musings by brick wahl  

Subj: This past weekend's jazz festival, etc....
7/28/03 5:26:54 PM Pacific Daylight Time

Jazz festival was wonderful. We'd stopped by the Natural History Museum
first, as they were having some Peruvuan Independence celebration that
involved a band, etc. They played something that sounded a bit like the
those pan pipe grouops that haunt every farmer's market, festival and
boardwalk in the western worlsd, though with more instrumentation and a
lot of percussion. The sound was still fundamentally Native American
sounding (especially in the tom clave here.) It was a
considerably tamer affair than the great Salvadorean Independence Day
celebration we stumbled upon last year that filled the lawn between the
Museum and the Colisseum (all kinds of food, music (from marimba to
banda to boassa nova), and some very spooky and soulful religious
processions.) We also went into the Butterfly exhibit ouside
(gorgeous), the gem and mineral room (always amazing) and the

I love dinosaurs.

By the way, just as we were leaving I saw one of the band members
looking for an elevator. He looked burnt out. Tough day? I asked.
"Oh man--three one hours sets, with twenty minutes in between.... And
now I have to play three more one hour sets at a resturant...." His
voice trailed off in sheer exhaustion. Hey man, he wanted to be a
working musician.

The Central Avenue Jazz Festival was only a couple miles away. We
parked in a school parking lot, and I managed to sidesweep the post of a
basketball backboard (don't ask) and dinged the paint job a bit on the
car.... Fuck. I managed to blame it on Phyllis (not sure of my logic
now, but for a few seconds there it seemed clearly her fault, sitting as
she was in the passenger seat. I mean, it was on her side of the
car....) Oh well, it's tiny but I'll have it fixed.

Which reminds me of this rabbi joke....

We took the shuttle to the Festival site. Driver was compalining the
whole time, and decided on her own to stop at 5pm which seemed a bit
cold considering all the elderly folks who were relying on her for the
ride back. And man, what a weird roundabout route. Finally dropped us
off and we walked the couple blocks to the Fair, through the food area
(soul food, Mexican food, some terrific African food, jambalaya, and a
sadly unattended Vegan booth--this was a serious ribs & grease & heart
attack crowd. The indomitable Revolutionary Commuinist Party was there
with a booth trying to cash in on Nina Simone's political beliefs and
sell the "Daily Revolutionary" or whatever it's called. Nattily dressed
(and sweating hard) a couple gentlemen were hawking the Sentinel.
Nearby a really loud woman was screeching about KJZZ at their booth.
Man, her voice cut right through ya. As we walked up through the crowd
around the food booths I could hear Ernie Andrews. He delivered a great
set of Blues & swinging big band jazz and R&B. His voice sounds a lot
like Lou Rawls (actually, chronologically, it's the other way
around...and I overheard some old friedn of his tell somebodt to NEVER
bring that up....) I've seen him a few times, and he is always terrific
and fully capable of stealing a show. Catch him while you can.

They have a great PA there with some extra speakers out in the street so
you can hear everything as you walk around the non-food booths. People
sit out there, stand out there, dance out there. Lots of talking and
laughing and greeting old, old friends...this is one of the friendliest
events in the city. The men were dressed in everything from wildly
colored (and very comfortable) dashikis to really fine Zoot suits. The
women were either dolled up gorgeous or set out for comfort. Thank God I
remembered to slather on the sun screen (being Irish does have its
disadvantages, no matter what Grandpa would tell ya....) We scouted the
merchandise, and I took Fyl in to the Dunbar Hotel and showed her
around. Especially to where the real bathrooms are, in case the idea of
overheated Port-O-Sans lost its appeal. 

The crowd thinned out after Ernie Andrews and we got a pair of seats for
the Teddy Edwards Brass and String Ensemble. This was his last project,
he wanted to get the arrangements done before he left. It's a big band
with the brass and reeds supplemented by a string section (2 violins, a
viola, a cello). The leader doubles on trombone and viola (don't ask.)
All the players are wonderful, and the band plays these gloriously
modernistic big band arrangements, and to hear violins playing wild
bebop solos in front of such a powerful big band is something else. Oh
yeah--there was a harpist too, and when she solo'd it sounded liked some
crazy piano. The crowd just up and jumps and yells when those violins
and the harp get cooking. Man. Alreet. (All the old timers around
there kept saying "Alreet".) Extra-ordinary band. Ya gotta see this

Carl Randall is a fine tenor player and he was filling in for Teddy
Edwards, who was late*. We had just seen Carl Randall the week before
playing to about a dozen people in an alley (comfortably funished...but
an alley nonetheless) in Pasadena.

Later that nite we went to see Jim White (Dirty Three) play with this
weirdo-folkie outfit led by Nina Natasha at Spaceland. I expected to
hate it but wound up impressed. Good folk basis, lotsa rootsy stuff,
odd instrumentation: hjer acoustic gtr, an accordian, a violon, a
cello, a double bass, and Jim on the traps. Tho' it was a little stuffy
at times, and she ought to go a little more country (tho' the kids may
not like that as much, being all so precious these days) it was cool and
to be honest, Jim's jazzy drumming was a lot more interesting than the
last time we saw the Dirty Three. 

Next day I went back to the jazz festival on my own. Shuttle took a
completely different route (and the driver intened to work till the end,
too). Elderly woman on the bus took to showing me some sites as we went
along. Places where clubs used to be, etc. That was nice. Got there in
time to catch the last couple tuns by Nedra Wheeler. She plays a mean
bass, and had a great band, about six pieces I think, including another
wild jazz fiddler whose name I missed but whose solo was audible two
blocks away. A soprano saxist in a yamulke led her band on a terrific
rendition of some old Jewish tune that got pretty out but still swung
hard. I wish I'd seen her whole set, for the part I did catch was

Art Davis--that's Dr. Art Davis to you--came on next. He played with
John Coltrane. I know this because everytime Art Davis plays anywhere
they mention it. He's played with everyone from Basie to Dizzy to
Dolphy, but all they ever mention is Trane. Anyone, James Janisse, the
KJazz DJ and perrenial emcee, asked "Anyone out there heard of John
Coltrane?" this old guy next to me starts to laugh and yells out "I
haven't". That started me laughing. He starts telling me how he could
never stand John Coltrane, that he used to go to see him play out here
with his buddies just so he could rag on them. My kinda guy. I mean I
love Coltrane, but just the idea of pestering all your frinds like
that.... We talked about Dexter Gordon (his personal fave--and he used
to see him regularly on Central back in the day.) Turns out he'd spent
years in Milwaukee and we started talking about that, since I've been
there so many times with Phyllis, and about Chicago, about Chicago
tenorman Von Freeman, then back to LA and then he started spilling on
all his hijinx in the Central Avenue days....great stuff. The whole
time were chatting and laughing the Art Davis quintet (or whatever
number it was) are playing some very cool and very trippy sounding
stuff. Figured I had better listen so I finally split to catch some it.
Sam Most was playing some great flute and then scatted Louis-style for a
while which got a big response and then suddenly Davis, looking big and
brooding and hulking over his bass like Mingus, suddenly switched to a
blues (really almost a boogie) and the band utterly feel apart. It was
surreal. Everybody was completely lost. Drummer actually stopped, then
started hesitatingly tapping his ride trying to figure out where the
hell they were. The saxes looked bewildered, piano off...I had never
seen a bunch of pros in a carwreck like that. Weird. I guess it
happens to the best of 'em.

James Janisse intro'd Roy Gaines by repeating the old saw that the blues
started all American music, "Jazz, R&B, rock'n'roll, country music--it
all comes from the blues." The amateur musicologist in me begged to
differ, but Central Avenue across from the Dunbar Hotel was not the
place to do.... (Points in fact: jazz actually pre-dates blues. And
country music was primarily influenced by the music forms brought in by
the Scotch Irish, the French, and the Spanish. And bluegrass? Tin Pan
Alley? Cole Porter? But I digress....) Roy's set was bluesier than I
expected (I had thought he was more like T-Bone Walker). Usual blues
band--an old black cat backed by a bunch of young white guys, half of
them European. Great blues harp player. The people out on Central were
just boogieing away to this stuff. They loved it, and he ran through
all of the Chicago standards. Very cool.

I was waiting for Gerald Wilson. I'd seen him before (it was here, in
fact) and he blew me away and I love the albums I have and oh man, was I
ready. I was hoping that maybe all these folks would leave but most of
them stayed so I wasn't able to sit until two or three songs into the
set. But man, satanding or sitting, what a set. Unbelievable
"Milestones", that sounded more radical than Miles. A terrific "Viva
Tirado" that just built and built but kept grooving. When he did
"Perdido" the whole audience sang along. A Basie tune roared in. I'm
not sure who the kid on piano was, but he was hot, and I recall at one
point (was it the tune he did for Jimmie Lunceford?)he quoted "Sunshine
of Your Love" and then a few seconds later it was "Laura", it was pretty
funny. 85 year old Gerald directed it all, bouncing around, yelling
and hollaring in excitement. One tune--I think it was "Sax Chase" began
on the alto and went through both tenors (Carl Randall was sitting in
for Teddy Edwards again) and wound up with Jack Nimitz's baritone
blatting and barking ferociously. That Gerald Wilson--he began with
Lunceford in the thirties, for chrissakes, worked for Ellington and
Basie....told all kinds of stories about "right across the street there
at the Dunbar Hotel" and avoided the apparently alcohol fuelled
speechifying that got a little embarassing at Teddy Edwards memorial
("This is REAL music! What are they gonna teach the kids,
Mariachi?!?!?!"--although he put on a terrific little set there too, if
I recall.) The crazies who had spent both days in front of the stage
really went to town. The old rummy--well, he looked like a a
rummy--finally strode off stage right, saluting. Ya gotta love that
guy. The unbelievably thin lady in the royal blue outfit and too much
jewelry (looking like a well-to-do crackhead) started up her stage-front
modern dancing again and reached an absolute frenzy, pirouetting and
slithering and blossoming and kicking and really bothering everyone in
the front row. The audience just watched her in giggling amazement. (I
think she's there every year.) Gerald Wilson finally brought his jazz
Orchestra to a swirling, thunderous climax which kept rolling over the
crowd for several minutes, high C's stabbing through the density of
horns and rolling, smashing drums till it finally ended in a crescendo
of estatic applause. Man oh man, what a show. And what a way to end
the 9th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

I walked the several blocks back to the car, the sounds still bouncing
around in my skull, the rhythms in my step and coming out my tapping

If only every weekend could be like that.

Sorry for all the run-ons and typos....I didn't really check this as I'm
at work and running out of time.



* tell me that ain't a tacky joke.