Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Long Beach Jazz Fest Celebrates 20 Years

The Long Beach Jazz Festival, set for August 10th through 12th, is celebrating its 20th annual edition this year. This year's event, held again at Rainbow Lagoon Park in Long Beach, California, features a who's who of contemporary jazz players, including Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Richard Elliott, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Jonathan Butler, Ronnie Laws, Kim Waters, Lalah Hathaway, and many others.

The festival was the brainchild of jazz drummer and entrepreneur Al Williams, who in the '70s ran the popular Jazz Safari club in Long Beach. He explained that the roots of what became the current festival in Long Beach go back even further: "Actually, our festival started back in '78. A friend of mine had a business on the Queen Mary, and I had a restaurant and jazz club across the street from the Queen Mary, and we decided to get together and put on the Southern California Jazz Festival. And we did a two-day show there on the Queen Mary and we did it the next year."

After some struggles with the Queen Mary organization, Williams discontinued the shipboard fest in favor of promoting jazz events elsewhere. But after establishing Rainbow Promotions, the festival became an annual park gathering.

Williams also performs annually on Sunday's program with the Al Williams Jazz Society. A jazz drummer who has played with Hampton Hawes, Teddy Edwards, Leroy Vinnegar, Roy Ayers and many others, Williams says he has often thought about taking himself off the bill to concentrate exclusively on producing the festival. But the love of the music keeps him going: "Yeah, I love to play. And I've been playing for quite a number of years, you know I played with some of the greatest jazz artists there ever were. And it's in your blood. 'Cause I mean on Saturday evening when the festival closes down I say, man, I can't play tomorrow, you know? I mean, my legs are just like rubber from doing all the walking back and forth to the stage and around the venue and stuff. But somehow you know when that Sunday morning comes, I get the energy to go on and put on a good show."

Note:For a complete lineup, tickets, and directions, go the festival's website, LongBeachJazzFestival.com

By: Janine Coveney

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