlene Donloe
The music was pumping and folks were swinging and swaying as the 26th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival kicked off its three-day music extravaganza Fri., Aug. 9, with performances by The Whispers, Everett Harp and Howard Hewett.  The festival ended Sun., August 11.

With a warm sun and a steady, light breeze flowing off the waters of Long Beach, thousands of jazz enthusiasts filled Rainbow Lagoon to hear some of today’s most popular music artists. The lineup for this year’s festival was a mix of Old Skool and New Skool. This year’s festival included a new Healthy Living and Wellness Pavilion.

This year’s festival, with the theme, ‘As The Beat Goes On,’ was dedicated to the legendary George Duke, who recently died after a battle with cancer.

Saturday’s funky roster kicked off with Mark Allen Felton followed by DW3.

Photo By Darlene Donloe

Singer Phil Perry, who appeared with saxophonist Kim Waters, paid homage to Duke by singing an interpretive song thanking the legendary pianist for the music and adding how much he would be missed.

His multi-octave range in good form, Perry administered what can only be called a master class.

Waters’ saxophone wafted over the crowd receiving boisterous approval.

Elle Varner, who looked fierce in a white/black tube dress performed an hour-long set that was satisfying and original. She told the crowd she got discovered as a hat check girl where she would play her guitar.  Varner the daughter of a mother who used to sing with Barry White and a father, James Varner, who is a songwriter, mixed it up singing up-tempo and occasionally slowing it down with some sexy little ditties.

She wowed the crowd with an original song called So Fly, which uplifts those women who don’t feel they measure up to the desires of men.  She went on to sing Not Tonight and bringing her father on stage to accompany her on keyboards. Dad wowed the crowd with his mastery of the ivories.  She ended the set with Refill.

Next up was The O’Jays and the party was on and crackin’.  As they easily moved in and out of their massive list of hits, no one could sit still to the stylings of the veteran group. 

The Old Skool trio opened the show in vibrant purple ensembles and swiftly glided into the uplifting Unity.  That was followed with tight precision choreography accompanied with a long list of their hits which included: Survival, Give The People What They Want, Everything Is Alright, Forever Mine, Stairway to Heaven, Love Train, Use Ta Be My Girl, For The Love of Money, Backstabbers and more.

Saxophonist Euge Groove closed out Saturday night with an hour-long set of crowd favorites.
Saxophonist Jeanette Harris and Al Williams Jazz Society, a sextet with an old school, New York edge, kicked off Sunday’s festival.

Photo By Darlene Donloe

Renowned bassist Stanley Clarke kicked the musical soiree into another gear.  Clarke dedicated his set to his friend and long time colleague George Duke. He was joined on stage by Howard Hewett, who was also friends with Duke. Hewett sang Duke’s Sweet Baby.

Photo By Darlene Donloe

“Losing George is very personal to me, says Hewett. “It’s a great loss to music and a loss to creativity. We still have his music, but we won’t hear any new music.”

Eric Benet had the women swooning with his sexual crooning. He got a rousing response when he sang, Spend My Life, a song he recorded 14 years ago with Tamia.

He also sang from The One, his sixth studio album, which is distributed on his own Jordan House Records.

Photo By Darlene Donloe

“I will start signing artists next year,” says Benet. “I started my record company because I wanted control. This is about creativity. I also wanted to give people a chance to showcase their creativity. I wanted to give people the opportunity to do their thing.”

The legendary Gladys Knight, who at the tender age of 69, rocked the stage in a funky white ensemble, showing off her new svelte frame.

Photo By Darlene Donloe

She started off her set with I Hope You Dance, then glided into You’re The Best Thing, Imagination, The Way We Were, Neither One Of Us, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, End of the Road and I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Knight’s brother, Bubba joined her on stage where he entertained the crowd with his fleet of foot dancing and his rendition of songs by Al Green and James Brown.

Poncho Sanchez, who performed at the very first Long Beach Jazz Festival, didn’t disappoint, serving up his hot Latin sounds. Many in the crowd began to salsa during his set, but left the area with a massive conga line.  It was the perfect way to end a music-filled weekend.

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