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15 Months Later: How A Historic Los Angeles Performance Space Survived Covid

Chuck Koton BY

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On March 1, 2020 The World Stage in Leimert Park, the cultural heart of the Black community in Los Angeles, hosted a fundraising concert to help Eliane Henri complete her documentary on the late, great horn master, Roy Hargrove. The performance featured veterans tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore and Willie Jones on drums, rising stars, pianist Gerald Clayton and Mike Gurrola on bass and included a short video of the still in-progress film. Little did anyone in the venue realize that in 2 short weeks live performances, and so much else, would be shut down all over the world.

Like many other performance spaces, The World Stage and its Executive Director, Dwight Trible, scrambled to find a way to survive the shutdown. The most important task facing Trible was to find the funding necessary to pay the monthly bills in order to keep this historic, non-profit performance space, founded by jazz master Billy Higgins and world-renowned poet Kamau Daaood over 30 years ago, alive. The Guess Company stepped up with a grant that enabled Trible to not only pay the rent but to purchase recording equipment that would allow concerts to be live-streamed to home audiences around the world.

The Friday night, video streamed concert series, which began on August 8, 2020, was organized around the two connected themes of "Fight Racism" and "Get Out the Voted." Hosted by the Jazz Cat, LeRoy Downs, a tireless and ubiquitous supporter of jazz in Southern California, the evening featured World Stage co-founder Kamau Daaood, who recited one of his dramatic poetic tributes to the Leimert Park community and master saxophonist Azar Lawrence, whose band tore through an inspiring set of "fire music."

Since that opening night The World Stage has hosted Grammy Award winning pianists, Billy Childs and John Beasley; veteran masters of the saxophone Justo Almario, Dale Fielder and Charles Owens; and vocalists Carmen Lundy, who rocked a "Vote" face mask and Tierney Sutton.

The video streaming concert series, which is archived, has been broadcast free on The World Stage Facebook page and YouTube channel with viewers asked to support this historic performance space with donations. Thanks to the efforts of Executive Director Dwight Trible and The World Stage staff, more than 50 performances have been presented safely and successfully, giving the musicians desperately needed gigs and audiences the sorely needed music that makes life worth living.
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