The Kool Jazz Festival at the Capital Centre Saturday night was an unusual kind of jazz festival. There wasn't any jazz.
Of the evening's four acts, three - Carrie Lucas, The Whispers and Gladys Knight and the Pips - are traditional soul singers. They could only be considered jazz performers by stretching that definition until it's meaningless. George Duke, the only performer with legitimate jazz credentials, played funk songs that bore only the slightest resemblance to any field of jazz.
The only instrumental all night was the Gladys Knight band's overture. There was scarcely a bar of improvised music the entire evening. There were fewer chords and time changes in the whole Whispers' set than in a single Charlie Parker tune.
George Duke's set was particularly discouraging. The keyboardist, who has played with Cannonball Adderly, Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Clarke, has solid jazz skills. But Saturday he played simplistic dance rhythms and repetitious high-register phrases. His silver-lined costume, sci-fi props and chants of "If you believe in funk, get up," were a poor imitation of George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic show.
Carrie Lucas and The Whispers not only have nothing to do with jazz, they are rather mediocre soul singers as well. Gladys Knight and the Pips, however, are still one of the best soul groups around. Knight's throaty vibrato and instinctive timing were in impressive form as she sang the group's biggest hits in a short set.
The Duke Ellington Orchestra, the quintessential jazz band, had originally been on the bill but had been dropped by Saturday night. If the purpose of the "jazz festival" was to promote jazz, the result was much like promotingsoccer by sponsoring a Redskin game.