Have you hugged a jazz musician today? You should. For the second year in a row, April 30th has been declared International Jazz Day by no less a reputable organization than the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This year's host city is Istanbul.
But why not L.A.? After all, jazz matured simultaneously with the City of Angels and throughout the last 100 years some of the most important jazz musicians have lived and worked here. While clubs like the Blue Whale and the Jazz Bakery keep the spirit alive, many ghosts still swing in the dark corners of our desert grid. Here are five of the very best Los Angeles jazz landmarks.
Contemporary Records 8481 Melrose Place, West Hollywood
Lester Koenig's Contemporary Record label was probably the most vital chronicler of the Los Angeles jazz scene in the 1950s and '60s. The label recorded local legends like pianist Hampton Hawes and saxophonist Harold Land, as well as visitors like Sonny Rollins (Way Out West) and Ornette Coleman (Something Else!), the latter of whom lived briefly in Los Angeles, notably working as an elevator operator at Bullock's department store in downtown L.A.
The most impressive feat of Koenig's operation was that many of his releases were recorded in the wee hours of the morning at his distribution warehouse on Melrose Place, under the guidance of engineer Roy Dunann. It is unlikely that the shoppers in what is now a rather ritzy shopping district have any idea of the brilliance that once echoed in those streets.
Shelly's Manne Hole 1608 North Cahuenga, Hollywood
Drummer Shelly Manne was Contemporary Records' go-to drummer. He had a long running series with the label entitled "Shelly Manne & His Men," featuring a rotating cast of local talent. From 1960 to 1972, he ran a Hollywood jazz venue called Shelly's Manne Hole.
Pianist Bill Evans recorded an immortal live session there in 1963 while Jazz Bakery impresario and vocalist Ruth Price recorded a live album with Manne and his men, while she was still in her early twenties. The small manhole plaque is embedded off-center on the once-again happening sidewalk of Cahuenga Boulevard, commemorating the spot where so many great heroes once stubbed their cigarettes.
Lincoln Theater sign
Central Avenue Jazz Corridor Central Avenue between 23rd & Vernon Avenue, South Central Los Angeles
From the late 1910s until the early 1950s, Central Avenue was the center of the West Coast jazz world. No less than the inventor of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton, lived, recorded and even pimped on the Avenue while musicians like Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton were regular visitors to palaces like the Lincoln Theater.
Miniscule joints like the Down Beat club housed equally great musicians like Los Angeles' own Buddy Collette, Dexter Gordon and Charles Mingus. A series of signs mark the spirits of jazz past on a rather run-down strip of Los Angeles. Important buildings like the Dunbar Hotel still remain intact, but the memories of walking into a room and witnessing Art Tatum pounding Pabsts and playing a busted piano are distant.
Where Les Paul's garage used to be
Les Paul's Garage 1514 North Curson, Hollywood
At the behest of crooner Bing Crosby, guitar god Les Paul set about converting his Hollywood garage into a recording studio. (Are there any personal garages that aren't studios now?) While tinkering with his toys, Paul discovered the indispensible technique of immediate multi-tracking that revolutionized the recording process. He also perfected a portable recording system that allowed him to record radio shows while on the road.
The recordings that came out of this tinkering, although viewed as a bit of a novelty, were intricate displays of music and mathematics, with Paul accompanying himself at all manner of speeds to create superhuman but swinging sounds. Paul's garage is no longer there -- it's a driveway for an auction house -- but it seems appropriate that Sunset Boulevard's massive Guitar Center is only a couple of blocks away.
Lighthouse Cafe 30 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach
The Lighthouse defined the West Coast jazz scene for many record buyers worldwide. The venue began booking jazz in 1949 when bassist Howard Rumsey hosted a jam session, which filled the dive with bare-footed beatniks almost immediately.
Central Avenue veterans like saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss traveled across town to play in Rumsey's integrated free-for-all, while trumpeting dreamboat Chet Baker, who lived nearby at 1011 16th Street, became a regular performer, launching a career that is romanticized as much for its decline as its rise.
The venue still hosts Sunday jazz gigs (at 11am!) but through the 1960s it remained a key venue for touring artists like Cannonball Adderley, Elvin Jones and Lee Morgan to record live sessions and take in that unmistakable Pacific breeze.
Pianist Joshua White seeks the history of the music he loves and layers it into his own sound. His confident delivery and endlessly engaging approach have attracted a fair amount of attention including a second-place finish at the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 2011 and constant appearances anywhere between San Diego and Los Angeles on any given night. Tonight, he'll be appearing at the Aliso Creek Inn with bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith. He spoke with us about five of those history-makers who have influenced him the most.
Richard Davis "Number Two" on Booker Ervin's Space Book (1964) I became aware of his work through a Booker Ervin record entitled Space Book which also features Jaki Byard on piano and Alan Dawson on drums. Overall, I find his playing very stimulating. His rhythmic choices and how he would break things up into different groupings. He's obviously well aware of the whole tradition. He's well aware of all sorts of music traditions not just Black American music. There's an overall guiding aesthetic with most great players that lead you into finding directions that are most positive in terms of the music. When I hear him play, it always inspires me to keep pushing forward, to think and to learn.
Geri Allen "Blues In Motian" from Etudes (1988) I find her music always interesting, always stimulating, always intriguing. There is a light that shines through when she is in the band. Lately, I've been going back and investigating her recordings with a wonderful trio featuring bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. There is always something wonderful happening. There isn't really too much to explain. You just have to listen to the dialogue because that's where I find the music is always found. Sometimes I think there is too much emphasis on arranging and setting up the music. I'm more interested in hearing things develop in the moment instead of having a super developed framework.
Steve Coleman "Respiratory Flow" from Functional Arrhythmias (2013) The first Steve Coleman album I picked up was 2011's The Mancy of Sound. I've been playing it at least once a week since I bought it. The compositions are brilliant, the playing is fantastic, the sound of the band is incredible. Having the opportunity to meet with him and talk with him really shed some light upon how things are developed within his language and within his band, his whole environment. I've definitely been embracing his work. I've been getting every record I can get my hands on. Enough can't be said about his work and his dedication and his constant development and his constant need to learn new information.
Andrew Hill "Dedication" from Point of Departure (1964) I would say he's a pianist and composer who just kind of turned me around and had my head spinning for quite some time now. To be honest, when I first heard Point of Departure I was super heavy into Tony Williams at the time but I was like "Who's this cat on the piano?" I really couldn't dig it. Some older cats were like "Go back and listen to him." I go back and start listening again and I guess I was just listening to him solo. I was listening to his last works with his trio and listening to his music and the way he played the piano and the command that he had in that environment just knocked me out. His approach to improvisation and his approach developing melodic content really opened a new world to me that I was never really aware of or really took the time to listen to and investigate. The thing that really strikes me about his playing is his compositions are so tethered to how he plays as an improviser. You are hearing him even when cats are soloing on his compositions. He has the ability to translate his language if the musicians are open into any vessel that's available.
Herbie Nichols "Love Gloom Cash Love" from Love Gloom Cash Love (1957)
Nichols doesn't have a large recorded output but he does have a substantial body of work in a tight, compact package. Some of the same ideas that I hear with Herbie Nichols are present in what I hear with Andrew Hill but they are two completely different individuals. To listen to Herbie Nichols as a soloist and how he weaves lines using different rhythmic groupings outside of the perceived tradition of the music commonly referred to as bebop and his sense of swing and his feel for lines is something totally unique but equally as satisfying as any other player I hear from that period. It's wonderful to hear a fresh approach to a language that's constantly being developed as opposed to having some sort of definitive answer to what is right and wrong.
this album is an introduction to accordionist Vince Abbracciante, he has
already been at the party for a while. Not yet 30, Abbracciante made his mark
by winning the prestigious Castelfidardo Accordion Festival International Prize
before he was old enough to drive. Since then, he has criss-crossed the globe
performing on five different continents in every setting imaginable, from
ancient amphitheaters to stuffy, low-lit basements. Finally, with all of this
experience under his belt, Abbracciante is ready for his close-up.
young man from Puglia is not doing it alone. Abbracciante has surrounded
himself with a sharp crew of musicians to help him mingle. Veteran saxophonist
Robert Ottaviano contributres the first and last subdued notes of the album, inbetween
he provides a few ruthless solos. Fellow youthful Italian Fabrizio Scarafile
provides soprano saxophone for a couple of tracks, the swinging “No or Yes” as
well as “Nublu Bossa” a burning re-arrangement of the Kenny Dorham classic
reworked into an homage to the unofficial headquarters of the lone American on
the album, bassist Juini Booth.
unflappable Booth got his start in his teens working for legends like Art
Blakey before going on to expand his sound in the 1970s as a member of McCoy
Tyner’s band as well as Tony Williams’ Lifetime. Aside from holding down the
low-end Booth also contributes a third of the album’s compositions including
the backbeat-heavy “MDX” which features a boisterous seduction from vocalist
Giuseppe Delre. The other contributing vocalist, Adriana Ciannella, make her
recording debut on “En Mi” blending seamlessly with Abbracciante’s reedy accordion. And through it all is in-demand
drummer Antonio Di Lorenzo keeping the pace on his gliding cymbals.
all of this is in support of the man of the hour. From the clattering thunder
of album opener “Visione” to his solo exploration on the swooning “Triss,”
Abbracciante has presented a wide range of capabilities that only hint at what
is to come in the future. His compositional talents combined with his
breathless jaunts come together to form the complete package. His mastery of
the handheld orchestra is a wonder to behold.
the time to let Abbracciante introduces himself, you will only be left wishing
he had done so sooner.
"Sean J. O'Connell scrive per DownBeat, LA Weekly e il New York Jazz Record. Gli piace ascoltare la fisarmonica, ma ha scoperto che i suoi avambracci gil fanno male de quando la suona."
Yusef Lateef was 83 years old when filmmakers Nicolas
Humbert and Werner Penzel spent a week at his home in Western Massachusetts,
resulting in the short documentary “Brother Yusef.” They recorded his
performances and meditations every day, leaving hours of performance material
off of their finished project.Nine
years later, Rogue Art has released a lovingly compiled collection of some of
those unused performances from that week, seamlessly blended into a brief,
flowing album that finds Lateef both playful and introspective.
The album is bookended by extended improvisations entitled
“Roots Run Deep” that feature a melancholy mix of vocals, piano and flute.
Lateef is the only performer on the album and it is his vocals that stand out
the most. A strained but honeyed knowingness imbues the entire project with a
relaxed wisdom. Four of the seven tracks feature Lateef reading short stories
from his 1975 book “Spheres.” Behind the brief but amusing “Cream Puff” Lateef
provides a honking tenor for his tale of his practicing limitations and the
daily procedures while “Goodbye” remains a largely unadorned reflection on
death until the end of the piece pops with descending sounds from his saxophone.
The most resounding piece on the album
features a repeated and spacious piano figure used throughout the record as Lateef
sings a slow and tragic rendition of the traditional blues standard “Motherless
The CD package includes a 22-page booklet with remembrances of that week from the filmmakers, a
few words from Lateef, a handful of photographs and some sheet music. Now 92
years old, Lateef is still performing, no doubt still wrestling with many of
the themes he revisited in 2004 and originally conceived in 1975. It is a
beautiful project that is sadly far too short but serves as an intriguing
companion to the documentary.