- Terelle Jerricks
By Melina Paris
So many wonderful artists have graced the stage at Long Beach Jazz Festival in the last 25 years. Al Williams is the integral part in that reign of success–success due to the relationships he’s formed and sustained around the globe. It is those relationships that has allowed him to bring some of the world’s best talent to his annual event at Rainbow Lagoon. This year’s jazz festival was no different with its line up of young talented composer, Eric Darius along with two brilliant and long running bands, which opened on the first night: The Isley Brothers and The Blackbyrds.
I was interviewing Eric Darius when the Isley’s set began, and time just flew. I caught the band only after they had played a few of their biggest hits like, “That Lady,” “Between the Sheets” and the affecting, “Choosy Lover.” From watching Ron Isley sing to the crowd, it was clear that he still immensely enjoys moving the crowd–connecting effortlessly with them and they respond in kind.
Clad in an all red, black and white wardrobe, the Isley’s commanded the stage and the festival’s attendees on a journey with their song, “Voyage to Atlantis.” A dancer dressed like a belly dancer in her sparkly, teal costume, but danced like anything but, with her high kicks and slows spins after she made her entrance, delicately moved around Ron Isley. Her movements punctuated the percussion and glide alongside Ernie Isley’s guitar solos, presenting a tender but haunting presentation as a whole.
The flow of the show brought the audience to an emotive high they as they were carried into “Summer Breeze” before being transported down a psychedelic road trip into the 1970s via Ernie Isleys’ unremitting expert guitar riffs. He wowed the crowd even more when he began playing his instrument with his teeth.
Sporting long black and red coats and old school fedoras, the band delivered a finale to be remembered, treating fans to the funk classic, “Contagious,” with the dancers turning the show into a live funk spectacle. The Isley’s slowed the pace a bit with the slow jam, “Living for the Love of You” before triumphantly concluding the show with an extended execution of “The Star Spangled Banner” in true spirit of Jimmy Hendricks.
Expert musicians and performers all the way, The Isley Brothers treated this audience to an ideal experience of pure unmitigated entertainment.
Named for their teacher, mentor, and jazz great Donald Byrd. Four core members of this band were personally selected by the legendary Byrd to be in his support band while in concert during the time he taught at Howard University in the 1970’s. Their description as a jazz/ soul/ funk quintet accurately expresses their wide range of skill and diversity in playing- true to form- the varied compositions of this hybrid genre.
Even if The Blackbyrds are less widely known then the Isleys; just like them The Blackbyrds have also made a significant impact on a younger generation through the sampling of their songs by groups such as De La Soul, Eric B & Rakim, NWA, Massive Attack, Nas, Ice Cube and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.
Opening with the funky “Do It, Fluid” got the groove rolling. Straightaway it was a display of perfection in sound and delivery; it’s unmistakably clear this band is comprised of excellent musicians. I was completely taken away into a whole other dimension by their music. It’s cool, it’s funky, it’s sophisticated, thoughtful and precise- and you’ve got to move to it, shoot just put on your roller skates and glide. They are exceptional at layering progressions and paring the magical of sound of a trumpet reaching the heavens with the smoothest funk you’d ever want to hear.
They continued on into the melodic “Summer Love,” simply beautiful! It is a lullaby for the senses and a completely addictive song; I just wanted to keep hearing it. Coming after that with (“Falling Like) Dominoes”- trumpet, piano, violin and guitar, percussion and vocals; it all fused together in a symphony of exquisite harmonious sound. With lyrics like these you can’t help but feel it’s all alright-
‘Hold me tight, don’t let go,
Turn me loose never no, no, no
We’ll stand all our problems all in a row,
Watch them fall like dominoes’.
Now everyone was dancing, under the stars on this balmy summer night, grooving without a care in the world to one of their biggest hits, “Walking in Rhythm”- and moving in sound… At this very moment in time – this is the stuff that keeps bringing us all together as music lovers and keeps astounding and inspiring generation after generation on the level of talent that is being witnessed in real time and saturating your consciousness with musical ecstasy.
By now the only thing left to do was to build this party and they did just that next with “Rock Creek Park.” The Blackbyrds were indeed doin it in the park, doin it after dark – right- oh yeah!
So right this crowd wasn’t going to let them go; receiving a standing ovation with chants of “encore” The Blackbyrds closed the evening with a cool and upbeat number called “Happy Music.” Indeed it was happy and infectious; it seemed no one there was without the biggest smile they could muster by the end of the night.
Happy music is what Al Williams and his company Rainbow Promotions have brought to this unique city by the sea for twenty-five years. I know the Long Beach Jazz Festival’s devotees are looking forward to twenty-five more!