“I’m not going to call this a melting pot; we’re cooler than that,” host George Lopez shouted out to the Playboy Jazz Festival audience following drummer Carl Allen’s well-received tribute to late drum legend Elvin Jones. “We’re eclectic!” And as the dinner hour approached, the Hollywood Bowl audience settled in to sample the remaining diverse treats on the festival’s day two menu (June 11).
Making his Playboy Festival debut, hip-hop icon Common closed the evening with a rousing set that traversed his long-running career. “After 25 years in the game, I’m still hungry,” he remarked to the cheering audience before revving up a 45-minute performance that was equal parts history, social activism, romance and party. Striding purposefully across the stage, Common punched through a set list that included “U, Black Maybe” (“It’s time we write our own story, Black America again,” the rapper declared to the fist-raising crowd), “The Food,” “Get ‘Em High,” “Go!,” “Come Close,” “Love of My Life/I Used to Love H.E.R.,” “The Light/Juicy” and “Glory.”
Preceding Common, singer Lalah Hathaway’s honeyed vocals soared and dipped through a string of original songs (“Somethin’,” “Shine,” “If You Want To,” “Mirror”) and covers (“Angel,” “Forever, For Always, For Love”) that earned her a standing ovation. Bringing his majestic baritone perspective to the artistry of jazz vocals, Gregory Porter had women standing up and shouting “Sing it, Gregory” even before he fully began his opening song, “Holding On.” The singer/songwriter rounded out his slot with “Take Me to the Alley,” “Harlem,” “Musical Genocide,” “Don’t Be a Fool,” “Free” and female fan fave “Insanity.”
Backstage following the standing ovation for his set, Porter laughed at the suggestion — given his enthusiastic female fans — that he’s a sex symbol. “When you’re in the bubble of the music onstage, you can feel the audience and the love,” he told Billboard. “But sometimes you don’t know what kind of love it is. Is it sisterly? Is it romantic?”
Crisscrossing the globe for a series of upcoming European dates (including singing for Switzerland’s royal family), Porter is also recording an album of songs by one of his major influences, Nat King Cole. The project, being recorded in London with a 70-piece orchestra, is due later this year.
“The personal is universal,” added Porter of his own music’s appeal. “The idea of jazz-influenced music being something whose time has passed isn’t true. I happen to be wearing tight jeans today, but I don’t have to put on tight jeans to make that happen. [Music fans] are listening for honest stories that connect across all ages and ethnicities. And I’m trying to find those spaces: love, loss, openness and even the black American story.”
Also firing up the Bowl stage were young guns Miles Mosley and the West Coast Get Down and Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles. The former, a crew of Los Angeles-bred musicians including upright bassist Mosley (whose credits include Andra Day, Chris Cornell, Kendrick Lamar) and pianist Cameron Graves, whipped up a six-song set that featured songs from his 2017 solo album Uprising (“Young Lion,” “Abraham”). Multi-instrumentalist Henry, who has worked with Snarky Puppy, Bruce Springsteen, The Roots) and his group funked their way through Prince’s “Controversy,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” as well as original track “Check It Out” from the group’s new album out this summer.
Leaving indelible impressions earlier in the afternoon as well were festival first-timers the Hamilton de Holanda Trio from Brazil and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. Marking their third festival appearance the all-female orchestra, headed by drummer Sherrie Maricie and founded by Buddy Rich Band manager Stanley Kay, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Attendance for each day of the 39th annual Playboy Jazz Festival (June 10-11) was close to the Hollywood Bowl’s 17,500 capacity, according to a festival spokesperson.