Playboy Jazz Festival Lineup

By Staff

The 34th annual Playboy Jazz Festival is just around the corner! Here's who you should be checking out and why.

The 34th Playboy Jazz Festival is less than a week away. And with some of the best musical artists in the industry attending, along with Bill Cosby as the Master of Ceremonies, it is one festival not to miss out on. Check out PlayboyJazzFestival for the complete list and to buy your tickets.

The Lineup:


The Boston Globe really did all the selling of James as a live performer we needed them to: “Let’s make something perfectly clear: James is not a smooth jazz player…his music is muscular and gritty, whereas most smooth jazz has all the texture and complexity of a cue ball…. James swaggered across the stage like a blacktop hero draining treys on an overmatched opponent. He even weaved his way through the audience, never missing a beat and all but daring the crowd not to have a good time.”


Coming off a Grammy win for their debut album The Good Feeling, The Christian McBride Big Band kicks off their summer tour season with a stop at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival. Bassist, composer, producer, (re)arranger and bandleader, McBride comes from a long line of Philadelphia-born bassists and is considered something of a virtuoso in his field, having already appeared as a sideman on close to 300 recordings. Though separately, the band members are no strangers to the big stage, this will be the largest venue McBride’s ensemble plays together to date. 

KEB’ MO - Listen HERE

Anyone interested in the passing of crowns, the lineage of the blues guitar, knows a thing or two about Keb’ Mo. His music is nothing if not born of the Delta Blues. His songs have all the raw howl you might expect from a Robert Johnson type and his efforts have earned him three Grammys across two decades. Like any good blues singer, his songs are from the heart, reflective of the trials and tribulations of the time; Keb’ Mo’s voice has been heard on countless political issues including Vote for Change and the No Nukes Group.


A quarter big band, a quarter Bob Marley, a quarter counterrevolutionary and a poet to boot, K.G. Omulo and his accompanying band bring with them a stage presence that is hard to match. Whether you’re there for the sound or the message you will not be disappointed; hypnotic percussion keeps the pace while a boisterous horn section accents in all the right places. Omulo’s lyricism might only be matched by a shredding electric guitar a la Jimi Hendrix, and when the whammy bar starts to wail, bodies start moving to the beat. 


The music scene circa Los Angeles 1995 was what one would call eclectic at best; ska, punk, jazz, salsa, reggae and rap all came together in the melting pot that was L.A. of the nineties to breed some pretty genre-bending bands. While the results on paper sounded questionable, the practical reality of the fusion was unparalleled. As band member Jiro Yayaguchi describes it: “You drive down Sunset Boulevard…roll down your windows and all the music that comes out of each and every different car…that crazy blend that’s going on between that cacophony of sound is Ozomatli.”


Any Treme fans out there will find it difficult not be moved by the sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It’s a rotating ensemble of Dixieland and traditional jazz based out of New Orleans, and one of the many musical groups displaced by Hurricane Katrina. On any given night these guys could be made up of five to fifteen members but quantity has nothing to do with quality; each individual member is talented in his own right and whether you see three of thirteen of them, the sound is well worth the price of admission.


For those of you keeping score at home, Quincy Jones is 78 and still going strong. His Global Gumbo could be the highlight of the Playboy Jazz Fest considering some of the big names that have already graced the group with their presence at previous shows: Frank Sinatra Jr., trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and Toto (well at least part of Toto). The Global Gumbo set pays homage to Jones’ storied career, including stopovers highlighting his time with the Brothers Johnson, Gloria Estefan and Michael Jackson. If you’re attending the festival, this is a set not to be missed. 


As far as instantaneous name recognition for a younger generation goes, Robin Thicke takes the cake. He’s written songs for Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera and has had his hand in some of the last decade’s best-selling albums, namely Confessions (Usher) and Tha Carter III (Lil Wayne). He’s also had a solo career worth talking about, hitting high notes on the Billboard charts and judging the ABC television show Duets. If you haven’t heard of Thicke, you probably haven’t turned on a radio in recent years…or a TV. 


At the forefront of the revivalist movement are Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Their mission: to bring back the glory days of Funk and Soul. With James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald and Otis Redding topping the list of her influences, you can bet Jones knows how to sing and how to put on a show. She’s performed with high-octane musicians like Phish, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim and has had the pleasure of being on tour with the infamous Lou Reed. This is a gal and a band that can 100 percent put on a show. 


Very few things are hotter than a girl drummer with good credentials. Sheila E. has hit the big time with people like Prince, George Duke and Ringo Starr. She’s a bit of a high-profile freelancer, playing alongside Carlos Santana, Marc Anthony and John Rich to name a few, but unlike most drummers, who require a band to make it by, Sheila E. can hold her own just fine; she was featured on Letterman as part of the show’s Drum Solo week and scored a job at the Academy Awards in the house band. 


We could go on for days about the Soul Rebels, but the Village Voice wrapped it up so nicely, describing them as “the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong.” They are the definition of a touring jam band, playing upwards of 250 shows a year across North America, Europe, South Africa and Brazil, but if you manage to catch them standing still, they can usually be found at the center of the blues universe in New Orleans. Their latest album, Unlock Your Mind, recently cracked the number five spot on iTunes’ Jazz charts. If you haven’t seen them…do. It’s well worth it. 


They may be part punk and part SKA but this Chilean band is all party. Touted as one of the major orchestras in Chilea, according to their website are, “the soundtrack to every party, from Africa to Punta Arenas.” Playing big festivals like Roskilde in Denmark, Lollapalooza in Chicago and SXSW fest in Austin Texas, we’re starting to understand why they are such a hot ticket to see. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some bunnies to dance with once these wild guys take the stage. 

The Cookers - Listen HERE

It’s not every day you get to see seasoned jazz veterans play, let alone seven of them playing together. Save for David Weiss on trumpet and Craig Handy on alto sax, these musicians all hail from the 60’s and haven’t stopped pumping out some of the most incredible jazz coming out today. "This is the sort of music that should reflect the times we live in” explains Weiss, “as we should be screaming from the rafters trying to fix all that is going wrong in the world today." 


If you missed the hay days of Cream, loved the music of Tony Williams, and find yourself tapping your toe to the songs of Lenny Kravitz, Spectrum Road, with Jack Bruce (Cream) on Bass, Vernon Reid (Living Color) on guitar, John Medeski on keyboard and Cindy Blackman-Santana (Kravitz, Santana) is a band you need to see.. Spectrum Road first started out as a tribute band to the late great jazz drummer Tony William’s. Since then the group has transformed into one of the most notorious jazz super groups, reworking many of Tony Williams songs as well as original jazz fusion jams.

Louie Cruz Beltran - Listen HERE

Raised in a home where rhythm was king and the music always played, Louie Cruz Beltran learned an appreciation for an Afro-Cuban sound from a young age. He picked up the bongos and the congas and timbales followed and he never looked back. Today, he works as a composer, instructor and recording artist performing all along the West Coast. An open invitation from Cuban dignitary Dr. Ariel Aguilar Reyes from the University of Havana for Beltran to perform an instructional/cultural tour of Cuba stands as high praise to his talent and skill.

Ramsey Lewis Electric Band - Listen HERE

Ramsey Lewis has been credited with a lot of things: three Grammys, five honorary doctorates, a Jazz Masters Award from the Endowment of the Arts and for bringing not-so-mainstream jazz into the limelight. This year the award-winning pianist brings his electric band to the Playboy Jazz Fest stage in a set that revisits Lewis’ gold recording, Sun Goddess. As far as legends of the scene go, this is a show not to be missed by jazz enthusiasts and casual listeners alike. 


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