Hef's love affair with jazz

Hugh Hefner has sax on his mind

The erudite, pajama-clad Playboy impresario is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Playboy Jazz Festival, a two day summertime celebration showcasing musical styles ranging from smooth jazz to soul, cool, blues, big band, gospel and even Gypsy.

He founded the event to mark the magazine’s 25th anniversary, and the inaugural festival’s lineup of stars is regarded as one of the finest in jazz history: Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie, among others.

Hefner (77) usually attends the Hollywood Bowl concert flanked by a squad of curvaceous blondes—which is how he attends most everything. But Playboy’s jazz festival has always emphasised mind over models, becoming one of the nation’s most respected musical galas.

The roster for this year’s event, set for June 14-15, includes the R&B of Boz Scaggs, the smooth sounds of Al Jarreau, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, the gospel of the Blind Boys of Alabama, Los Hombres Calientes, the Romanian Gypsy brass-band Fanfare Ciocarlia, and the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.

Hef, as he’s known to friends, says the music reminds him of his teenage years in the 1940s, when he developed a near simultaneous interest in women and jazz.

Although he doesn’t play music himself, his idols were vocalist Billie Holiday and Bix Beiderbecke, a cornet player who died in 1931 at the age of 28—years before Hefner developed a love for his music.

The iconoclastic publisher also said he admired the way jazz music brought people together during a time when blacks and whites were largely divided.

And, of course, there remains the sultry, erotic element of jazz that seduced Hefner, which can’t be overstated.

In an interview with Anthony Breznican, Hefner describes the influence that jazz has had on him.

  • How did jazz influence your idea of the Playboy lifestyle?

    Hefner: Jazz was the music of my childhood and therefore the music of my dreams and fantasy of my youth.
    Music was always very important to me and very much connected to romance. Being raised in a very typically Midwest, Methodist, repressive home, it was the movies and the music that elicited the possibilities of other ways of living one’s life that were a kind of celebration.

  • What does the music remind you of most vividly?

    Hefner: It’s a time machine. I remember the exact moment that I first heard Billie Holiday on the radio. I was driving back from Sunday school with a girl I was going steady with at the time, and the tune was Trav’lin’ Light.

  • Jazz was a kind of forbidden fruit in those days. Was that part of its appeal?

    Hefner: I saw in jazz the fact that it was anti-establishment music. It came out of New Orleans and had a black connection that wasn’t entirely acceptable in polite society. Those early records and remote broadcasts that came on the radio in the middle of the night were the stuff that dreams are made of.

  • Because there’s something innately sexual about jazz music?

    Hefner: Without question. You can say things obviously, both in the lyrics and instrumentally, from the heart that cannot be expressed in any other way.

  • What’s the sexiest musical instrument?

    Hefner: It depends on who’s playing it. Probably, on a personal level, it’s either the trumpet or the saxophone. There’s a lot of soulful sound you can get out of a saxophone. ‒ Sapa-AP

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