For the past 30 years, jazz, blues, and world music aficionados have looked forward each year to spending a grand weekend at the Hollywood Bowl for the Playboy Jazz Festival (PJF). This year’s festival, hosted by Bill Cosby and featuring a stellar line-up including Keb’ Mo’, Dr. John, Al Jarreau, Tower of Power, and Herbie Hancock to name but a few, promises to be another memorable event. But few people know of the Festival’s larger agenda, and the fact that it is headquartered right here in Santa Monica.
PJF began in 1979, the brainchild of Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, a lifelong jazz devotee, to commemorate the publication’s 25th anniversary. The event was such a success that Hefner decided to do it the following year, and the rest is music history. Since that first concert, the event has expanded, its mandate being to keep alive the great traditions of jazz music. From big bands playing swing to innovators like Miles Davis and Ray Charles (who made his Hollywood Bowl debut via the Festival), the list of musical styles and great musicians who have played PJF reads like a textbook of essential American music. To this end, the Festival has produced concerts from Santa Barbara to Japan, as well as many free concerts to give those who do not have access to the Hollywood Bowl show a chance to experience great music that might not necessarily be at the top of the pop charts.
Since its inception, Associate Producer Darlene Chan, a Santa Monica resident for 30 years, has largely run the Festival. Darlene has been a jazz fanatic most of her life – she organized the first three jazz festivals at UC Berkeley, and, in addition to PJF, she’s produced countless other shows, ranging from live concerts to radio and television, including the award-winning CBS Cable Special “Count Basie at Carnegie Hall.” Darlene might be called a true “Jazz Messenger,” and her passion for the music has clearly inspired her career. She recalls producing a free concert on the SMC football field that drew 15,000 people and garnered the lively support of the college’s students, faculty, and administration. “Hef wants to do as many free events as possible so even those who can’t afford a ticket can experience the music,” she said. Ms. Chan is hopeful that SMC will host another event in the near future.
Leading up to this year’s Festival, a series of free community concerts were held in various locations, including Beverly Hills, Watts, and Woodland Hills. “Our annual series of free community events is one way in which we offer quality jazz entertainment to a broad and diverse cross section of the public who already love jazz, and expose potential new jazz fans to a musical experience that will remain with them for many years to come. As a part of our 30th anniversary, we are especially pleased to be able to offer these events and continue expanding our outreach,” stated Playboy Jazz Festival President Richard Rosenzweig.
Hopefully the Festival will continue for another 30 (or more) years, and some of the wonderful community events that PJF sponsors will once again find their way to Santa Monica, the Playboy Jazz Festival’s home base.