“Check this out.” I listened closely as Adrian Turner queued up Poinciana by the Ahmad Jamal Trio. “It’s highly structured and orchestrated…the spaces deliberate, equal to the sounds.” In his book The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia wrote “Jamal was a harbinger of the future of jazz…his studied use of space influenced Miles Davis and anticipated the later work of Bill Evans…the charm of Jamal’s music came rather from his ability to maintain the swing, emotional conviction, and mood of his music even when playing the fewest notes.” Moments later, Adrian and his friends Darrell Morgan and Yumiko Koshima took up the bass, drums and piano, respectively, and the trio began the hard work of crafting their original compositions into a performance, inspired by the sparse, cool sounds of Ahmad’s piano and his colleagues Vernal Fournier on drums and Israel Crosby on bass (archival film footage of the Ahmad Jamal Trio in 1959 is available on YouTube). Three months later in June 2013 the trio – Adrian, Darrell and Yumi – now calling themselves Circuit M.T.G – are joined by saxaphonist Dereck Mclyn and vocalist Annabel Lee for an evening of jazz and dance called Prime Spirit at ArtShare L.A. (a sanctuary for the arts in downtown Los Angeles providing live/work lofts and spaces for performance and exhibition). Their music is sublime; inspired, I sketch while they perform. It is a perfect evening, and I hope the music never ends; it brings me such joy to experience my good friend Adrian’s art, and although I’ve only briefly spent time with Darrell and Yumi I feel connected to them by experiencing their love for and commitment to jazz.
ArtShare L.A. is near the Fashion District and a couple of blocks from South Central; the steamy hot day is coming to closure as the sun sets behind the high rises of Bunker Hill. There is historical context for jazz performance in this place. In his forward to Central Avenue Sounds, Steven Isoardi, a cultural history writer and oral historian states “from the 1920s through the early 1950s…Central Avenue, extending from downtown Los Angeles south through Watts, was the economic and social center of the black population of a segregated Los Angeles…at night it became a social and cultural mecca, attracting thousands of people from throughout southern California to its eateries, theaters, nightclubs and music venues…this nonstop, vibrant club scene produced some of the major voices in jazz and rhythm and blues and it was the only integrated setting in Los Angeles.” The book is based on excerpts from the UCLA Oral History Program’s interviews with musicians such as female trumpeter Clora Bryant (who played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington) and Buddy Collette (well known as a member of Chico Hamilton’s quintet). Looking West at the sunset for a moment I imagine the community, so vibrant in the years just before I was born, documented pictorially in Carolyn Kozo Cole’s Shades of L.A.: Pictures from Ethnic Family Albums and captured by Walter Mosley’s hero Easy Rawlins in a series of novels starting with Devil in a Blue Dress. Paraphrasing the historian Mina Yang, many factors played a role in the demise of Central Avenue: a downsizing post-WWII economy deprived many African-Americans of jobs; upwardly mobile black families were able to move out of South Central with the U.S. Supreme Court 1948 ruling making housing covenants illegal; and the merger of formerly segregated musician’s unions permitted black musicians to play in venues in other parts of Los Angeles. But for insight into the role police played in the destruction of the neighborhood read Yang’s article A Thin Blue Line down Central Avenue: The LAPD and the Demise of a Musical Hub.
One thought on “Poinciana on Central Avenue”
Hi Robin, I love this pix and piece! It’s cool and catches the spirit! Ahmad Jamal was a favorite, In the nineteen fifties I used to put his records on our “victrola” and cook supper for the the children and feel relaxed and sophisticated -even while wearing an apron! (Pre Betty Friedan!)
The actual art on Jamal’s jacket is a blur now but your watercolor catches the feeling! I also sense a touch of Ben Shan (sp?) w his colorful, stick-figure kids leaping abt on empty lots -probably in the Bronx- another battlefield. Your blog’s mix of musical joy and devastating destruction is admirably written -just right and so sad.
Do you know the essays on jazz by Whitney Balliett (The New Yorker)? They’re polished as minuets and wonderfully clear and effortless (and generous to non-experts like me).
Thank you so much for this thoughtful Fourth of July treat and best wishes to you wherever you are, Pam Lord