Oakland Jazz Festival: A great mix of jazz and soul

Last Saturday (July 16), my day began early because the doors opened at 10 a.m. for lawn seats at the Oakland Jazz Festival (OJF), which was being held on the campus of Cal State University East Bay in Hayward, CA. Why the Oakland Jazz Festival takes place in Hayward is something several of us couldn’t comprehend.

I am not a fan of the lawn. The last time I endured lawn seats for a concert was in 2001 at what was then Chronicle Pavilion (now Concord Pavilion). India.Arie and Sade looked like ants, and I vowed never to sit on the lawn again.

So there I am, on the lawn for two reasons: online, the venue didn’t look nearly as big as the Pavilion, and I really wanted to go to this show, but didn’t want to pay the price for an actual seat. Being on a budget sure does suck sometime!

Altogether, there were four of us, with me leading the way to the best possible spot on the lawn. When choosing a lawn seat, you are essentially looking for the best view of the stage, and surrounding yourself with good folks.

I was one for two.

On the OJF website, it clearly states seat height could not exceed 9 inches. Unfortunately, this was not enforced at the door and I chose our spot before I realized there were several individuals in front of us with too-high seats – and umbrellas.

Ugh.

I reminded myself this was a jazz festival, so hearing was actually more important than seeing. And I also reminded myself I had seen all but two (saxophonists Mike Phillips and Boney James) of the artists on the lineup.

OJF 2016 MP5
Mike Phillips performs at the Oakland Jazz Festival on July 16, 2016.

I was really looking forward to Mike Phillips, whom I first heard on Jill Scott’s 2001 live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. Listen to Phillips’ sax solo on The Way and I guarantee you’ll become an instant fan.

During Phillips’ introduction, the announcer noted he’s worked with Stevie Wonder and Prince, the latter of whom he paid homage to with Pop Life. “The purple one will never be forgotten,” he exclaimed as his fingers played the hell out of the saxophone keys.

Throughout his entire set, Phillips engaged the crowd with stories of his time working with the late Wayman Tisdale (When it Comes to Lovin’ Me, which he wrote with Tisdale), and the parties his mother used to have in the basement (Gonna Miss You).

“When there wasn’t no clubs, she just had the alcohol downstairs and she changed the white lights and turned them red, and she invited the whole community, and that was your party.

“Wasn’t no bottle service.”

He encouraged the “choir” to sing along while he played Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together (the choir needed some work). For me, the best part of his show was his freestyle rap (“How many jazz cats you know can flow like that?” he exclaimed when he finished), and when he ventured into the crowd for the “most cracking section.”

Ending his set with Tupac Shakur’s California Love was a sure way to not only hype the crowd, but make his performance all the more memorable.

Looking forward to seeing Mike Phillips live again and checking him out on Instagram.

I feel the same about Boney James. Following an interesting set by the Robert Glasper Experiment (more on that shortly), James’ cool and relatable personality was a refreshing change of pace. He danced (yes, he plays the saxophone, but can also dougie), and it was quite apparent he was enjoying himself as much as we were enjoying his performance.

OJF 2016 BJ3
Boney James performs at the Oakland Jazz Festival on July 16, 2016.

His version of Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine was a favorite for me. He held the last note for nearly a minute! James also made his way through the crowd.

I have a few of his CDs, yet I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add his latest, futuresoul (which he said was inspired by the soul music he grew up listening to), to my collection for three reasons: judging by the cuts he played, I knew it was a good album; he was selling the CD for only $10 and he was autographing it. Win/win in my book.

Now about Robert Glasper and his experiment. This is my third RGE experience. The first (2014) was cool (he opened for Ledisi, so her joining him on stage to sing their song Gonna Be Alright made that show really great). The second was February 2016. I left trying to figure out what the hell I just witnessed. The show started more than an hour and a half late and, not that I know anything about taking acid, but my sister and I both said the show felt like a bad acid trip.

I had low expectations for this performance – and that turned out to be a good thing. I missed the opening of his show, but the rest gave me flashbacks to February 2016. If you are unfamiliar with Glasper’s work, two of his CDs (Black Radio and Black Radio 2 Deluxe Version) have guest appearances by various artists (Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Musiq Soulchild, and the aforementioned Jill Scott and Ledisi have all appeared on his CDs).

I get that he’s not able to have these artists appear when he’s on tour. What I don’t get, however, is why he can’t have someone in his band that can actually sing versus using a talk box (the instrument Roger Troutman used for many songs) the ENTIRE TIME! One or two songs I can tolerate, but beyond that, it just becomes downright annoying.

I guess RG wasn’t feeling the crowd love because, before launching into Bill Wither’s Lovely Day, he made an inappropriate reference to the tragedy in Nice, France, and yelled at us to, “Sing the song goddamn it.” Not a way to motivate the crowd, especially since Mike Phillips just finished an amazing performance.

OJF 2016 AH
Mike Phillips performs at the Oakland Jazz Festival on July 16, 2016.

Finally, Lalah Hathaway and Anthony Hamilton were their usual professional, soulful selves. Lalah released a live album last year, and it’s worth picking up, especially if you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing her live. This album is a great reflection of what she sounds like in a live setting.

I particularly enjoyed her song Mirror, which was uplifting and very motivational.

And poor Anthony Hamilton. During his set, the sound went out a few times (this happened during Mike Phillips as well. One would hope the issue would have been fixed before the final act, but that clearly didn’t happen).

I LOVE how Hamilton just rolled with the punches and even made up a song about the situation, “It’s the speakers baby!”

That’s how a professional does it.

Check out a few of the live performances I videoed on YouTube:

Boney James: Band introductions

Lalah Hathaway: Angel

Anthony Hamilton: The Point of it All

 

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2 thoughts on “Oakland Jazz Festival: A great mix of jazz and soul

  1. Great wrap-up of the entire festival! I love me some Anthony Hamilton and Lalah Hathaway, and jazz music is always good for the soul.

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