The long-running Long Beach Jazz Festival returns to the city with a lineup that mixes a smooth R&B headliner, who is as at home on the big screen as he is a recording studio, and a blend of urban, soul and a “healthy taste” of jazz.
The 27th annual festival, taking place at Rainbow Lagoon Park on Saturday and Aug. 10, features more than a dozen acts, like Saturday night headliner Tyrese Gibson, who in between appearing in films like the “Transformers” and “The Fast and the Furious” franchises has managed to record five R&B albums in as many years.
“We try to throw a little bit of everything out there for everyone,” said show producer and Long Beach resident Kimberly Benoit. “I would say the lineup is pretty eclectic. I try to book artists that represent different genres, from straight-ahead traditional jazz, to smooth jazz, to funky jazz and a little R&B.”
The Saturday concert also includes jazz pianist/composer Ramsey Lewisand contemporary jazz saxophonists Najee and Michael Lington. On Sunday, the lineup is anchored by multi-Grammy winner Al Jarreau, soul singer Lalah Hathaway and romantic baritone crooner Will Downing.
Also taking the stage on the final day is the Grammy-nominated bandHiroshima, which is led by Alhambra resident June Kuramoto and her traditional koto instrument, and Chicago native Rick Parma, who will bring a Top 40 dance flavor to the show.
The eclectic lineup is partly due to changes in the festival's leadership.
Jazz artist and entrepreneur Al Williams, who recently retired, founded the festival in 1988. His daughter Kim Benoit and her family have taken over the festival and the Long Beach-based Rainbow Promotions, which produces the festival.
Benoit said she wanted to test the waters a bit by adding a younger R&B singer to the lineup as a headliner.
“Some people may ask what Tyrese is doing at a jazz festival,” she said. “A lot of his music is just really a smooth type of R&B music and I just thought it would be different to add that to the festival.”
While Tyrese is a newcomer to the festival, it also includes veterans like Najee, who has performed at the event a few times.
“I love the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Man, it's always sold out for the most part and we get to play with a lot of big stars and the crowd is always ready to go,” said Najee, who is a pretty big star himself with three platinum and five gold albums and two Grammy nominations.
The New York native will perform songs from his recent release, “The Morning After.” He also plans to bring R&B singer Gary Taylor on stage during his performance.
Najee isn't going to be the only musician bringing new material to the stage.
Lington, a Danish-born contemporary saxophonist, will bring a more Memphis retro-soul vibe to the festival with songs from his new album, “Soul Appeal.”
“This record is all about soul and rhythm and blues,” he said. “Our barometer for making this record is that it needs to feel good because that's what music did back in the '60s, it made people feel good.”
Benoit also wants to make people feel good, but not just with music. She has partnered with health experts as part of this year's festival theme: “A Healthy Taste of Jazz.” The festival will include a health and wellness pavilion with representatives from diabetes associations, the Red Cross and other organizations talking about health issues and healthy eating with attendees.
“People may not go out and seek this important information, so I want to bring it out to them,” Benoit said.
There will be other commercial vendors and, for the first time, there will be furnished cabanas available that come with a private server where people can watch the show without having to move much. Although it's likely they'll still want to get up and dance.
“We get the party going,” said Parma, who attended the festival as a music fan last year but returns this year as a Sunday performer with his saxophone and band to play original material and jazz, R&B and funk-laced covers of songs like Pharrell Williams' “Happy” and Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines.”
Benoit saw Parma perform at a show last year and decided to invite him on stage for the Long Beach Jazz Festival.
“We really enjoyed him,” she said. “And I also believe good bands should be given an opportunity to perform in front of a large audience.”
Long Beach Jazz Festival
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 10.
Where: Rainbow Lagoon Park, north side of Shoreline Drive between Shoreline Village Drive and Linden Avenue, Long Beach.