Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival 2017

Mark Robbins BY

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They were the last act of the two night 35th Annual Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival held July 14 and 15 at Town Point Park. Because of inclement weather the festival had to be moved inside to the 46 year old Scope Arena. The star studded smooth jazz festival featured Russ Freeman with the Rippingtons, Najee, Pieces of a Dream, Euge Groove, Spyro Gyra and then the last act "The Superstars of Jazz Fusion"—Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, Ronnie Laws and Tom Browne. Full disclosure, this writer did not attend any of the performances except for "The Superstars of Jazz Fusion."

It was apparent that the 1,500 plus audience expected the 4 musicians to perform together, they did not. Lonnie Liston Smith strode on stage, hidden behind two stacked electronic keyboards. Backed by a trio of electric bass, guitar and drums Smith played four songs that an eager audience danced and cheered to. After introducing Ronnie Laws and what appeared to be a gradual introduction to the other "Superstars of Jazz Fusion," Smith left the stage leaving Laws with the house band for three numbers. The pattern followed with Laws introducing Tom Browne and exiting the stage then Browne introducing Ayres and leaving. Browne spent most of his time talking and vamping to the audience with a few trumpet notes thrown in. Ayres did little more than play a couple of perfunctory progressions on electric vibes and sang part of the 1976 anthem "Searching." Finally, the four musicians appeared together on stage, played for a few minutes and took their bows.

All in all it was a pretty disjointed evening of little communication between band members and a play by the numbers vibe. But, and this is a big but, the die hard smooth jazz fans ate it up! 1,500 people sounded like three times that amount, yelling and cheering before and after each song. Before the end of the evening fans had left their seats and gathered in front of the stage taking cell phone pictures and video. With the smoke machine in overdrive there was probably a lot of hazy shots.
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