UCLA Jazz Reggae Fest: Peace, Love and Music
Los Angeles-Believe it or not summer will be upon us soon. The season kicks into full swing each year with the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival during Memorial Day Weekend, Sunday, May 25th and Monday, May 26th. One couldn’t tell that summer was fast approaching as evidence by the May Gray weather that we experienced lately. Nevertheless, over 30,000 people from all over California and beyond made their way to Westwood for the Jazz Reggae Festival. The UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission promised and delivered a weekend of Peace, Love and World Class Music.
Last year, I applauded the festival organizers for adding more jazz to the line-up since they introduced JAM Day on Sunday, which was previously called Jazz Day. Their gamble paid off handsomely once again with a line-up of jazz featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith, John Densmore and Tribal Jazz, Elliott Deutsch Big Band and The Brent Canter Trio. The Elliott Deutsch Big Band kicked off the festival with a swinging extravaganza of straight ahead jazz with his big band. Elliott Deutsch is a gifted trumpeter/arranger. Their all too brief set consisted of “Yeah, We Are Sleeping Together” based on the tune “Just Friends” (pun intended), “There Will Never Be Another Chet Baker” based on “There Will Never Be Another You” which featured Elliott Deutsch hitting some high notes on the trumpet that would make Jon Faddis beam with delight. The group concluded their all too brief set with “Cheek to Cheek” arranged by the leader of the group.
Legendary musician Dr. Lonnie Smith was the other jazz band on the bill. The group consisted of Dr. Lonnie Smith on the Hammond B3 organ, Frank Potenza on guitar and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. Dr. Lonnie Smith thrilled the audience with his version of “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and “Misty.” He scatted and grooved on “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Baby, You Look Good To Me to the delight of the audience.
Another legend graced the festival with his presence. John Densmore, drummer for The Doors brought a stellar group of international musicians together to form Tribal Jazz co-founded with saxophonist Art Ellis. The band featured two percussionists from Senegal, a bass player from Puerto Rico and another percussionist from Brazil. They performed a crowd pleasing set of original tunes that allowed the band members an extended solo. They closed out their set with “Riders On The Storm” spiced up with some hot Latin Rhythms.
The Brent Canter Trio is an upcoming jazz trio featuring Brent Canter on guitar, Eli Sanderson on Hammond B3 organ and Mark Banner on drums. They played material from their debut CD Sounds cape with the following tunes “Sketches,” “It Is Written,” “Like A Star,” “While You Were Sleeping.” I look forward to hearing and seeing more from the Brent Canter Trio as well as the Elliott Deutsch Big Band in the near future. The members of these band graduated or will graduate from the world renowned Department of Ethnomusicology, Jazz Studies Division at UCLA. Sunday, Jam Day also showcased the sounds of Blue Lady, JP And the Ambassadors, Amos Lee, Elevaters, Immortal Technique, Goapele and The Roots.
The final day of the festival dished out an eclectic mix of world music with a strong emphasis on Reggae. The Pangea Collective with special guest bassist Baba Ken Okulolo (with King Sunny Ade’s band), guitarist Soji Odukogbe (Fela Kuti’s Band) and a colorful trio of dancers. The band paid homage to legends of Afro Beat movement made popular by Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. They superbly captured the energy and enthusiasm exhibited of the Afro Beat music of South Africa. The audience was enthralled with the infectious African rhythms as well as with the exciting dancers. Other highlights from Reggae Day were Arepa, Rebelution, Jah Mikey General, Umo Verde, Alaine, Mr. Vegas, Selena Serrano with DJ Papa Keith, Stephen Marley with Capleton closing out the festival.
Last year the Jazz Reggae Festival took the steps in the direction of becoming a no-waste, sustainable festival with eco-limos to transport the artist, tree give aways with sustainable resource area to educate festival goers on things that they can do to help save the environment. New for 2008 were one main stage and a second smaller stage powered by bio diesel and solar, electric and/or bio diesel vehicles, clearly marked recycled bins and several new educational environmental booths and a Led screen.
The 22nd Annual Jazz Reggae Festival at UCLA is the largest festival organized and run professionally by students. These courteous and professional students and delivered a quality weekend of Peace, Love and World Class Music, making this one of the most highly anticipate festivals on the West Coast.