Newport Jazz Festival goes down smooth

The 19th annual event will feature contemporary artists such as Al Jarreau, Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and Brian Culbertson.

Article Tab: Brian Culbertson will perform Sunday at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival.

Brian Culbertson will perform Sunday at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival.

For the 19th year in a row, contemporary jazz enthusiasts will occupy the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach’s intimate concert venue and grassy knolls this weekend for the Newport Beach Jazz Festival.

With a lineup that features more than 20 acts – including a few festival first-timers, such as Grammy-winning singer Al Jarreau and Grammy-winning rhythm and blues artist Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds – the festival offers a taste of jazz for every palate.

Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival

With: (Friday) Jonathan Butler; (Saturday) Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, BWB, Najee, Poncho Sanchez, Jazz in Pink, Patrick Bradley; (Sunday) Al Jarreau, Brian Culbertson, Earl Klugh, Eric Darius, Larry Braggs, Steve Oliver, DW3, Jeanette Harris

Where: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday

How much: $85 for Friday; general admission (lawn seating) for Saturday and Sunday is $55 per day or $90 for both days; VIP admission (reserved seating) for Saturday and Sunday is $120 per day or $210 for both days; tickets purchased on the day of the show are an additional $10

Call: 949-360-7800


This time around, the festival coincides with the grand reopening of the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach hotel. So, as artists perform on stage, hotel staff will lift a curtain to unveil a completed $15 million renovation.

The festival’s relationship with the Hyatt stems from a jazz festival tradition that began in the early ’90s.

“It started with the idea that this area (Orange County) needed a great contemporary jazz festival,” Omega Events President Rich Sherman said in a phone interview. “It was actually created as a benefit fundraiser for the victims of the (Laguna Beach and Malibu) fires in the end of 1993.”

The 1994 benefit jazz festival, dubbed the Southern California Jazz Festival, paved the way for the first Newport Beach Jazz Festival in 1995, which was held at the then-called Hyatt Newporter. Since then, the festival has grown into a three-night jazz extravaganza.

“It’s recognized not just in Orange County, but in jazz circles as being very successful nationwide,” Sherman said.

South African native Jonathan Butler will kick off the festival Friday night at the intimate Back Bay Amphitheater, which is located inside the Hyatt.

The festival will continue on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on the resort’s Back Bay Golf Course, which features two stages of music, an international food court, vendor village and views of the Newport Beach Back Bay.

On Saturday, fans will be treated to performances by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, BWB, Najee, Grammy award-winning percussionist Poncho Sanchez, Elan Trotman, Patrick Bradley, DJ Jonathan Phillips and women’s group Jazz in Pink.

Brain Culbertson, a six-time Oasis Jazz Award recipient and contemporary jazz multi-instrumentalist, will return to the Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday with a set celebrating his 13-album catalog.

Culbertson – primarily a keyboard player – will share the stage with the likes of Al Jarreau and Tower of Power vocalist Larry Braggs, whom he said have both influenced his music over the years. Other acts in the Sunday night line-up include Earl Klugh, saxophonist Eric Darius, Steve Oliver, DW3, Jeannette Harris and DJ Jonathan Philli.

Culbertson, a Los Angeles resident, was asked back to the festival after overwhelming demand from festival fans.

“Brian is one of the top requested artists in all of contemporary jazz,” Sherman said. “He was one of the first artists we booked for this year’s festival, because we realized that the fans love to see him.”

According to Culbertson, his tentative set list will feature some newer and older songs with an emphasis on his vocal collaborations from past records.

Older vocal tunes that made the set list include “It’s On Tonight,” “Nice and Slow” and “Somethin’ Bout Love,” Culbertson said.

Listeners will get a sneak peek into Culbertson’s dreams, when he performs new songs off his latest album “Dreams,” which was released in June 2012. “Dreams” marks Culbertson’s is his first release for the esteemed Verve Records, the home of jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald.

“The inspiration (for “Dreams”) was this: I wasn’t even thinking about making a record,” Culbertson said in a phone interview. “Then all of the sudden, I was literally waking up and having these intense dreams. And, I would remember visual feelings and images left over. And, all I wanted to do was to write music to recapture the feeling and sort of write a soundtrack to those dreams I was remembering.”

“They were not nightmares, thankfully!”

According to Culbertson, the album-making process began two years ago, when he started to write down his dreams as they occurred. What resulted was a collection of 10 songs that each tells a unique story.

“For instance, one of the dreams was I was walking through a European city, while a festival was going on,” Culbertson recalled. “And across the square there was so much going on. I spotted this women that was alluring, and I was trying to follow her through the city and just catch up and say ‘Hi.’ But, I never did.

“And, so I woke up with this agony, this sense of, oh my god, longing. So, I wrote this song called, ‘Madelena.’ If you listen to that, hopefully it will give you that feeling.”

Culbertson will play a few songs off of “Dreams” at the festival, including the album’s first single, “Still Here,” which features Vivian Green on vocals.

At the festival, the single will feature members of Culbertson’s touring band, including Selina Albright, daughter of Gerald Albright, on vocals.

Culbertson’s style is what most may call eclectic. He infuses jazz and R&B with instrumental funk and then tops it off with a tinge of pop and gospel.

However, despite his contemporary influences, Culbertson still has a sweet spot for jazz.

“There’s so much room to be spontaneous and react off the audience,” he said. “That to me is what’s most exciting about jazz: the unknown.”

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