Review: Newport Beach Jazz Party

Keith McDowall enjoyed the 60 musicians and numerous big bands at the Newport Beach Party and joined in the celebrations when a new backer emerged

It was like a “We’re closing” Hollywood movie - “No, the show must go on” - and it did, which explained the mighty roar of approval when on the final day of the 18th Annual Newport Beach Jazz Party, staged not all that far from Hollywood in southern California, it was announced that a saviour had been found.

For four days whilst the wonderful music continued at the lush Newport Beach Marriott Hotel, Joe Rothman and John McClure insisted this really was their final show: “We feel this will be the last NBJP we will produce… we have gotten the event right and hope that this year’s party will be a fun-filled musical treat” was how they put it in the 28-page programme.

With 11 top-class pianists including Tamir Hendelman, Larry Fuller and Dena DeRose (pictured right), eight bassists like Chuck Berghofer, nine drummers including ex-Basieman Lewis Nash, Butch Miles and Joe LaBarbera, five top reedmen including Ken Peplowski and Rickey Woodard, nine vocalists such as Barbara Morrison and no less than four successive different big bands for each night of the jazz party it truly was a spectacular, top-class gathering. But though the 400-plus audience (and over 60 musicians) loved their music and the mingling - many recounting how they had never missed a party - there was sadness at what most felt was the end of an era.

Then just before introducing the fourth night’s big band, led by John Clayton (pictured left), Rothman came on stage and announced a new backer had been found - in the audience. They virtually lifted the roof. People hugged, punched the air and raised their glasses. But who was it?

Paul Lowden had been sitting enjoying the music with his wife Sue. What’s more he had brought along several of his family for the third year running. It seems Paul just loves jazz music and played the organ professionally in a Las Vegas hotel. Then he abandoned the keyboard and joined the front-hall staff. Gradually he worked his way up the highly competitive tree, becoming general manager and then buying the hotel. But he had never forgotten the thrill of playing professionally and loved the company of musicians.

In January this year he joined his lifelong friend, 80-year-old singer Jack Jones, on stage for his British tour. They took in a packed Cadogan Hall in London and toured the country to crowded welcomes from Jones’s extensive fan club. Maybe it was savouring again the roar of the crowd, the crash of the cymbals or thrilling to the applause for a good solo, but with that taste still lingering Paul pulled out his cheque book and guaranteed a new life for the party. It’s a big task because the Newport Beach Jazz Party is among the best in the US - probably the world.

Joe Rothman has been an experienced hotelman all his life. He opened up the Newport Beach Hotel and Spa for Marriott and took it to the top of the group. So he knew all about the potential of the hotel but has never forgotten spending all night on his graduation at Birdland in New York. All his life the wise-cracking New Yorker has loved jazz and enjoys the annual jazz cruise out of Florida. His lifelong friend, John McClure, had worked in the hotel for Joe and also spent time in the music business on the West Coast. So they had a common love of straightahead jazz and knew the hotel business in depth, making a good team.

Most of those volunteers who have helped for years to run the jazz party are considering staying on to keep the music alive out west. But help is at hand getting the musicians for next year lined up as it was later announced Ken Peplowski had agreed to become musical director.

This was my third visit to the event, which truly is spectacular. A highlight for me and my wife, Brenda, was listening to Alan Bergman, joint lyricist with Marilyn, his wife, telling how they came up with lyrics like Windmills Of Your Mind - persuading Michel Legrand to compose the theme - What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, The Way We Were, Nice ’N’ Easy for Frank Sinatra and Memories and 60 other songs for Barbra Streisand. Many other magnificent songs, most of them for film scores have been penned by the Brooklyn-born couple. They have won three Academy Awards (nominated for 16), two Grammys, three Emmys and countless other distinctions for themes that can get deep into your soul. And your heart.

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