Altadena’s John Clayton and Hubert Laws team up for a Quincy Jones tribute at this weekend’s Playboy Jazz Fest
By Carl Kozlowski 06/12/2013
For the past 35 years, the Playboy Jazz Festival has brought some of the greatest musicians in the world to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl for two days of nonstop stellar entertainment. While it was created and sponsored by Hugh Hefner and the Playboy empire, it was also hosted by America’s top stand-up comic, Bill Cosby.
One big change is afoot this year, as Cosby has passed the microphone to another beloved comic, George Lopez, giving him the sweet slot as emcee for the extravaganza, which is held from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday and from 3 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Two performers who have become essential staples of the fest are longtime Altadenans John Clayton and Hubert Laws, who will play together on Sunday when the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra celebrates legendary producer-composer Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday with a rousing rendition of his greatest hits from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“We’re going to focus on the period in which he grew to prominence in the jazz world as an arranger and composer, from the ’50s through ‘70s,” says Clayton, who formerly spent three years as the leader of the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Orchestra. “Those three decades are really big with his growth and popularity in the jazz world, for all the appropriate reasons. If we had a whole evening, we could probably go over a wider spectrum and his work with great pop artists, but all of the sets at Playboy Fest are about that.”
Clayton has been “co-leading” his 19-member orchestra for more than 30 years, along with his brother, Jeff, and famed drummer Jeff Hamilton. He laughs that “co-leader is a fancy term for people who share the debt,” but, in fact, they have traveled all over the planet performing at some of the world’s greatest jazz venues and festivals.
Meanwhile, Laws will be lending his expertise as a preeminent flutist to the orchestra. In fact, he’ll be having a historic moment of his own, as he played on some of Jones’ most famous recordings and will be reprising his riffs in Sunday’s show. That connection to his younger days is a reflection of just how long he’s been playing his favorite instrument.
“I started out playing mellophone at 12, before that I played piano and later alto sax and finally the flute,” says Laws. “In high school, the band director wanted to teach us the ‘William Tell Overture,’ known as the ‘Lone Ranger’ theme, and he had no one to play the flute solo for its prelude. A friend had an old flute in his attic and it gave me some relief from just blending in as another sax player. Flute playing got me more calls from professional symphonies and recordings, and I had an immediate attraction to the flute that continues to this day.”
Of course, Laws and the orchestra are but a few of many artists to grace the fest stage over two music-filled days. Among other stars on Saturday are Naturally 7 with keyboard legend Herbie Hancock, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with Lee Ritenour, Angelique Kidjo with special guest Hugh Masekela, Gregory Porter, the Robert Glasper Experiment, Grace Kelly Quintet with special guest Phil Woods, Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo, and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble, all headlined by George Duke with special guest Jeffrey Osborne.
Those who aren’t exhausted from dancing their way through Saturday, or who can only attend Sunday, have a full day of fun available to them as well. Perennial favorite Sheila E. leads her amazing Escovedo family-packed band as the headliners, with the rest of the bill including Bob James and David Sanborn, India.Arie, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Taj Mahal and the Real Thing Tuba Band, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet giving a Dave Brubeck tribute, Elew and the Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble and the LAUSD Beyond the Bell Jazz Band.
It’s no wonder Hamilton is excited to take the stage, but he says he always strives for perspective.
“I’m happy to play for whatever audience we get to play for, whether it’s 14,000 at the Bowl or 14 at an assisted-living facility,” says Clayton. “That part is cool, but really we’ve done so many different projects over the years … so many it’s always fun and a kick for us to see what the next project is going to bring.”
The Playboy Jazz Festival is from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets are $68-$160. Call (323) 850-2000 or visit hollywoodbowl.com.