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Stephen K. Peeples: Jazz feast at Warner Center

Random musical notes from the SCV and beyond

Posted: June 3, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Updated: June 3, 2011 6:00 a.m.
From left: Ndugu Chancler, Bill Cosby and Patrice Rushen were among those who gathered at the Playboy Mansion in February to announce this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival lineup. Chancler and Rushen and their group 1+One headline the free Playboy Jazz community concert at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills on Sunday. From left: Ndugu Chancler, Bill Cosby and Patrice Rushen were among those who gathered at the Playboy Mansion in February to announce this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival lineup. Chancler and Rushen and their group 1+One headline the free Playboy Jazz community concert at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills on Sunday.
From left: Ndugu Chancler, Bill Cosby and Patrice Rushen were among those who gathered at the Playboy Mansion in February to announce this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival lineup. Chancler and Rushen and their group 1+One headline the free Playboy Jazz community concert at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills on Sunday.
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The jazz/funk quartet 1+One, featuring keyboardist/singer Patrice Rushen and drummer Ndugu Chancler with special guest guitarist Doc Powell, headlines the 33rd annual Playboy Jazz Festival's free community concert at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills this Sunday, June 5, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Also on the musical menu at the outdoor feast of jazz is West Coast party band Johnny Polanco Y Su Conjunto Amistad, and reggae-rock-African-Latin group the Nikhil Korula Band.

Tied in with the Valley Cultural Center's "Concerts on the Green" summer concert series, the "Playboy Jazz at Warner Center" event in the park's Lou Bredlow Pavilion amphitheater is one of several free community events around the L.A. area leading up to the big Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl next Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12.

Rushen is a four-time Grammy nominee known for her signature fusion of jazz, pop and R&B. Considered one of the world's top jazz pianists, she has performed with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Nancy Wilson and many others.

Perhaps best-known for her early-'80s pop/R&B hit "Forget Me Nots," she is also an award-winning composer of symphonic music.

As an educator, Rushen is a consultant/mentor affiliated with the Berklee School of Music and the USC Thornton School of Music. She also spends time working with the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department, NARAS' "Grammy in the Schools" program, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and other organizations dedicated to establishing music education and mentorship programs for underprivileged youth.

Rushen and her musical partner, world-class drummer and percussionist Ndugu Chancler, met while both were still in high school in Los Angeles. He's a longtime session and road ace known for his work with Michael Jackson (he was the drummer for both "Thriller" and "Bad"), Herbie Hancock, Lionel Richie, Miles Davis and many others. Rounding out the quartet are longtime Rushen/Chancler collaborators Reggie Hamilton (bass) and Justo Almaria (sax and flute).

Joining 1+One for this gig is Grammy-nominated guitarist Doc Powell, who's toured and recorded with Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones, Dave Koz, Patti Labelle and George Benson, and was the featured guitarist for the BET Awards telecast and "The Mo'Nique Show."

"We're going to do a mixed format," Rushen said. "We will be able to do what we do, which is to play some jazz, some funk, some R&B. I'll play, I'll sing, we'll have fun, and enjoy an hour of music that is really presented from the heart, with all the fun and joy that it has brought us over the years."

When she was coming up, in the late '70s and '80s, record labels often forced multi-genre artists to choose a style, any style, as long as it was radio-format-friendly.

"Back in the day, because of the way (music was) marketed, as an artist you had to decide - ‘Well, I have to do a pop thing, or an R&B thing, or a jazz thing,'" Rushen said. "The one thing that didn't change was that once you were in front of a live audience, you could do a lot of different things. Audiences are so much more open. What they really want to see is joy and commitment.

"One thing that's such a welcome relief now - especially for an artist like myself - is that we can be who we are," she said. "We have really very rich tapestries of musical influences and live in a culture that has supported a lot of different musical styles, all at the same time."

Johnny Polanco and his band's hot Latin salsa is in big demand on the party circuit. They've played gigs like Prince's Golden Globes after-party, L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa's Inaugural Ball, the grand opening celebration of the Staples Center and the first annual Latin Grammy Awards.

The Nikhil Korula Band will round out Sunday's lineup with a distinct blend of calypso, rock and reggae over African and Latin grooves. In their six years together, the unique sextet has played with such top performers as John Mayer, Los Lonely Boys, The Roots, Dave Matthews Band, Erykah Badu, Colbie Caillat and many more.

The Calabasas High School Band, directed by Joshua Barroll, will open Sunday's show. The band has been selected three times as finalists in the Essentially Ellington Jazz Competition, sponsored by Lincoln Center and hosted by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

So Sunday you get four hours of world-class jazz/R&B/funk, sizzling salsa, infectious Afro-Caribbean grooves, and kids representing the future of jazz, all on a beautiful afternoon on the lawn in the shaded park, free. I'm there.

The Lou Bredlow Pavilion is located at Warner Center Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., between Oxnard Street and Burbank Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA 91367. Visit www.valleycultural.org for more info.

A veteran music journalist, Peeples is also a Grammy-nominated record producer, an award-winning radio producer ("The Lost Lennon Tapes," Westwood One, 1988-1990) and former editor of the award-winning Signal website. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily anyone else's, including The Signal's.

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