HOLMBY HILLS — For decades, Playboy has been synonymous with centerfolds and publisher Hugh Hefner, the ultimate ladies man.
But what some may find surprising is for the past 35 years Playboy has had its hand in an entirely different culture: Jazz.
Playboy announced the official lineup for its 35th annual Playboy Jazz Festival late last month, along with its new master of ceremonies, Latin-American actor and comedian George Lopez, who will be replacing comedy legend Bill Cosby, who had hosted the festival for more than 30 years.
“To have been selected by Bill Cosby is a tremendous honor,” Lopez said at a press conference held on the grounds of the Playboy Mansion. “As host, I will do my best to make Bill proud. I love jazz and I love all musicians.”
Headlining the jazz festival this year will be two-time Grammy-winning pianist and keyboardist George Duke with special guest Jeffrey Osborne, a cappella group Naturally 7 with 14-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, and Sheila E. with Bob James and David Sanborn, featuring Steve Gadd and James Genus.
Osborne will be making festival debut after being a spectator in years past.
“I’m shocked that I’ve never done it before,” he said.
Osborne stated that he usually plays the R&B/Pop festivals, and that he feels that Playboy’s festival has something unique to offer.
“This is the purest of all festivals,” he said. “There’s no gimmicks here. It’s straight-ahead jazz.”
Also making her festival debut is 21-year-old saxophonist, vocalist and songwriter Grace Kelly, who will have her mentor Phil Woods joining her on the stage along with the rest of her band.
“Sometimes I pinch myself because it’s so amazing to be working with my jazz heroes,” she said.
Since the age of 12, Kelly has released eight full-length albums and performed at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater and others.
On the other side of the age spectrum will be Quincy Jones, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday during the festival. His 65-year career in the entertainment industry has included winning 27 Grammy awards, seven Oscar nominations, an Emmy, and a best-selling autobiography.
He believes music to be one of life’s bare essentials.
“Water and music are gonna be the last things to leave this planet,” Jones said. “You can’t live without [music]. You can’t reproduce it. Same with water. You have to have it; you can’t live without it.”
The festival started in June of 1979, and Darlene Chan, president of FestivalWest Inc., has been there every year since, organizing the festival for the past 35 years.
“I’m trying to keep it, you know, not the same old, same old,” she said. “We try to bring something new all the time.”
One of the new things Chan is brining this year is the tandem of Naturally 7 and Hancock, who have never performed live on stage together. Hancock performed at the very first offering of the jazz festival in 1979.
“Playboy really has its own personality,” Hancock said. “It’s got a sunny, southern California vibe to it. The festival carries with it the spirit of having swimming pools in your back yard.”
Cooper Hefner, son of Hugh Hefner, feels that the jazz festival sheds a new light on the Playboy brand as a whole.
“There’s this perception of Playboy that really is ‘The Girls Next Door’” Cooper Hefner said. “The interesting part about the jazz fest is it kind of breaks the traditional values of what the perception of the brand is. That’s why I like it.”
The festival will be held over two days at the Hollywood Bowl starting on Saturday, June 15 and ending on Sunday, June 16. Tickets can be bought from Ticketmaster or online at playboyjazzfestival.com.