March is Women's History Month and KSDS-FM is celebrating by shining the spotlight on listener's favorite female vocalists. Listen every weekday throughout the month to hear daily musical features with some of the greatest singers in Jazz history, counting down to your number one favorite. For details about each singer go to the KSDS Blog to learn more.
February 28, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Central Avenue
From the beginning of the 20th Century, Los Angeles’ Central Avenue was the main thoroughfare of the African American Community. The Avenue itself stretched from downtown all the way to Watts. In the early years the black community was located around 12th and Central where the burgeoning African American music business was headquartered at The Spikes Brothers Music Store.
By World War II the center of the black community had moved further south. The black population of Los Angeles grew substantially during the war with people coming west to work in the defense plants. There were black owned businesses of all kinds up and down the avenue. The locals referred to it as “the main stem.” It was a city within the city, a very tight knit community that had tremendous cultural pride.
Defense workers had money in their pockets and there was a large nightlife district that provided entertainment around the clock. It was all centered around 42nd and Central. The classy Hotel Dunbar was the central attraction. The Club Alabam was the showplace of the avenue with floor shows, chorus girls and a house band that could hold its own against anybody.
Almost all African American celebrities that came to town stayed at the Dunbar. This included traveling bands like Ellington, Basie and Lunceford. When they got off work in Hollywood or Culver City it wasn’t uncommon to find the sidemen sitting in with the locals at the many Central Ave clubs.
And there were plenty of choices.
The Elk’s Auditorium had all kinds of events including big bands and jam sessions plus the likes of T-Bone Walker or Big Jay McNeely. The Last Word featured jump bands like Joe Lutcher and Jimmy Liggins. Jazz combos were featured at The Downbeat. Wardell chasing Dexter and The Buddy Collette, Baron Mingus Stars of Swing among others.
After the festivities ended for the night at those venues the after hours joints continued on till dawn.
Alex Lovejoy’s, home of the big-legged chicken was Art Tatum’s favorite place to hangout. There was also Backstage and Brothers where you brought your own bottle. If you didn’t have one there was always a guy in the parking lot of the market at 53rd St. selling booze after 2AM.
Jack’s Basket Room also known as Bird in the Basket featured late night jam sessions and local live broadcasts. Clora Bryant, Sonny Criss, Teddy Edwards, Gene Montgomery, Art and Addison Farmer, J.D. King, Russell Jacquet and Freddie and Maurice Simon went almost every night. In addition to the music there was their famous fried chicken. If you didn’t like Jack’s chicken there was also ex-Ellington vocalist Ivie Anderson’s Chicken Shack. When Roy Porter formed his bebop big band in 1948 they rehearsed every afternoon at Ivie’s. A very young Eric Dolphy was a member of the Porter band reed section.
Jefferson High School students would drop by after school to listen. It was an amazing scene. Hollywood stars used to show up in their big limousines to hear the likes of T-Bone Walker and Johnny Otis. It wasn’t uncommon to see the likes of Dorothy Dandridge, Joe Louis, Lana Turner and Humphrey Bogart sitting ringside at the Club Alabam.
There was no racial segregation on the avenue. White patrons were welcome, especially musicians. The avenue was swinging nightly for years but totally under the radar to most Los Angeles residents. There were never mentions in the LA Times of happenings on the Avenue yet The Los Angeles Sentinel covered everything from music to sporting events and community functions.
We would know a lot less about what happened today had it not been for some local entrepreneurs who started record companies in their garages to try for the elusive jukebox hit. In doing so small labels like Aladdin, Modern, 4-Star, Exclusive, Excelsior, Bop, Dial, Bel-tone and Dolphin’s of Hollywood documented much of the music that was happening on the stem.
By the end of the forties things were changing and many of the Central Ave. clubs were closing their doors for good.
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February 27, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Charles Mingus- 1945-1949
Mingus in Los Angeles 1945-1949 Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona in 1922 but grew up in Los Angeles. He was interested in music from a very early age and began studying with a variety of teachers most notably Lloyd Reese and later Red Callender. He gravitated to a like-minded group of friends that included Buddy Collette and Britt Woodman.
Mingus was very serious about music and practiced constantly. There were lots of jam sessions in the area and Mingus sat in as often as possible. He would play the bass anywhere he could including trips across town on the street car. In addition to his serious demeanor when it came to music he was also rebellious and ready to fight at the least provication. He was especially concerned with racial segregation and was instrumental in the formation of the Interracial Symphony that helped lead to the amalgamation of the black and white musicians unions.
One of his first regular jobs was in the band of Al Adams followed by short stints with Louis Armstrong and Les Hite. In 1942 his friends left for active service in WW II but Mingus elected to
stay in Los Angeles.
He spent 1943 in Lee Young’s house band at the Club Alabam on Central Ave.
In 1945 he formed his own group called The Strings and Keys.
In 1946 his friends returned from the service and formed The Stars of Swing that worked Central Avenue's Downbeat Club.
He took on the nickname of “Baron” Mingus and began composing and arranging. During the mid to late forties he recorded with five different record labels that had sprung up on the west coast after the war. This included Excelsior, 4-Star, Dolphins of Hollywood, Fentone and Rex. He also appeared as a sideman with a number of artists including Ernie Andrews, Wynonie Harris, Illinois Jacquet, Dinah Washington and Howard McGhee.
In 1947 he began working with Lionel Hampton and was featured on “Mingus Fingers” which was recorded for Decca.
Some of the music he wrote in the forties wasn’t recorded until many years later including "Half Mast Inhibition" and "The Chill of Death." Half Mast Inhibition was written as early as 1941 but not recorded until 1960. Chill of Death was written around 1947 but not recorded until 1971.
His 1940s recordings are just as unique and forward looking as his more familiar classics that came along later.
February 26, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Buddy Collette- The Early Years
Buddy Collette was one of the most influential musicians on the Los Angeles Jazz scene going back to the early 1940s. He attended Jordan High School where he met several other
musicians who would play an integral role in his career. Most notably Charles Mingus and the Woodman Brothers.
The Woodman’s were professional musicians even at that young age and were inspirational to Buddy, especially the fact that they all played multiple instruments. Britt Woodman was closest to Buddy in age and the two were lifelong friends and associates.
In addition to Buddy’s musical studies in school he also began taking lessons from the legendary Lloyd Reese. Buddy and Mingus practiced together constantly and started working
around the Watts area. Buddy worked professionally with the Al Adams band and the Cee Pee Johnson’s band.
Just as his career was beginning to take off he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and was put in charge of one of the musical units. After the war Buddy was able to use the GI Bill to attend both the California Academy of Music and the American Operatic Laboratory. He also continued his private studies and worked on mastering multiple reed instruments.
At the same time he and Mingus formed a short-lived but forward looking group called "The Stars of Swing." In addition to Collette and Mingus the group included Lucky Thompson, Britt Woodman and Chico Hamilton. They worked the Downbeat Club on Central Ave. but never recorded.
Los Angeles was home to the film studios which provided high paying jobs to musicians working on the soundtracks. These jobs historically had been off limits to African American musicians with a few exceptions.
Both Collette and Mingus were concerned with the segregation and inequality that went along with being a black musician on the west coast at that time. It came to the forefront when Mingus became enraged after being hired to work in a band backing Billy Eckstine at the million dollar theater and finding he was the only black musician in the band. They decided to do something about it.
At that time Los Angeles had two musicians unions..a white local and a black local. There was much inequality between the two so Buddy, Mingus, Red Callendar and Marl Young decided to try to merge the unions into one. Concerned musicians both black and white formed “The Interracial Symphony” which performed at The Humanist Hall on 23rd and Union. The group got a lot of publicity and support from the likes of Nat King Cole, Harry Sweets Edison and Frank Sinatra.
The success of the Interracial Symphony helped lead to the amalgamation of the two unions. In the early fifties, Jerry Fielding hired Buddy Collette to play in the studio orchestra for The Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life TV show. It was the first time an African American was hired as a full-time studio musician and opened the door for others to follow. From that point forward Buddy was in-demand as a musician in many different settings. During the 1950s he was one of the key figures of the west coast jazz movement both as a leader and as a member of the ground breaking Chico Hamilton Quintet.
He was a beloved musician, teacher and catalyst for change. Buddy Collette passed away in 2010 but his legacy is still felt heavily throughout Southern California and beyond.
February 25, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Tenor Battles of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray
By the time Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray got together in Los Angeles in 1947 they had both become nationally known as pioneers of modern jazz on the tenor saxophone.
Dexter was a Los Angeles native, born there in 1923. He was a product of the legendary Sam Browne music program at Jefferson High School. Dexter’s classmates included Chico Hamilton, Vi Redd, Ernie Royal, Jackie Kelso and Melba Liston. The number of jazz greats that came through Sam Browne’s program at Jefferson is mind-boggling.
Dexter developed as a saxophonist so quickly that he was able to join Lionel Hampton’s new big band while still in his teens. By the time he was 20 he had been with Hamp for three years. After Hamp he worked with Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine and by the mid-forties was part of the modern jazz explosion on 52nd Street in New York. He was the first of that generation of Los Angeles jazz musicians to make it big. When he returned home in 1946 he was treated as a conquering hero by both fans and fellow musicians In New York he had signed with and already recorded for Savoy Records. But that didn’t stop Ross Russell from signing him to Dial not long after he arrived back in town.
Wardell Gray came to Los Angeles by way of the Earl Hines band. He and Dexter had actually met in 1943 in Detroit but didn’t come together until they both landed on the west coast in 1947. The two became good friends and started a regimen of nightly tenor battles on Central Ave. Their home base was the Downbeat Club at 41st and Central where they would go at it until the club closed for the night. From there they would move up to Jack’s Basket Room and continue on until the wee hours of the morning. Some nights Wardell would come out on top and some nights Dexter was unbeatable.
Ross Russell wanted to capture the excitement of the two tenors for Dial records. He brought them together on June 12, 1947 to try to re-create their nightly battles under studio conditions. The result was “The Chase” which ran for 7 minutes and filled up both sides of a 10” 78rpm record. The Chase outsold everything Dial had recorded up to that time.
A few weeks later on July 6, 1947 both Dexter and Wardell took part in a concert at the Elk’s Auditorium on Central Ave. A concert that has now reached legendary status.
Following two days of Independence Day celebrations It was billed as “Jack Williams Presents A Jazz Concert Dance Series.” Besides Dexter and Wardell the concert featured Howard McGhee, Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel and Trummy Young. Producer Ralph Bass recorded the proceedings in hopes of selling it to Savoy Records. Instead he issued it on several 78s on his own “Bop” label. Later it was issued on Savoy as “Jazz West Coast Live.”
The Elk’s recordings are a great example of what happened every night with Dexter and Wardell. It’s a jam session format in front of a crowd of 2000 people who are driven into a frenzy as they listen to Dexter and Wardell chase each other for close to 20 minutes on “The Hunt.” Thanks to Ross Russell and Ralph Bass the legendary tenor battles were
immortalized on record.
They were also immortalized in literature by two of the beat writers that would emerge several years later. Jack Kerouac mentions “The Hunt” in his classic “On the Road”. The
passage reads: “Moriartry stands bowed and jumping before the big phonograph listening to a wild bop record….The Hunt, with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.”
The other was John Clellon Holmes who wrote in his classic novel “Go”: “The Hunt, listen there for the anthem in which we jettisoned the intellectual dixieland of atheism, rationalism, liberalism-and found our group’s rebel streak at last.”
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February 24, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Lucky Thompson
Lucky Thompson was born in South Carolina but grew up in Detroit where he started playing the saxophone. He graduated from high school in 1942 and immediately joined the Erskine Hawkins Big Band. He worked with several big bands in the early forties including Lionel Hampton and Lucky Millinder. He was also a member of the bop-oriented Billy Eckstine Big Band where he worked alongside modern jazz pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1945 he came to Los Angeles as a member of the Count Basie Orchestra and decided to stay.
He was only in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1947 but was incredibly prolific appearing on dozens of recording sessions. He was in-demand because he was equally at home with the swing musicians as well as the young bebop players. He also worked with lots of vocalists and blues groups. In December of 1945 he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band at Billy Berg’s
for the now famous “bebop invades the west” engagement.
For the next two years he was one of the busiest musicians in Los Angeles. He recorded with the Berg’s group for Dial records as well as sideman dates with Slim Gaillard, Howard McGhee, Dodo Marmarosa, Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington and Charles Mingus.
He also worked in the progressive big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Earle Spencer and Phil Moore as well as leading his own west coast dates for Excelsior, Victor and Downbeat.
In 1948 he left Los Angeles and continued his busy career in NewYork and beyond.
February 21, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Jump Blues
After World War 2 a new style of music emerged in Los Angeles. It eventually became known as jump blues. While electric blues was coming to prominence in Chicago, something different was happening on the coast. World War 2 plus the effects of the 1942-1944 strike between the musicians union and the record companies helped kill off the popularity of the big swing bands. Venue owners discovered that it made more economic sense to hire a 6-7 piece ensemble as opposed to 16-18.
A number of these smaller ensembles started to appear. Most were modeled after Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. 8 beat boogie rhythms with a focus on the vocalists and the saxophone as the primary solo voice. Jack McVea was one of the first west coast bandleaders to form the smaller jump ensemble which happened in 1943. A few years later he had one of the biggest hits of the era with "Open the Door Richard."
Thanks to the influence of T-Bone Walker the electric guitar started to enter the scene as well. Besides T-Bone, Pee Wee Crayton and a few others paved the way for the guitar to eventually take center stage. World War 2 also changed the scene in other ways. The black population of Los Angeles increased dramatically during the war. This led to the establishment of a number of nightlife scenes most notably Central Ave and Bronzeville. Elk’s Auditorium, Alex Lovejoy’s Breakfast Club, Jack’s Basket Room, The Casablanca and the Club Alabam are just a few of the legendary Los Angeles nightspots. In San Diego it was the Creole Palace on Market.
Venues that couldn’t afford a live band discovered that the jukebox would work just as well. After the war the jukebox industry became big business. This music still wasn’t played on the radio so the jukebox became the arbiter of hit records.
Dozens of small independent record companies popped up after the war all looking for that elusive juke box hit. The first major success was Private Cecil Gant’s recording of “I
Wonder” for the Bronze record label. Within the first week it sold 1,000 copies. Bronze was too small to meet the demand but it showed other would be record company entrepreneurs what could happen with just one hit record. The race was on.
Gilt-Edge, Modern, Exclusive, Supreme, Swingtime, Specialty and Aladdin were all new companies that were looking to sign potential hitmakers. Joe Liggins had a hit with “The Honeydripper” that was another jukebox sensation. It dominated the summer of 1945. In addition to Liggins, his brother Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy along with
Roy Milton’s Solid Senders and Jack McVea’s Door Openers established the west coast jump blues sound.
Another west coast invention was the honking screaming saxophone made popular by Big Jay McNeely. The legendary tenor battles between Big Jay and Joe Houston are still talked about today. There were also the pianists, most notably Amos Milbourne, Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown and Ivory Joe Hunter. There were the blues shouters: Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown and Jimmy Witherspoon.
Johnny Otis maintained a larger group and became an important spokesman for the music. He was a drummer, vibraphonist, artist, pioneer radio disc jockey and eventually hosted his own television show. It was Los Angeles that gave birth to the Disc Jockey after World War 2. It took a while for these records to start to get airplay but by the
late forties it was Hunter Hancock who led the way with his Midnight Matinee.
The recordings coming out of the west coast between 1945-1950 was a combination of blues, boogie and jazz. There was a definite west coast sound. This sound would turn out to be a major influence on what would soon be called Rhythm and Blues.
February 20, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Bebop
Bebop invaded the west with the arrival of Billy Eckstine’s Big Band in February of 1945. They were booked for an extended engagement at the Plantation Club, which was located at 103rd and Central Ave. in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The band featured a number of young bop oriented musicians including Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, Tommy Potter and Art Blakey. Although the band was a vehicle for Eckstine’s lush vocals, there were a number of bebop charts in the book written by the likes of Tadd Dameron, Jerry
Valentine and John Malachi.
In December of 1945 Billy Berg booked Dizzy Gillespie for his new Vine Street club. Dizzy had already received a lot of publicity and was considered the face of the new music. Dizzy put together a group that included Charlie Parker, Al Haig, Ray Brown and Stan Levey for the multi-week engagement. He also brought along the young vibraphonist Milt Jackson. The Berg contract called for five musicians to be on stage at all times and Dizzy knew there would be occasions where Charlie Parker would be late or not show up at all.
Jackson was an insurance policy to make sure the contract was always fulfilled.
The group left New York from Pennsylvania Station in early December and arrived in Los Angeles on December 10 (Al Haig traveled separately and met them there).
When Dizzy and Bird arrived in Los Angeles they found that the new music was already being played by a group of young musicians working with trumpeter Howard McGhee. McGhee had come to Los Angeles several months earlier as part of Coleman Hawkins Quintet. McGhee decided to stay and formed a group that included Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Roy Porter and eventually Hampton Hawes.
That group debuted in May at the Downbeat Club on 42nd and entral which became their home base. The club was managed by “Pop” who was the father of gangster Bugsy Siegel.
They were playing bebop and broadcasting from The Streets of Paris in Hollywood Blvd. when Bird and Dizzy began Billy Berg’s engagement. Berg’s engagement drew lots of interested listeners during the first couple of weeks. One of those listeners was Ross Russell who owned the Tempo Record Shop which was located just a few blocks
from the club. Ross had been a die-hard traditional jazz fan but was won over to the new music when he heard Bird and Dizzy. He decided to form his own company in hopes of recording Charlie Parker. Dial Records was born in early 1946 and became one of the important labels documenting modern jazz on the west coast.
When Dizzy and the rest of the group went back to New York in early 1946 Bird stayed behind. He signed with Dial records and began working with the young like-minded musicians on the coast. The Finale Club in the Bronzeville section became a center point of Bird’s activity as well as the after hours scene on Central Ave.
Bird suffered his infamous breakdown during a Dial session that summer and spent the next few months "Relaxin at Camarillo." In the meantime modern jazz continued to take hold at various venues throughout southern California and featured a number of young modernists including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Howard McGhee, Dodo Marmarosa, Barney Kessel and Erroll Garner.
By the end of the forties the Central Ave and Bronzeville clubs were shutting their doors. Ross Russell moved the Dial Records operation to New York and the bebop era on the west coast was coming to an end.
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