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September 2009 Archives

September 1, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: On Sunday Afternoons in 1973

It was like nothing else in my life up to now.
Raymond Carver, “Cathedral”

Pilgrimage Play Theatre, original facade

Nestled in a chaparral-adorned nook in the Cahuenga Pass, the Ford Amphitheatre has had a quintessentially L.A. genesis and lifetime. Originally known as the Pilgrimage Play Theatre, it was built in 1920 by a Philly arts patron specifically for performances of her self-penned religious drama and was used as a site for religious performances for the next 44 years, a run interrupted only by (what else?) a fire and World War II.

Anson Amphitheatre, present day

In the 1960s and 70s, as the property deteriorated and attendance dwindled, L.A. County put on intermittent Shakespeare plays, dance recitals and musical performances. Among them was “Jazz at the Pilgrimage,” a series of free Sunday concerts presented via the Local 47 musician's trust fund. JATP became a destination for a murderers' row of Left Coast jazz artists, including Art Pepper, Mundell Lowe, Frank Rosolino (with Frank Severino on drums), Chico Hamilton, Henry Franklin’s band with Oscar Brashear, Charles Owens, Kemang Sunduza/Bill Henderson and Sonship Theus (plus a rotating spate of guests like Al Hall Jr., Kirk Lightsey, Dwight Dickerson and Kenny Climax), Harold Land (with his son Harold Jr.), Buddy Collette, Carl Burnett, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Don Ellis and George Bohannon.


Many -- if not all -- of these concerts were attended by young musicians who would make up the next generation of LA's creative jazz scene, including two blonde twin teens named Alex and Nels Cline and their high school friends Lee Kaplan (who would later curate the series of memorable concerts at the Century City Playhouse in the late 70s and early 80s) and Michael Preussner (later the drummer for the Nels Cline Trio). “We often bought very powerful Ya-Sin Bazaar incense outside the theater after the concerts from two lovely local young African-American gentlemen who also turned out to be jazz musicians -- excellent ones at that -- Shams U-Din (Ray Straughter) and his brother Hamid (Ernest Straughter)! " recalls Alex Cline today. "We actually at one point wound up visiting the little back house/shed behind their parents' home in Watts where they made the incense themselves.”

Alex Cline [photo courtesy of Peak]

In many ways, when Alex Cline returns with his Band of the Moment to the Theatre Formerly Known as the Pilgrimage next week for the Angel City Jazz Festival, it will be a spiritual homecoming of sorts. Thirty-five years later, many of the same musicians who made their own pilgrimages to the jazz concerts as young teens now return to a revivified, rustic oasis to pay tribute to those summer days as well as the music they discovered during this particular time in their lives, to practice the fruits of a religious experience that had nothing to do with religion but with that first rush of musical transcendence that can galvanize the awkwardness and manic displaced energy of a difficult adolescence.

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September 3, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: The Diversification of Billy Childs

"Ruth, I broke a string."
Billy Childs, onstage at the Jazz Bakery (Feb. 2007)


Billy Childs is Los Angeles musical elegance personified. The 52-year-old composer/pianist brings with him to this year’s Angel City Jazz Festival a mountain of accolades, including two 2006 Grammy Awards -- one of them for the intricate, dense epic “Into the Light,” off Jazz-Chamber Music, Vol. 1: Lyric. By the laws of the music biz, music this ambitious wasn't supposed to win major awards. “People are learning that something significant is happening with pianist Billy Childs and his current band,” observed Kirk Silsbee in L.A. Citybeat. “And it's been too long since something of portent - new and distinct - has come out of Southern California jazz.”

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September 4, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: Mr. Sharps Essays the Roots


A couple months ago, I sat with composer/bandleader/reedman/wise kat Jesse Sharps on a Mt. Washington hilltop patio overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. Sharps was using the amazing view to illustrate one of his musical philosophies. “There are sounds that hurt, just like there’s sounds that heal.” He swept his arm across the valley vista: “Say we got ten thousand motherfuckers standing up here on the hill with their horns. They all play the wrong note all at once, who knows what effect it’ll have on down there.” And this was before the Valley was on fire.


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September 6, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: Dave Douglas Is Brassed Off!


Along with The Bad Plus and Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas is arguably one of the most high-profile of the Nu Jazz musicians whose appeal has crossed over into indie rock and (gasp!) pop territory. Besides releasing nearly 30 recordings since 1993, leading at least a half dozen different bands while managing find time to snap up a Guggenheim Fellowship and start his own label Greenleaf Music, the two-time Grammy-nominated trumpeter also been one of the most outspoken, chiming in online about subjects as varying as his favorite solo trumpet recordings, the possibilities of jazz in the digital age, and even the role of government in funding the arts.

But he’s also drawn flak for mouthing off Bill Maher-style about a whole range of subjects that Jazz Musicians Shouldn’t Talk About: criticizing the policy of American government in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia and Bush’s prosecution of the War on Terror—often from the stage at his own performances. "Inevitably, it slips out," he told writer Doug Fischer last May. "I try to make a point of saying something about the world during every show. Some of my music is inspired by injustices so I think it is right and relevant that I talk about these things that are on my mind."

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September 7, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: Bennie Maupin + Eric Dolphy = Happy Labor Day


The final, cathartic notes that will be played at the ACJF tonight will be music that has never been recorded or heard before, written by a mercurial L.A multi-instrumentalist and gentle enigma who died 45 years ago last June and performed by a living bandleader who is on the kind of career resurgence/reassessment that comes along every. . .well, almost never. Not a bad way to end a two-day odyssey of the ears.

The story of how Bennie Maupin [above] and his newest band Dolphyana came to be is a story to make any jazz archivist want to strike a deal with the Devil. Mere days before he left for a 1964 European tour with the Charles Mingus Sextet, Eric Dolphy [below] entrusted his friend and teacher Hale Smith with several handwritten musical scores that he hadn’t yet gotten around to record. Within months, the 26-year-old composer was dead of insulin shock. Year later, before his own death, Smith passed the scores to one of Dolphy’s acolytes, flautist James Newton, with specific instructions: “You gotta take care of this.” Newton called fellow Dolphyaniac Maupin and the rest, as they say, is legend.


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September 9, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009 DAY ONE: A 7-Hour Continuous Jazzgasm

The Gathering (from left): Michael Nash, Thomas Stones, Nick Rosen, Jesse Sharps, Ivan Cotton and Dwight Trible at the ACJF [photo courtesy of the L.A. Times]

The heat finally broke in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend—or “Festival Weekend” as the natives have come to know it. There were at least two other jazz festivals besides the Angel City Jazz Festival, including the West Coast Jazz Party and the Sweet & Hot Festival, but the one the ACJF most had a kinship with was Sean Carlson’s FYF Festival downtown. Both were marathon celebrations of liberating and cathartic sounds that have oozed up out of the primordial stew of the noise/
experimental/creative music undergrounds and have started to infiltrate the wider musical spectrum: think of FYF headliners No Age and their scruffy compatriots at The Smell being granted long appreciative essay in The New Yorker; or Smell alum/ACJF headliner Nels Cline’s tide of rapt worshipt by Wilco fandom, many of whom still don’t realize his career (like his brother Alex) has now hit it’s 30th year.

The fact that both concerts were staged a mere 20 miles apart at different outdoor venues on the same weekend makes one think of pretentious words like “zeitgeist” and “renaissance.” Yep, there is plenty of adventurous and rapturous music out there, and it make some think of what Allen Ginsberg said when he first heard Bob Dylan: “The future is in good hands.”

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September 11, 2009

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009 DAY TWO: “Release Ourselves Towards the Sky”

Bennie Maupin onstage with Dolphyana

The quote above comes from a poem from the drummer Sonship Theus, one of the many spiritual fathers of Los Angeles underground jazz who was present in spirit on the second day of the Angel City Jazz Festival. “Paying homage” was the watchword of the day -- not a heavy one at that, but a celebratory one: After all, Theus, who has been battling health problems since as long as he’s been playing, is still with us, as is Bobby Bradford, who just turned a silverfoxed 75 last July and, of course, the man who started it all; Ornette Coleman, still twisting eardrums at a testy, Pulitzer Prize-winning 79.

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September 14, 2009

". . . ."

We're pretty exhausted after our Angel City Jazz Festival coverage, so the Beast will be going on a brief sabbatical for the next few weeks. Fear not, Cryptoids, we'll be having some distinguished guest bloggers chiming in on varying topics, so look for those RSS feeds!

In the meantime, enjoy these complimentary classics:

Skinny Legs and All (Bantam:1990) by Tom Robbins

The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde (University of California Press: 2008), ed. by David W. Bernstein

Shutter Island (HarperCollins: 2003) by Dennis Lehane

The Real Hip Hop: Battling For Knowledge, Power and Respect in the L.A. Underground (Duke University Press: 2009) by Marcyliena Morgan

Bobby Bradford - Love's Dream
Nels Cline / G.E. Stinson - Elevating Device
Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane and Sugarcane
The Dead Weather - Horehound
Dave Douglas Quintet - Live at the Jazz Standard
Plays Monk - Plays Monk
Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
Sonic Youth - The Eternal

Don Heckman's Live Picks of the Week (Sept. 22-27)
Brick Wahl's Live Picks of the Week (Sept. 24-30)

Jim Carroll
DJ Mr. Magic
Leon Kirchner
Marie Knight
The Knitting Factory-LA
Erich Kunzel
Skip Miller
Dickie Peterson
Mary Travers

Tag cloud

Adam Rudolph Alex Cline's Band of the Moment Alex Cline; Nels Cline: Alex & Nels Cline; Downbeat; Continuation; Coward Alma Lisa Fernandez Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 1) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 2) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Photos Antonio Sanchez avant-garde Ben Goldberg Bennie Maupin Bennie Maupin & Dolphyana Bill Stewart Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble Billy Corgan Billy Hart Bob Sheppard California Jazz Foundation Cameron Graves Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band Carol Robbins Charles Mingus; Son of Watts Musical Caravan Project; Azar Lawrence; Nate Morgan; Henry Franklin; Alphonse Mouzon; Prayer for My Ancestors Charles Owens Chops: The Movie Chris Barton Cryptogramophone Records Cryptonight Darek Oles Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy David Anderson Pianos David Witham Denman Maroney Dennis Callaci Devin Hoff Double M Jazz Salon Downbeat 57th Annual Critics Poll Dwight Trible Eagle Rock Center for the Arts Eclipse Quartet Edward Vesala Electric Lodge Eric Dolphy Eric Von Essen First Friday Series at the Museum of Neon Art G.E. Stinson Global Village Monday with Maggie LePique Go: Organic Orchestra Gravitas Quartet Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival; Peter Erskine Greg Kot Gregg Bendian Guy Klucevsek Hale Smith Hannah Rothschild Hans Fjellstad Harry Partch; L.A. Weekly; John Schneider; REDCAT Horace Tapscott Horace Tapscott; Horace Tapscott Tribute Concert; Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra; the Ark; Jazz Bakery; Ruth Price; Jesse Sharps; Austin Peralta; Isaac Smith Huffington Post Hugh Hopper Ikeda Kings Orchestra improvisation Initiate Ivan Cotton James Newton Jason Robinson Jay Bennett Jay Hoggard jazz Jazz at the Plgrimage Jazz Bakery Jazz Explosion III Jazz Journey with Eddie B. Jeff Gauthier Jeff Tweedy Jesse Sharps Jim Black Joe Zawinul John "Drumbo" French John Fumo Kamasi Washington Ken Coomer Ken Kawamura KJAZZ 88.1-FM KPFK 90.7-FM KXLU 88.9-FM Larry Goldings Larry Karush Larry Koonse Learning How To Die Leimert Park: The Roots and Branches of L.A. Jazz Les Paul Lester Bowie Lily Burk Memorial Live at the Atelier Los Angeles New Music Ensemble Los Angeles Times Luis Bonilla Maggie Parkins Marcus Rojas Mark Dresser Mark Linkous Mark Zaleski Mel Morris Michael Davis Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Mimi Melnick Motoko Honda Museum of Neon Art Museum of Neon Art; MONA; Many Axes; Susan Rawcliffe; Scott Wilkinson; Brad Dutz music blog Myra Melford Nasheet Waits Natsuki Tamura Nels Cline Nels Cline Singers Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker Nestor Torres Nick Rosen OC Creative Music Collective Oguri Open Gate Theatre Sunday Concert Series Pannonica Rothschild Peggy Lee Peter Bernstein Phil Ranelin plays monk Rashied Ali ResBox at the Steve Allen Theater RISE with Mark Maxwell Roberto Miranda Rod Poole Ron MIles Royal/T Cafe Ruth Price Sara Parkins Sara Schoenbeck Sarah Thornblade SASSAS Satoko Fujii Scott Amendola Scott Colley Shrimper Records Sky Saxon Tribute Sonship Theus Soul Jazz Records Sparklehorse Spirit Moves Spirits in the Sky Steuart Liebig Terry Riley The Gathering The Jazz Bakery The Jazz Baroness The JazzCat with Leroy Downs The Nels Cline Singers Thelonious Monk Thomas Stones Tom McNalley Tribe Records Trilogy Van Morrison; Astral Weeks; Scott Foundas; Jan Steward; Music Cirle; SASSAS Vincent Chancey Wayne Horvitz Wayne Peet Wilco Wilco; Nels Cline Wilco; Wilco (The Album); Nels Cline Will Salmon