By Darlene Donloe
Smooth jazz enthusiasts by the thousands converged on Long Beach’s Rainbow Lagoon Park last weekend (Aug. 12-14) to attend the 29th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival (LBJF). This year’s theme was “A Healthy Taste of Jazz.”
Under the direction of Kimberly Benoit, president of Rainbow Promotions, LLC, the annual three-day event kicked off Friday night with a warm breeze and a three-quarter moon glowing in a clear Long Beach sky.
The opening night artists included Major, Althea Rene, Elan Trotman, Euge Groove, Peter White, Paul Taylor, Jonathan Butler and Gerald Albright. Butler and Albright, who performed together and separately, were last minute replacements for Michael Franks, who was ill with a flu that left him unable to travel and perform.
Albright wowed with his hit, Champagne Life, while the appreciative crowd applauded Butler’s set which included his hits, Lies, Sarah Sarah, and Do You Love Me.
The lineup kept the 2,000+ revelers swinging, swaying, dancing and singing.
R&B singer Major, whose CD is called i am MAJOR, opened his set with Hit The Road, followed by Serendipity.
He told the crowd how only a few years earlier, he dreamed of performing on the Long Beach Jazz Festival stage.
“A couple of years ago I heard about the Long Beach Jazz Festival,” said Major, who honed his craft at the Berkelee College of Music. “I saw myself here. I saw myself on that stage. This is a part of an evolution for an artist. This is the kind of thing you want to get off your bucket list.”
Saxophonist Elan Trotman kept the crowd on its feet with Trade Winds and his take on Bill Withers’ Lovely Day.
Trotman and flutist Althea Rene shared the stage for several songs, including Robin Thicke’s popular Blurred Lines.
During her set, Rene came off the stage and wound her way through the audience, never missing a note.
“I had a great time,” said Rene after finishing her set. “This is a festival I’ve never done. I love performing for new audiences and going places I’ve never been.”
LBJF Consultant Al Williams said when putting the festival together, the focus of the producers is to gradually increase the enthusiasm with each day’s lineup.
“You have to build a crescendo every day,” said Williams. “We’ve been successful every year doing it that way.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia was in attendance. He spoke of the economic impact the festival has on the city.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia
“The Long Beach Jazz Festival is very important to the city,” said Garcia. “It’s a great event that brings jazz fans from all over to Long Beach to enjoy the city. The restaurants, the hotels and everyone benefits from the full weekend of music. The festival has a great impact on the city’s economic development.”
Paul Jackson Jr.
Paul Jackson Jr.
(photo by Jaime Perry)
Saturday’s lineup included Mindless Groove, Paul Jackson Jr., Everette Harp, The Rippingtons, BWB (Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun) and the legendary Jeffrey Osborne.
Guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., was a crowd favorite, playing several hits from his vast discography.
Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun, known as BWB when they tour together, kicked the musical soiree into another gear.
(l-r) Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun
The trio opened with a rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, followed by Make My Funk The P-Funk and Gonna Have A Funky Good Time. Brown played a medley of hits from his CD, After the Storm.
“We all enjoy working together,” said Brown. “The relationship we all have is true.”
“We have been in awe of each other’s talents for many years,” said Braun. “Even when we’re not playing together, we follow up and keep in touch. Then when we see each other, it’s like we saw each other yesterday.”
“We love playing together because we have the same musical influences,” said Whalum. “The music reflects that. It reflects the fact that we love playing together.”
Osborne, who was Saturday’s headliner, made his first appearance at the Long Beach Jazz Festival with a set that included many of his memorable, old school hits.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” said Osborne, who told his fans to look for a new CD from him in January. “Finally, I’m here.”
Showing off an enviable physique, Osborne, 68, donned in a light blue striped summer suit, rocked the stage and had the women swooning as he made his way through his solo hits and the hits of his former group, L.T.D. His selections included, On The Wings Of Love, Holding On, Where Did We Go Wrong, Concentrate On You, We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love, Love Ballad and You Should Be Mine.
During his set Osborne paid tribute to his friend, the late George Duke, by singing Duke’s hit, Reach For It. Osborne said he has vowed to “never do a show without mentioning George Duke.”
Osborne said Duke, who died in 2013, produced all of his hit songs.
Osborne’s ballad-filled, yet high-energy set was the perfect way to cap a music-filled day.
Smooth jazz artists on Sunday’s bill included Richard “88 Fingers” Turner Jr., The Al Williams Jazz Society with special guests Najee and Barbara Morrison, Stanley Jordan, The Sax Pack (Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole and Kim Waters), Kenny Lattimore, Michael Lington and headliners Dave Koz and David Sanborn.