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Interviews

Ruth Price: LA's Jazz Jewel Keeping the Jazz Bakery Alive

By Published: September 24, 2013
AAJ: Eventually, you moved from that location to where the Jazz Bakery would operate for roughly fifteen years. How did those first couple of years go?

RP: Well, the wonderful man who owned the whole complex, Wally Marks Jr., came to us and said because the original place was never intended for music, and we had big bands and everything, he was having problems with his other tenants. The original place had very thin walls. So one day, he came to me and said he'd prefer if we moved to another space, which was what you know as the Jazz Bakery. At that time, it was a storage area for an antique furniture store. But suddenly it became available. It was a cavernous space, and I literally just drew what I wanted and he turned it over to his architect who built the Jazz Bakery. And of course, it was delayed. I have that to look forward to. (The building of the new incarnation of the Jazz Bakery). And we finally moved over there. I even remember I, of course, was the guinea pig to test out the sound for the first show. The stage was twenty-two feet wide and about fourteen to sixteen feet deep, which is a great size. However, we hadn't done any "real" sound. We wouldn't have known how anyway. I had a great rhythm section. Everybody knew where "one" was, but "one" was different from one end of the stage to the other. The sound was being delayed so we had to fix that. And so we started there. But if someone had told me what it entailed, I would've said I can't do that. I would never, ever have done it. But it was just one of those things that happened. so I just kept doing it. And that's it.

AAJ: So there was a real spontaneous synergy that was behind these developments, sort of pushing things along.

RP: Yes, it was not at all intentional. Wally Marks Jr. had a vision. All that was there, on Helms Ave., was us. There was nothing there except, across the street, there was a bakery that was really decrepit. There was no business on that street. It was pitch black. Helms Ave. was just us. And what he saw (in his imagination), is what it became later. He saw it more as an artistic venture, a combined artistic venture. He (Wally Marks Jr.) was really the reason we could do it. We were always a non- profit from the beginning because I could never run a "business" business. Impossible! Our rent was little or nothing per square foot. He just did it because he had a vision and he wanted to see it there because he was really involved in the arts. He was a wonderful man. And it's been like that, things somehow coming together, with the new Jazz Bakery, too. We call them "bolts of lightning" that came to us. I certainly didn't have the courage to call Frank Gehry. I wouldn't call Annenberg...I wouldn't have called Culver City and said, "give us that land." But apparently we had enough of a reputation, way more than I ever grasped. It (the Jazz Bakery) went on for so long, eighteen or nineteen years, that people were impressed. Even important people, who I didn't know about and who really saw and loved what I was doing. And all I was doing was booking people I wanted to hear. The only stipulation I ever had with the Board of Directors, and it still holds today, is that I'm the only one whose taste is reflected, musical taste. I'm the president, but all I really care about is being the artistic director.

AAJ: How about putting the Jazz Bakery together?

RP: Well, we never had enough money to really do a professional sound treatment. We just kind of grew as best we could. People gave us baffles. We built baffles. At one point we got a whole bunch of left over stuff from the Hollywood Bowl when they remodeled. So it got better all the time. But when we finally bought those new chairs it was like a miracle. It took us 12 years to buy chairs. They cost about $12,000. We finally had padded chairs, and they acted like baffles. It made a huge difference in the sound. We still have them, and we'll probably use them in the "black box" theater. But we couldn't afford it for a long time.

AAJ: And eventually, there was that terrible day in May 2009.

RP: Well, you know what happened...the son of Wally Marks Jr., Wally III, heard I had broken my neck, and I was wearing one of those halos. So he called and said he'd love to visit me. I foolishly thought he had an ounce of humanity. I never would've expected him to visit me, but really, I thought it had to do with me almost dying. So he came with an envelope and gave me notice. We had a month to get out, but we talked him into giving us six weeks because I had people whom I had already paid and who had bought plane tickets. That was his decision. It kind of surprised me, but I already knew who he really was. Not long before that incident, our "domain" name expired and we had to renew it. Well, none of us were aware when it happened and within a day, guess who bought it?

AAJ: Don't tell me.

RP: Yeah, Wally III and his friend. So I went to him to get it back and he refused.So I went to his father and tattle- taled. And his father made him give it back. At that point I knew what kind of person he (Wally III) was. When your landlord goes behind your back and steals like that I learned who he was.


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