Before performing her 2010 track “Cold War” during her set at the Playboy Jazz Festival on Sunday night, Janelle Monae spoke about the deadly Orlando nightclub shooting.
“There was a deadly tragedy in Orlando due to hate and ignorance,” Monae told the audience at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. “I want to be clear which way I stand. I want freedom, respect and love. If you do too, make some noise. As human beings, we must protect each other. If God is love, are you love?”
Her comments echoed those made earlier in the day by festival host George Lopez. “We’re sending love and sympathy to the families in Orlando,” said the comedian-actor. “Love conquers hate. One love.”
Monae went on to reference Muhammad Ali (“We love you”) and Prince (“mentor, innovator and a true giver”) before launching into her hit “Tightrope” and then closing with a rousing cover of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Her show was just one in a string of lively and illuminating performances — including two more fellow Prince protégés — that comprised the second day of the 38th annual jazz festival.
A purple-haired Liv Warfield, a member of Prince’s vocal backing group the New Power Generation delivered a riveting afternoon set that included songs from her 2014 album The Unexpected (“Why Do You Lie”) and an upcoming EP (“Run”). At one point during her show, Warfield declared to cheers, “You all are gonna make me sweat this dress off.”
The Robert Cray Band celebrated late great B.B. King with special guests/blues gurus Sonny Landreth and Roy Gaines. The latter drew a standing ovation for his cover of “How Blue Can You Get,” while the whole company got down on King’s signature song, “The Thrill Is Gone.” Prior to Cray’s performance, Bowl patrons whipped out white napkins, handkerchiefs and towels to second line with Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. and the Congo Nation-New Orleans Cultural Group.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Fourplay — members Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb and Harvey Mason — rekindled memories with dexterous turns on “101 Eastbound” and “Ball Run” among other songs. After their set, Lopez joked, “I’m smelling some weed … so much that my back don’t hurt anymore.”
The Pete Escovedo Orchestra, featuring the bandleader’s children Sheila E. (wearing blinged-out tennis shoes vs. her trademark stilettos), Juan and Peter Michael, closed the evening. Backstage prior to their performance, Pete was asked what the festival audience could expect. “Even though we’ve played some of these songs a lot over the years, we never know where it’s going to go,” he said. “We’re just going to go out there and see what happens.” Added Sheila E., “There’s no rehearsal. I just ask Pops how does it start and how does it end?”
The self-described “80 years young” percussionist-patriarch, dapper in a royal blue suit, held his own and then some on such classic tracks as “True or False,” “Whatcha Gonna Do” and “La Cuna.” Highlighting the latter: a conga-playing showdown between the three siblings. Joked Pete during his set, “If Trump gets elected, I may get sent back to Mexico. But I talked to El Chapo and he’s got tunnels all the way to the Hollywood Bowl.”
One of the standouts at Saturday’s opening day of the festival was 13-year-old wunderkind Joey Alexander. Bridging generations with his unbridled talent and soulful passion, the Grammy-nominated pianist ran through a spirited set that included jazz classic “Giant Steps” and his own original composition, “City Lights.” Also leaving a memorable imprint on the Bowl stage: a cappella group Naturally 7, Seth MacFarlane, Los Van Van and Jon Batiste & Stay Human.
Among the celebrities spotted in the audience or onstage sitting with Lopez on both days: actor Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), comedian Arsenio Hall (co-host of new ABC singing show Greatest Hits), actor-singer Jamie Foxx and actor-producer Levar Burton (Roots).
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