Monday, December 21, 2015

"Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz" by Sean J. O'Connell

978-1-4671-3130-8 Arcadia Publishing
"Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz" by Sean J. O'Connell (Images of America series, Arcadia Publishing)

My beloved hometown Los Angeles is the best.   On the other hand, I don't think I have ever been to Los Angeles.  Even though I was born, and lived here for my entire life.  For instance, I never been to Central Avenue.  I have been to Silver Lake, Echo Park, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Beverly Glen, Topanga, the San Fernando Valley, Century City, Culver City, and on two occasions, Long Beach.   But that's not Los Angeles.   Central Avenue, to me, is a mystical location for Black American jazz culture.  I never was there, but my dad pretty much hung out at all the dance and jazz clubs in that area when he was a teenager and a young adult.  

I know of Central Avenue's music history, because it is truly a great one.  There are a handful of books on the subject matter, but I just came upon "Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz" by local historian Sean J. O'Connell and published by the always fascinating Arcadia Publishing. Minimal text, but no wasted words here.  Most of the text are to describe photographs, playbills, announcements and advertising from that great era in South Los Angeles.   This book is truly a remarkable resource for that era through these visual images.  There are some stuff that O'Connell misses, I think he's totally focused on Jazz music, for instance my dad Wallace Berman did the artwork for Dial Records (Charlie Parker's label) and also an interesting narrative that took place regarding John Dolphin, who owned and ran various small record labels at the time, as well as having a record store on South Central Avenue called "Dolphins of Hollywood."   "Hollywood" being used to bring some glamour to the place, but alas, the interesting thing that happened was that Dolphin was shot and killed in his shop by a disgruntled songwriter.     Not only that, but it seems that current Beach Boy and surf rock great Bruce Johnson was there and he witnessed the crime.   This specific information or text, is from a photograph of one of Dolphin's labels, with the song "Two Step - Side Step" written by Murry Wilson.  Yes, the father of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson.   So there is even a Beach Boys reference to Central Avenue.  Not noted by the author, but me recognizing Wilson on the label.

Beyond that, this is a remarkable and well-researched little book on this great era in Los Angeles.    Great images of jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Gerard Wilson, Art Farmer, Lucky Thompson, and other great iconic figures throughout the book.  Special mention of female jazz players as well.   "Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz' is pretty much an essential book for the jazz lover, but also anyone who is interested in Los Angeles culture.  I love it.

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