The Hollywood Bowl Is a Beautiful Venue, Just Not for a Jazz Festival
This article was originally published on Respect My Region
Unless it’s the opera or a recital or some performance that requires gentle claps between each song, sitting on anything above ground level either formalizes live music or makes it sleepier than it needs to be.
You could have the greatest lineup of musicians take the stage one after the other, but if spectators aren’t positioned to embrace movement, the performers will most likely mirror their energy. Sure, playing a set is just another day on the job for artists, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, some venues leave no room for their audience to take charge past certain a certain point, which in turn dictates the general mood of the event.
The Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival, despite pulling a spectacular card, didn’t live up to its full potential for this exact reason — it isn’t set up to accommodate a range of motion appropriate for things lively.
The venue in question is fully seated, top to bottom. There’s no pit; only seats and benches that are designed for attendees to sit down, get up, leave, come back and sit down again. Even trying to dance feels odd in such a setting considering it’s made for people to either pass through or sit still. This is particularly frustrating when the show in front of you is spirited and stimulating.
Jazz has a distorted reputation for being purely refined, and though there is most certainly an elegance to many forms of it, modern renditions of the genre (as in any craft) rarely fit into a single lane. To that point, the two-day festival featured a roster with unbelievable range and eye-catching talent that stretched past the confines of one category and showcased the chemistry jazz has with funk, rap, rock, soul and R&B.
The gathering also took place a day prior to Juneteenth, so it was essentially a celebration of Black culture as a whole. Add to that a bottomless bill that featured everyone from Kamasi Washington to Big Freedia to Leon Bridges, and it seemed damn near perfect on paper.
Unfortunately, as great as the music was, the environment of the Hollywood Bowl simply didn’t cut it.
Legendary jazz rap trio Digable Planets were among those on the itinerary, and their presence should’ve been special by every measure. With 2023 marking the 50-year anniversary of hip-hop, it sounded like the perfect gift, especially since they’ve remained largely inactive since the mid-90s. Mind you, it was truly amazing to witness them perform, but it still felt constrained the entire time.
That is simply not how you want to experience one of the coolest, most suave acts of all time. In fact, that isn’t how you want to experience jazz or any other craft that encourages participation in any way, shape or form.
There’s a time and place for sit-down concerts, but this just wasn’t it. A celebration of jazz deserves an atmosphere where everyone can move freely rather than sitting in single files. The Hollywood Bowl is without question a magnificent site, but it simply isn’t conducive to the shimmer of jazz.