HITS Daily Double


Hugh Hefner, the Playboy magazine creator who died Wednesday at 91, was a lifelong jazz aficionado to used his empire to promote and record jazz musicians for six decades.

Jazz played into the Playboy lifestyle, he wrote in the magazine’s first issue in 1953, an element that went along discussions about Picasso and Nietzsche and sex. That first issue included a feature on the bandleaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey; he created a music poll that initially focused on jazz in 1957; and the first "Playboy Interview" feature, launched in 1962, was Alex Haley’s sit-down with Miles Davis.

He used television to present jazz artists. Playboy’s Penthouse, his syndicated series that ran 1959 to 1961, was consistently full of musicians—Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Buddy Rich and Anita O’Day, for example—mingling with comedians such as Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart.

His second show, Playboy After Dark, ran for 49 episodes in 1969 and 1970 and, like its predecessor, found Hefner strolling around his apartment while a broader range of musicians performed and chatted. Steppenwolf, James Brown, Linda Ronstadt, Canned Heat, Carmen McRae, the Grateful Dead, Cannonball Adderley and Harry Nilsson were among the guests.

Four years after the magazine’s launch, Playboy produced its first compilation album, Playboy Jazz All-Stars. The Playboy Records label would lay dormant until 1972 when it was revived to release country and pop artists such as Mickey Gilley, March 1970 Playmate Barbi Benton and Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds.

It shuttered in 1978 and was revived in 2001 as a JV with Concord as Playboy Jazz; they released fewer than 10 albums.

His Playboy Clubs in New York, L.A. and London booked jazz musicians frequently and several artists, the singer Della Reese and saxophonist Paul Desmond among them, recorded live albums at the clubs or promoted their association with Playboy in album titles.

In 1959, he staged the first Playboy Jazz Festival in his hometown of Chicago. With a lineup that included Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon, it attracted 68,000 fans, but would not be staged again for 20 years.

After moving to Los Angeles, Hefner revived the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in 1979, producing the two-day event with Darlene Chan and George Wein through 2013 when the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association took over.

In the early 90s, the Playboy festival was expanded with a version staged in Japan and touring version with Al Jarreau as the headliner. A Playboy Jazz Film Festival was staged in L.A. in 1994 that included the world theatrical premiere of the documentary A Great Day in Harlem.

Patty Farmer wrote a book on the relationship between Hefner and jazz, Playboy Swings, that was published in 2015.