Celebrating and Preserving All That Jazz in Leimert Park Village and Beyond
By Ricky Richardson
Contributing Writer

Normally, this time of year, jazz concerts, festivals, and workshops would be taken place across the United States and internationally. Promoters and organizers are slowly but surely scheduling in person concerts, festivals and workshops while following COVID-19 safety protocols. One can listen to jazz on the radio 24/7. Los Angeles based radio station KJAZZ, 88.1FM, and on the internet https://jazzandblues.org. Spice up your weekend with a little Latin Jazz (Friday and Saturday evening) as well some down-home blues (Saturday and Sunday afternoon), you have the ingredients to be designated as “America’s #1 Jazz Station.” There is a popular saying “Jazz Made in America, Enjoyed by the World.”

You do not have to travel far in order to listen to jazz recording. I invite you to visit your parent’s basement or attic. Please walk gently as to not set off their motion sensors guarding their vintage collection of LP’s. (smile). If you want to start your own collection, there is a wide selection of LP’s, CD’s, and DVD’s to be found at your local record store, online, garage sales and or local 2nd hand Thrift stores.

Due to the Pandemic, libraries pivoted to curbside pick-up of books ordered in advance online. Most libraries have reopened with limited capacity. This is a valuable resource to read about jazz. You can also purchase books about jazz online from your local, national bookstores. There are variety of movies about jazz that you can stream online, check out from your local library, or purchase online. Look no further than your family tree for great stories about jazz musicians, festivals, concerts, jazz venues etc. There is a good chance that someone in your family was/is a jazz musician, or a patron of the local jazz scene.

Jazz Legends of Leimert Park

Sankofa Passage was dedicated and unveiled November 30, 2007. The Sankofa Passage honors many past and present creative channels who left a lasting impression that continues to influence the spirit and cultural fabric of Los Angeles and the global village. Check out the Sankofa Passage next time that you visit Leimert Park. A spiritually enriching row of diamond shaped bronze plaques, in the shape of a pyramid, is on display on the sidewalk between The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center and the Hot & Cool Café. Each Sankofa Passage honoree have a pyramid with their name, artistic discipline, and place of birth.

The Sankofa Passage Jazz Musician honorees consists of Billy Higgins, Horace Tapscott, Harold Land, Sr., Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, Hampton Hawes, Clora Bryant, Marie Bryant, Melba Liston, Juno Lewis, Charles Mingus, Gerald Wilson, Buddy Collette, Elvira Redd, Ernie Andrews, and Roy Porter. This is another culturally rich resource to learn about jazz musicians, artists, teachers, scholars, etc., who have left an indelible mark felt in the greater Los Angeles area and the world. An image of the mythical Sankofa bird with its head turned back (symbolizing a reverence for the past) and symbols of branding irons used in slavery border the perimeter of each plaque.

The Future of Jazz

The future of jazz is looking bright. Students at the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center are carrying the torch of jazz, performance arts or whichever career path they follow forward into the future. The Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide quality performing arts instructions to at-risk youth and help them build self-esteem, develop civic responsibility, and achieve academic success. The teachers provide a program filled with structure and well-planned curriculum to serve all students with a desire to learn and grow their talent. I have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing this talented group on several occasions around town. Their commitment and dedication are apparent in their tight arrangements of pop and jazz standards.

Jazz Venues in Leimert Park

Los Angeles is home to many world-renowned jazz musicians as well as rising stars in the genre. When it safe to do safe, local venues will be there to welcome everyone with open arms. Let’s hope that these venues can re-open, following City, County and State health guidelines in the Summer. The World Stage is an educational and performance space in Leimert Park Village, the heart of Los Angeles African American cultural community. It was founded in 1989 by the late world-renowned master jazz drummer Billy Higgins and poet and community arts activist Kamau Daáood, in an attempt to fill a cultural void in the L.A. community. The World Stage has blossomed to assume a pioneering and pivotal role in South Los Angeles music and arts landscape. The World Stage host virtual, social distance concerts. Visit http://www.theworldstage.org to the calendar for upcoming events.

Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center established in 2009 by Grammy-nominated Jazz & Blues legend Barbara Morrison. The BMPAC provides an intimate space for creators and Los Angeles audience to enjoy theatrical productions, live comedy, jazz, vocal workshops, dance lessons, and music classes for kids. Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center is hosting an array of virtual jazz concerts for Jazz Appreciation Month. Visit https://barbaramorrison.com for event schedule. On a sad note, the global music community is mourning the passing of jazz and blues legend Barbara Morrison, March 16, 2022.

Hot & Cool café is another venue where one can go to hear jazz music, spoken word performances and live DJ sets. Due to the Pandemic, shows are held outside in The Alley. Everyone heeds to safety protocol- face masks, social distance etc. Check out The Alley Leimert Park Instagram for more information.

Let’s not forget the historic and legendary Regency West. I’m sure that this venue brings back a lot of fond memories for you or your parents back in the day. KAOS NETWORK is another awesome establishment where creators can produce and showcase their talents. I can’t overlook the Vision Theatre which is undergoing renovation. This will be another performing arts venue when it reopens in the future. Important side note, actress Marla Gibbs used to own the Vision Theatre as well as the former Marla’s Memory Lane & Jazz Superclub.

Jazz Festivals of Note

International Jazz Day brings together countries and communities on all seven continents to honor the international art form of jazz, highlighting its important role in encouraging dialogue, combating discrimination and promoting human dignity. International Jazz Day is the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month, which draws public attention to jazz and its extraordinary heritage throughout April. The Dymally Institute at Cal State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), in partnership with Rainbow Promotions is hosting the 3rd Annual Dymally International Jazz & Arts Festival, Saturday, April 30, 2022. The Dymally International Jazz & Arts Festival, founded in 2019, is a public cultural festival, that seeks to bring the CSUDH campus community closer to the surrounding communities it serves by sharing the cultures of the world through the visual and musical arts.  or https://www.axs.com/events/428221/third-annual-dymally-international-jazz-arts-festival-tickets (https://rainbowpromotions.com).

The Leimert Park Jazz Festival is executive produced by Diane Robertson in association with Dwight Trible and The World Stage. It has evolved from its beginning in 2015 as an intimate community block party known as the Sutro Avenue Summer Soirée to its rebranded iteration in 2020. Its mission is to build and strengthen community while celebrating and showcasing the artistic and cultural spirit of historic Leimert Park. The live event brings together a diverse, family-friendly audience to enjoy a fun-filled day that includes a community resource zone, health & wellness zone, kid’s zone, food truck zone, dance, art, and of course, outstanding live jazz from local and world-renowned musicians. Previous featured performers included Dwight Trible, Jose Rizo’s Mongorama, Adaawe, Al Tootie Heath, Sy Smith and Katalyst Collective. The Leimert Park Jazz Festival will take place on Saturday, August 27, 2022 at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 W. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. 90008 www.leimertparkjazzfestival.com follow on Facebook and Instagram @leimertparkjazzfestival.