Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz (Images of America)
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From the late 1910s until the early 1950s, a series of aggressive segregation policies toward Los Angeless rapidly expanding African American community inadvertently led to one of the most culturally rich avenues in the United States. From Downtown Los Angeles to the largely undeveloped city of Watts to the south, Central Avenue became the center of the West Coast jazz scene, nurturing homegrown talents like Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, and Buddy Collette while also hosting countless touring jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. Twenty-four hours a day, the sound of live jazz wafted out of nightclubs, restaurants, hotel lobbies, music schools, and anywhere else a jazz combo could squeeze in its instruments for nearly 50 years, helping to advance and define the sound of Americas greatest musical contribution.
Gillespie is seen here with his big band at the ninth annual Cavalcade of Jazz. The ebullient showman was a great ambassador for the bebop movement. His puffed out cheeks, wild eyes, and skyrocketing trumpet managed to both entertain and advance the art form. What other jazz musician could be a good fit for the Muppets? (Courtesy of the Oviatt Library, California State University Northridge.) An unidentified saxophonist riles up the crowd, honking in his tuxedo atop a table at the 11th annual
breakneck speeds were not the easiest to dance to. After World War II, the united front of jazz split into numerous factions. The heady cats spiraled out into the land of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and, eventually, Ornette Coleman. Those who wanted to impress their dates on the dance floor followed the sound of the electrified guitar and the honking saxophones that answered to more primal feelings. Central Avenue gladly filled with blues shouters, and homegrown record labels took advantage
musicians had already left. By the time the second riot occurred in 1992, the memories had practically left. However, great strides have been made towards preserving what remains since the riots. A few structures stand, and a Central Avenue Jazz Corridor was declared, marking the site of former glory. The biggest contribution to preserving the memory of the Central Avenue scene is the Central Avenue Jazz Festival. Held for two days every July, the festival has showcased performers who played on
deserved. 23 The high-ceilinged lobby of the Hotel Somerville, located at 4225 South Central Avenue, seemed to have a piano tucked into every corner. Entertainment and leisure were the goals of the Somerville, and they were abundant. An advertising board on the mezzanine highlights an appearance by Alton Redd and his Tivoli Theater band, named after a venue located further down at 4319 Central Avenue. Delicate Spanish-style frescoes were painted above the lobby and light streamed in from the
instrument that managed to groove just as fast and smooth as if there were someone solely keeping the beat. (Photograph by William Gottlieb.) 37 The story of eden ahbez could fill a book. The enigmatic self-made guru reportedly handed Cole’s manager a copy of his tune “Nature Boy” backstage at the Lincoln Theater in hopes that Cole would sing it. Cole did and spawned a massive hit in 1948. The song was as cryptic as the songwriter, but it has endured as an American standard. Cole’s success