Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jazz on Central Avenue...Central Avenue and 2nd Street, That Is

Since this is a blog post that's music- related, it would obviously do no justice to take a bunch of pictures, so this post contains some audio links. Yeah, the Militant's goin' multimedia on ya. Enjoy.

When the Militant was done wrapping up one of his extramilitant activities with an undisclosed number of operatives on Tuesday night in the industrial area east of Downtown, an SGV-based operative asked the Militant how to get to Little Tokyo. The Militant told him, "Easy. Cross the river, make a right on Alameda, then make a left on 2nd St. " The SGV-based operative clarified he was going to an event at a place called "2nd St. Jazz." The Militant replied, "Jazz, eh? 2nd Street Jazz is on 2nd, right after Central Avenue."

Those of you who know your Los Angeles history, know that the first thing to come to mind when the phrase "Central Avenue" comes up, is jazz music. From the 1920s to the 1950s, it was the literal heart and soul of Los Angeles' African American community and the epicenter of the jazz scene here (those of you who didn't know, well you just learned something new). Today, it sits relatively silent, and although it's slowly seeing some neighborhood redevelopment in the form of pocket parks and brand new low-income housing developments, the music and the institutions that fostered it - such as the Dunbar Hotel - are long gone.

A little over 60 years ago, Los Angeles was horribly segregated. Blacks were discouraged from living outside of "South Central" (which had an entirely different social as well as geographical definition back then). It was not so much a reference to "South Central Los Angeles" (which was then a predominantly white suburb) as it was "South Central Avenue." In the meantime, Japanese Americans were suddenly nonexistent at that point in history, as they were shuttled off to wartime internment camps upstate in Manzanar, Tule Lake or elsewhere in the west. The government, of course, considered them at the time to be "the enemy."

Today, if you go as far north on Central Avenue as you can, and make a left on 2nd Street, not only could you find jazz, but an incredible synergy of African American-originated music and Japanese American culture, as the Militant found out after tagging along with the SGV-based operative, and Stingray, one of his most trusted L337 militia operatives.

The event was 2nd St. Jazz's weekly Jazz Jam Session, which happens every Tuesday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Led by drummer Miles Senzaki and bassist J.P. Maramba, local jazz cats are welcome to sit in and jam on mostly bebop, cool jazz and Latin jazz standards. The musicians sitting in were all a truly diverse bunch - black, white, Asian and Latino - and to the Militant's surprise, they all appeared to be under age 30.

But age ain't nothin' but a number. These cats were serious, running down classics like John Coltrane's iconic "Giant Steps" and laying down solos with flowing ease. Maramba is an alum of USC's Thornton School of Music, and apparently a lot of USC cats come down here to play.

The venue itself (which until recently was known by many by an awkwardly placed sign that simply read, "LAND" - a remnant of its former "JAZZLAND" moniker, which was eventually dropped due to a cease-and-desist trademark violation order) is worthy of mention. Unlike many venues, the music was no afterthought, it was started back in 2000 by the late Kohei Matsumoto, a onetime jazz trumpeter who simply wanted a place in Little Tokyo where people can enjoy some great music. His son, Koichi, now runs the joint, which has music 7 nights a week, from jazz to rock to soul to J-Pop to hip-hop.

Jazz music made a distinct impact on Japan after its introduction, and even the most mainstream commercial pop music from that country is known to carry unexpectedly jazzy elements. The jazz clubs in Tokyo and elsewhere in that country are homes to some of the most seriously skilled cats anywhere in the world.

The jam session soon stretched out in to some amazingly wonderful sights. A 30- or 40-something Japanese woman got up on stage to sing the Gershwin standard, "Summertime." Not such a big deal, but on this night she held a microphone in one hand, while holding her year-old daughter in the other. And, she was obviously pregnant with another child as well. It made the song's line, "Hush little baby, don't you cry" incredibly valid and beautiful.

The place wasn't packed, there were no more than two dozen people in the place, but it didn't really matter as everyone was appreciatively into the music, even hollering towards familiar faces who got up on stage - like Lisa, the the bartender, who took a break to sing a jazzy rendition of a traditional Japanese lullaby...

AUDIO: Click here to hear Lisa, the bartender
sing that jazzy Japanese lullaby. Ain't this audio thing cool?

The Militant found this place to be a great hang with quality music and an unpretentious, familial vibe. Lisa, the bartender informed the Militant of other events happening at the place, which he plans or may not check out in the near or distant future. Heck, KTTV Channel 11 even nominated 2nd St. Jazz to be on the myfoxla's HOTLIST. The place also sports a full bar and a kitchen serving lunch and dinner menu. Or, you can just walk around the corner a few yards and eat some 'gina.

The Militant will leave you with one more musical tidbit recorded Tuesday night at 2nd Street Jazz that sums up the whole 2nd St. Jazz (and Los Angeles as a whole) experience. A Japanese dude in his late 40s wearing hip-hoppish gear, singing a jazz rendition of the song "Sabor a Mi." Yup, en EspaƱol.

The Militant would like to thank Militant operative Stingray for the use of his magic portable digital recording device which made these audio clips possible.

1 comment:

NicktheHammer said...

The Dunbar is still there, not a hotel but the building is intact. The City sponsors a jazz event there every years.

The Lincoln Theatre is still around, though nowadays it is used as a church. So many clubs: Club Alabam, 5/4 Ballroom, Plantation Club, all gone or obscured. Might be fun to try to uncover some of them.