Stanley Clarke, Rachelle Ferrell, and Take 6 were just a few of the headliners that drove for an event last Saturday and Sunday’s Pasadena Jazz Fest at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Fall-like weather enhanced the concert’s venue and help create an outstanding setting that featured musical legends as well some contemporary favorites. The trees, fountains, and fresh-cut grass, served as an ideal.
This first-time event was the brainchild of renowned recording artist Byron Miller and his business partner Andre Vener, who has promoted the California Philharmonic for 15 years, and like Miller this is his first attempt at a jazz festival.
Miller is music director and co-produced the festival along with Vener, Christine Miller and Robert and Denise Zeilstra are of Pasadena Entertainment.
Byron worked 16 hours days and cashed in on lots of favors to launch this first concert venture. “This is how the business repays you for being a good person and someone (who) people respect,” says Byron. “Some are playing at scale and some not. But as a musician, I do not want to cheat anyone. This is our first jazz fest, and we plan to do more.”
Miller, an Altadena resident and acclaimed bass guitarist was also one of performing acts.
Kevin Eubanks, former bandleader of the “Tonight Show,” brought his unique guitar arrangements and solos to an enthusiastic crowd. Eubank’s not-so-traditional musical approach was cool yet energetic. It was definitely not what people had grown accustom to seeing from his “Tonight Show” performances.
Individual performances from his band members, especially Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums that put the appearance into the show-stopper category. The band’s (other members are Gerry Etkins, Rene Camacho and Robert Biles) set was loose and typically went heavy on modern jazz, progressive or fusion with elements of rock funk included.
“My music is best described as original,” says Eubanks. “Smitty and I are best friends. We have been playing together for 25 to 30 years. I have so much respect for him.”
Throughout the two days of festivities, there seem to be a family-reunion atmosphere both among the audience and the performers. Each act made the most of their time on stage and got the most concentrated response from the audience, even from the older folks.
One group–Big Sam’s Funky Nation band–even took its act into the crowd.
The two-stage format did not seem to bother to those in attendance. Erika Gray, a Woodland Hills Department of Motor Vehicles employee, was impressed with the venue and the variety of acts.
“This event is off the chain,” Gray said. “I am enjoying my furlough days.” As a state employee she did not have to report to work on Friday or Monday, and found the jazz fest was a welcome distraction.
In addition to the main headliners there were some honorable mentions, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy winner Booker T. Jones, as well as multi-award winner Stanley Clarke, multiple Grammy winners Rita Coolidge and Take 6, and Grammy-nominated artists Doc Powell and Hubert Laws.
Take 6 one of the more distinctive acts was. Unlike the other 23 musical acts their performance was featured nothing more than harmonic a cappella voices and ballads or up-tempo, it didn’t matter, they had the audience mesmerized.
“There are six guys in this group who like pushing (challenging) each other creatively,” says Claude Mc Knight, a founding member. “We are constantly seeking the limits of the voice. What it is we are and what is we do is unique enough that you either like us or you don’t. There are not many groups that sound like us. We are not trying to chase after a new style or production method. We just do what we do.”
Smitty agrees with McKnight. “If you give people access to the music, they will be the judges of whether or not it will be a hit.”
The Jazz Fest closed with the amazing vocals of Rachelle Ferrell, who, like Take 6 mesmerized the Sunday evening crowd with a vocal musical narrative. Despite the cool damp nighttime weather, Ferrell projected with ease, often hitting several octaves and drawing applause from an appreciative following. Her performance seem to be a fitting closure to an exiting two days of musical entertainment.
The promoters are so enthusiastic about the event that they have already set the next date. According to Miller, the dates for next year’s festival will be August 28 and 29, and will feature an all-new lineup.