Featuring continuous performances over 6 hours, The Audi Black Enterprise Jazz Festival brought to the Verizon Wireless Theater's indoor stage and the Bayou Place's outdoor stage the prominence of Joe Sample, KEM, Pieces of a Dream, Jimmy Sommers and the Chris Dave/Robert Glasper Experience with Oliver Lake. All of these artists came together for an afternoon and evening of live jazz entertainment. By most in attendance, this line-up was full of energy, variety and had a little bit of something for everyone. The only disappointment to the Festival was the missed opportunity to see the Spirit Music Sextet featuring Me'Shell NdegeOcello. Originally, the group was set to perform on the bill also; however, Me'Shell was unable to perform due to a hand injury. Although her group did not participate, the concert was time well-spent with an alternative group consisting of the additional listing of the Glasper Experience. In retrospect, the approach provided by this offering was very creative and in keeping with the intended theme of the Festival's sponsors.
During the six hours of live jazz entertainment, the crowd was provided with continuous non-stop entertainment on two distinctly different stages. The Glasper Experience performed on the indoor stage first, followed by Pieces of a Dream on the outdoor stage. Then came Joe Sample indoors, Jimmy Sommers outdoors, culminating with KEM as the final act of the evening. Collectively, all of these artists provided a rare view of contemporary, straight ahead and smooth jazz at its best. Every artist enthralled their audience with music that ran the gamut of much needed jazz entertainment. The mere fact that the stages were inside and outdoors took away the monotony of waiting between acts. During most concerts, there is always an undetermined amount of time that is created when changing bands. The Audi Black Enterprise Festival solved that with planning, creativity and vision. For a city such as Houston, the normally docile jazz public found this Festival to be one of the best entertainment values ever presented. The multi-faceted array of artists were some of the best ever presented, including the appearance of native Houstonian Joe Sample. By including him there was a bit of nostalgia attached to the Festival. Joe chose storytelling as a form of entertainment and his consummate piano style to bring laughter and jazz to the crowd. His take on his many experiences provided perspective on his 45-plus years as an entertainer. The career highs and lows of all the performers at the Festival were pale in comparison to Joe Sample's; however, each one in their own unique way were just as compelling and enlightening.
Seated in cabaret style at the Verizon Wireless Theater, it was very apparent that most of the attendees were there for two reasons. For the most part, there were the core Houston admirers and friends of Joe Sample, followed by the female fans of relative newcomer KEM. Riding high on his latest release entitled 'KEMISTRY', the artist known as KEM and his band mesmerized the soul with vocals tinged with emotion and passion. His rich captivating style coupled with nuances of Al Jarreau offered renditions of romantic love lost and found. In addition he also offered insightful spiritual perspectives into his life, which allowed him to lament his troubled past and the roads he took to his new found success. Each offering had the same effect, which allowed listeners to reflect on life as a journey of awareness and awakening. When examining the overall scope of KEM's brief career and the impact he has had on music as a whole, it can be said that his influence will continue to prosper in an environment that has often been short on musical quality. His performance on October 2nd was a snapshop of great things to come from this dynamic young artist.
When examining the overall scope of the Audi Black Enterprise Jazz Festival, it was most definitely about two things. Upon reflection, the music provided by the artists participating in the Festival filled a vacuum left by many concerts that have visited Houston. Many of the shows are singular in nature, audiences are only provided with one style of music, normally smooth jazz. The difference has always been the Houston International Jazz Festival and most recently Summer Jazz Nights Under The Stars. This latest entry into the Houston market is a much needed boost to the growing numbers of jazz aficionados. This time there was a blend of funk and circumstance as presented by Jimmy Sommers and Pieces of a Dream, augmented by the jazz tinged linguistics of Joe Sample and the Chris Dave/Robert Glasper Experience. KEM was the dessert by all accounts with his smooth emotionally rich vocals. The other side of the Audi Black Enterprise Jazz experience was the marketing aspects the event provided to both sponsors. Audi of America brought information and static automobile displays of their latest models for the crowd to experience, while Black Enterprise provided recent issues of their magazine as well. In addition, Houston was the launching pad for other cities that are expected to be targeted. To further push the mantle of consumer-based marketing influence, a free Jazz Festival CD featuring all the artists on the bill was given to ticket holders to commemorate the event. These highlights and other positive aspects attached to this unique blend of artists gave way to a much heralded and panoramically enticing show. In the opinions of most who saw this precedent setting concert, the Audi Black Enterprise Jazz Festival was a success. Seeing as how this was the first major nationally sponsored event to have hit the Houston market in recent memory, it can be considered by most standards as a monumental success in both integrity and presentation.