By any standards, the Playboy Jazz Festival (June 15-16 at the Hollywood Bowl) was a major success. The weather was more than cooperative, the attendance was terrific (estimated at 31,000 over both days), and producer George Wein and the folks at Playboy put on a show that went every bit as smoothly as advertised. The gaps between sets, especially on Friday, were often literally just seconds long, courtesy of a circular, rotating stage; many was the time that one performance would finish and the next would be underway even before emcee Bill Cosby could complete his introduction. That kind of momentum played no small part in creating a phenomenon rarely seen at these marathon musical gatherings: a lot of the time, a great set was followed by an even better one, the spirits of both audience and players alike getting higher and higher as the evening progressed.
As for the music itself, much of it was truly inspired. On Friday, a huge contingent of Joni Mitchell fans was on hand for her fairly brief set, which included a few tunes from the new "Mingus" collection; we were a little bored by it, actually, but maybe that's because she was succeeded by three of the classiest, most swinging acts jazz has ever produced, Benny Goodman, Count Basie (with Joe Williams) and Sarah Vaughan. To say the least, the King of Swing and the Count tore it up.
It would be tough to pick out a single highlight from some 13 hours of music, but if pressed, we'd have to name Weather Report's Saturday set. This group, always superb on record but sometimes erratic in performance, seems to have found itself in its pared-down quartet form (Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine); if their Playboy show was any indication, and it probably was, Weather Report's forthcoming live album will be a masterpiece.
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