Any jazz fan is familiar of the influence of the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, as it was a cultural center for intellectual thought, art, and music. That too, occurred in Central Avenue in Los Angeles, from the 20's to the 50's. The Central Avenue scene was created from laws restricting African-Americans where they could live or run businesses. Despite the hardships, it was a robust community, and the area's most well known venue was the Hotel Dunbar considered top notch with travelers for their attentive service and luxurious accommodations. Because of this, all knew this was the place to spot Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, or Louie Armstrong when they came here to perform. Because of its historical significance, the city of Los Angeles celebrates by hosting the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, now in its third year. The Festival takes place on the street right next to the famed hotel. Noble as it is, logistically there are foreseen difficulties as the event grows in popularity. The tent pavilion is restricted to 2/3 width of the street to accommodate emergency vehicles. Even if more tent pavilions were added, it will be hard to see the artists perform. Mother Nature awarded the overflowing crowd with weather hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk, causing them to stand withering on the street and sidewalks. Solutions are limited, as there is not any nearby venue to accommodate all. Starting the festivities was a panel discussion by some of the musicians who were part of that scene and were the subject of oral historian Steve Isoardi's book, "Central Avenue Sounds: A History of Jazz in Los Angeles." Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson, Clora Bryant, Big Jay McNeeley, and Clifford Solomon expanded their discussion beyond experiences playing on the Avenue, whether it'd be police harrassment and still on-going discrimination within the musician's union. Recognizing the ever-changing cultural landscape within the community, several Latin style bands were among the performers, the first being Son Major, a salsa band. Their enthusiastic sounds emphasized music as a bridge towards friendship among cultures.
Former proprietor of the nearby Pioneer Club, blues guitarist Smokey Wilson came out blazing, as one of his albums is titled, like "Smoke and Fire." He pumped electrifying energy out as he put it, singing songs about "myself and you!"
Coming from another rich American musical landscape, Kansas City, was jazz and blues singer Sweet Baby J'ai. J'ai mentioned that her hometown's musical heroes like Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Parker, and Count Basie patronized Central Avenue,. Not bound to tradition, her originals spoke of current issues, whether it'd be the abundance of TV violence or how the spread of AIDS affects society. Her instrument, is a washboard that is traditionally associated with Cajun or zydeco music. Here, J'ai calls it her "jazzboard."
One of many graduates of Jefferson High who went onto musical fame and a W.C. Handy winner, Floyd Dixon, poured over the ivories. As he played a hipster brand of boogie woogie, he recalled his youthful days and fun with his pals.
Frank Capp and his band band, the Juggernaut should be an enshrined institution set in bronze on Central Avenue. As co-promoter bubba Jackson said, "they hurt so good." So good that the horn section sounded they could have nearly blown the roof off! Halfway through their set they were joined by singer Ernie Andrews. With his tasteful vocals and the band'a artful arrangements that they took a 70's pop tune, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," transforming it into a Louie Armstrong-style jazz piece. Andrews' most poignant moment was when he spoke fondly of his departed wife, of whom he met on Central Avenue.
Finishing Saturday's festivities was Weather Report alumni, Alex Acuna, presenting a postfusion Latin groove. Known for his higher than exceptional percussive skills, he took a wooden box and without accompaniment, pounded out a intricative melody.
The second day opened with Dove nominee singer-songwriter, Ellis Hall with a blend of gospel and pop. His original, "Closer to Joy to Life," was an uplifting anthem that shed some tears.
Bringing Afro-Cuban percussion to the Angelano masses was Francisco Aguabella, a mentor of the Mongo Santamaria. It is surprising that it's taken this long for him to receive recognition. A case in point when was the bassist played meadering intro to "Night in Tunsia," and Aguabella's leadership and mastery brought the rest of the band in quickly and rescued it.
It was a homecoming for the Avenue's crooner, O.C. Smith, known for his 60's hit, "Little Green Apples." Swooning to the appeal mostly female fans, afterwards he was the only artist to have difficulty leaving the stage.
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition. He was on the band bus the next day as Dorsey's alto sax and clarinet player, and never looked back. He played with great bandleaders such as Freddie Martin, Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley, some before he was out of his teens (they had to lie about his age to get him into nightclubs). Many older musicians have told me he was the greatest alto sax player they ever worked with. He was equally great on clarinet and was clarinetist and harmony singer for cocktail jazz pioneers, the Ernie Felice Quartet.
He eventually left the road and settled down, and that's when I came in. By that time, he was, by day, vocal group session leader/player/arranger for classic jingles and commercial music produced in Dallas. At night, he played in society bands, jazz combos and elegant showrooms. Tuesdays were slow in the showrooms, so band members' families got in free, and my mom took me to see him backing such legends as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Steve and Eydie, and a very old Ella Fitzgerald. Between that, hearing his record collection, growing up around the legendary musicians and singers who were like aunts and uncles to me, and just listening to him practice around the house, filling the neighborhood with incredible jazz sax riffs, I couldn't help becoming that weird kid who was listening to Peggy Lee, Ella and Manhattan Transfer when my classmates were listening to rock, country and soul.
Even though he died before I ever sang professionally, he remains my inspiration and all my CDs are dedicated to him. I like to think that he'd like my music, since it's built on the foundation he handed down to me.