Blues, Funk and Smooth Jazz Take Center Stage at the Hollywood Bowl

Events — By on August 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Pictured on the cover-Larry Graham of Graham Central Station and Actor and Television icon Arsenio Hall. Photo by Tania Anderson. Pictured above- Dave Koz. Photo by Greg Allen.


Blues, Funk and Smooth Jazz Take Center Stage at the Hollywood Bowl

By Buddy Sampson

The Sunday August 14 Smooth Jazz Concert at the Hollywood Bowl was one of two amazing concerts in four days, presented by the LA Phil.

Larry Graham and Graham Central Station chugged along like a train, the station being the Hollywood Bowl, on a perfect, warm night, with fantastic performances from everyone billed on the show, including Phil Perry, Spyro Gyra, Sheila E, Bobby Caldwell and the engine of the locomotive, Dave Koz.

Koz, who constructed a magnificent show, was like a point guard on a winning basketball team, willingly passing the ball to all of the acts on the show. And, as with successful basketball teams that love passing the ball, Dave Koz and the Smooth Summer Jazz audience came out as winners. There were no weak links in the show.

The show started with crooner Phil Perry, perhaps only one of a few true balladeers that exist on the music scene today. Perry’s rich voice immediately hypnotized the Bowl, starting the show with a decidedly romantic tone. The songs he chose for his set were brilliant. One of the songs were “If Only You Knew,” which demonstrated his pure vocal range. If there were a definition of the perfect singer, it would be Perry, who couldn’t have been better. He covered the Christopher Cross song, “Ride Like The Wind,” and the beautifully penned tune “Call Me,” among other songs. He closed with “It Takes a Fool,” graciously thanking Dave Koz for inviting him to perform. He was nothing short of excellent. Spyro Gyra followed, and they were like the second leg on an excellent track team, starting their set with a song driven by the funky bass line of Scott Ambush, whose bass lines were solid and amazing throughout the set. Spyro Gyra performed a song by the bassist and he took a solo that illuminated his outstanding solo technique. But each of the members of the quintet, which included Jay Beckenstein on saxophone, Tom Schuman on keyboards, Julio Fernandez on guitar and vocals and Bonny Bonaparte, on drums and vocals were proficient, seemingly playing with ease.

Later in the evening Dave Koz and Friends took the stage and they were magnicent. He graciously gave up his set to Bobby Caldwell, who performed his signature hit “What You Won’t Do For Love,” Sheila E and Pete Escovedo, Sheila E’s dad. Caldwell was in excellent voice. Sheila E put on a monster performance, playing her timbales like a she-devil, at one point near the conclusion of her set, knocking her equipment to the floor of the stage. Stunning in a short black dress, Sheila looked and sounded amazing and appeared in perfect shape, her arms and hands a blur, moving at the speed of light. She later changed to a red dress in which she looked equally stunning. Among the songs she performed her classic song, “Glamourous Life.” The band was funky and solid as steel. Pete Escovedo sat in and although his hair is grayer, his chops seemed to be very intact. Dave Koz, the saxophonist, played sensationally, but he seemed determined to get out of way of all the musicians on stage. His point guard skills were excellent and he only took his shots when necessary, delighting the audience with his smooth and sure saxophone playing.

But the night belonged to Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, who started their set in the audience, coming through the Bowl like a train, with Larry Graham at the front of the procession playing drums like a drum major. Dressed all in white with a long coat and white hat, Graham was dressed to the nines. The former member of Sly and the Family Stone performed many of his hits, including “One In A Million,” “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” and a few Sly and the Family Stone songs, “I Want To Take You Higher” among them. Graham and his funky band simply flabbergasted the audience. A complete showman, Graham did an amazing solo with he and drummer Brian “Rio” Braziel that had the audience in a frenzy. A bass pioneer, Graham later talked about how he originated his funky style of playing the bass.



The Wednesday August 10 show was entitled “Jazz At The Bowl-Blues Night. It also was a terrific show. Mavis Staples bought church to the Hollywood Bowl. Her songs were spiritual in nature and heartfelt. She began the evening with a gospel song. One of her songs seemed to touch and invoke history, “Freedom Highway,” a song about slavery and freedom. She spoke of her time with the Staple Singers and closed with The Staple Singer’s classic song, “I’ll TakeYou There.” She was in incredible voice. Keb Mo took the stage next. The Los Angeles musician, whose real name is Kevin Moore presented his Los Angeles blues style of playing and singing with ease. He is very smooth. But the night belonged to Robert Cray, who simply electrified the Hollywood Bowl audience with his guitaring and singing.

The Hollywood Bowl and the LA Phil presented two excellent shows in four days. Visit


Robert Cray.

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