Every year the Playboy Jazz Festival, held at the 19,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, is a roll of the dice in regards to mainstream performances. Festival attendees looking for straight-ahead jazz this year had to patiently abide funk, Afro-futurism, world, R&B, fusion, Latin, and even rock sets. For uninitiated, unfamiliar, and curious listeners, that provided an invigorating amalgamation of styles and artists. Meanwhile, the disapproving faction, who strived to stay cool in the 75- to 80-degree heat with no shade, socialized, dined, and wandered about the hilly grounds.
NEA Jazz Master and affable jazz survivor Benny Golson’s 90th Birthday Quartet was a refuge for those seeking unadulterated jazz in the first half of the two-day soirée (June 8 and 9). Friend to legends Clifford Brown and John Coltrane, a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in the ’50s, along with many other associations and film/TV scores to the present, Golson—aided by pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist Mike Gurrola, and drummer Roy McCurdy—had plenty of anecdotes and original selections to play. Standouts included “Whisper Not,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Stablemates,” “Along Comes Betty,” and the very popular “Blues March.”