Jazz Legends on Central Avenue

Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson

Gerald-Wilson-Orchestra.jpgThe 13th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival was held on July 26 and July 27 on historic Central Avenue. This year�s festival, like the ones held in the past was a huge success.

Everybody was raving about the new set-up for the festival which featured a huge canopy that covered the stage as well as the crowd. The vendors were situated along the side streets off of Central Avenue.

Every year the festival gets under way with a panel discussion with musicians who were apart of the excitement of Central Avenue back in the day. Trumpeter Clora Bryant shared insights with the crowd about the history of Central Avenue and painted a good picture of life on �The Avenue� with the clubs and the prominent jazz musicians of the 1930�s and 1940�s who played along �The Avenue.�

Thousands of jazz aficionados crowded �The Avenue� to hear some straight ahead jazz, bebop, blues and Latin jazz. I could feel the energy and excitement of �The Avenue� back in the day by looking at the crowd, many of whom frequented �The Avenue� during those vibrant times. Great music was showcased by wonderful musicians who performed for an appreciative crowd at the festival. Ernie Andrews (a legend of Central Avenue), Al Williams Jazz Society, Justo Almario Quartet, Gerald Wilson Orchestra (another legend who recently celebrated his 90th birthday), and Barbara Morrison closing out the festival on Saturday.

Jazz America opened the show on Sunday. This is the future of jazz. These students were doing their part in keeping the legacy of Central Avenue alive. Vocalist Phyllis Battle, Michael Sessions, Nedra Wheeler, Poncho Sanchez and Nate Morgan kept the crowd glued to their seats and actively listening to various hues of America�s number one art form: JAZZ.

Poncho-Sanchez.jpgFor the past 13 years, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival has been serving as a unique cultural event that pays tribute to the early heart and soul of African Americans in Los Angeles. Each year, the festival draws in talented jazz and blues artist to celebrate the rich cultural history of the area.

Spearheaded by Councilwoman Jan Perry (9th District), the Central Avenue Jazz Festival is a collaboration of government agencies (City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs & Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) and local non-profit agencies (Coalition for Responsible Community Development Corporation and Los Angeles Conservation Corps) working together to preserve the rich cultural and history in South Los Angeles.

Ernie-Andrews.jpgThe Central Avenue Jazz Festival is held on Central Avenue and 42nd Street in South Los Angeles, in front of the historic Dunbar Hotel. The Dunbar Hotel plays an integral role in African American history in Los Angeles as it is where the jazz greats like John Coltrane and Billy Holiday stayed when visiting the area.

Central Avenue was part of an early national music circuit that included Harlem, Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis� Beale Street, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Oakland as well as my hometown of Tampa, Florida. The corridor was densely packed with jazz dens and all-night �breakfast clubs� lighting up the avenue with their neon lights. All the prominent jazz musicians of the 1930�s and 40�s played along Central Avenue at venues like Club Alabam, the Last Word, the Downbeat, the Memo Club, Ivie�s Chicken Shack, the Finale Club, and Shepp�s Playhouse among other venues.

Each year, the festival continues the decades old tradition of hosting famous and well-know jazz professionals.