By Darlene Donloe, Contributing Writer
LEIMERT PARK — For the first time in a long time, live jazz wafted out the doors of the World Stage, the educational and performance art space that has played host to jazz legends for decades.
It had been months since live music was played, due to the coronavirus, which prompted businesses to shut down last spring.
But the doors swung open Aug. 8, and in walked some of L.A’s premier jazz musicians who came together in support of “Jazz Musicians UNITE Against Racism,” the first of three live-stream jazz concerts planned each month through the fall to highlight racism and the importance of voting in the upcoming 2020 election.
The event, presented by the World Stage and Just Jazz TV, was hosted by Mr. Musichead’s Gallery and Just Jazz Café’s LeRoy Downs and Dwight Trible, executive director of the World Stage.
“Jazz Musicians UNITE Against Racism” is the brainchild of Trible, who had a dream about the event and formulated the idea to gather his musical colleagues to create a powerful live event that would drive discussions about the importance of voting in the fall.
“The time for standing on the sidelines is over,” Trible said. “We are in an emergency situation. All hands on deck.”
“The theme of the event is, ‘Let’s get to the voting polls and make sure we make a change,’” Downs said. “What a great way to bring awareness of systemic racism in the U.S. and the importance of voting than by creating a diverse experience and presentation through a series of live stream jazz concerts leading up to Election Day on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.”
Downs said music, particularly jazz, is a great communicator.
“The thing about it is, things like racism have been going on for longer than 400 years,” Downs said. “In terms of jazz, no matter what color you are, we all get together whether black, white, blue or purple. We get together to create this language.
“There isn’t too much racism in jazz,” he added. “Let’s show everyone it’s all about love. The jazz world generally tends not to have a problem, but the world we live in does.”
Downs, who has a series called “Just Jazz” on radio station KCRW, said it was a no-brainer when asked to host the event.
“Jazz is my love,” Downs said. “I learned about music and jazz from the World Stage back in the day. The World Stage has always been the place to learn the music. When Trible told me about his dream of having all of us come together while all of this craziness is going on — but for a good cause, like fighting racism and encouraging the vote in November, I thought it was a fantastic idea. The thing is, no one is getting paid for this. Everyone is doing it because they love the music and respect the cause.”
Revered poet and community activist Kamau Daáood, who co-founded the World Stage with jazz drummer Billy Higgins, kicked off the evening with his signature spoken-word piece, “The Healing Suite,” followed by master musicians John Beasley, Bennie Maupin, Azar Lawrence Quartet, Theo Saunders, Danny Janklow, Darek Oles, Eric Revis, Henry Franklin, Anthony Fung, Malachi Whitson, Paul Cornish, Yayo, and Trible.
After each set, several artists shared their stories, experiences, and thoughts about racism and voting.
Pianist and composer John Beasley, who is white, spoke about his gratitude to black musicians who “helped him along the way.”
“I’m the product of white privilege,” Beasley said. “Racism is about hate and jealousy. My Black friends never hated me. No one treated me differently because I was white. How amazing America could be if we educated everyone equally.”
Saxophonist Danny Janklow called the upcoming election one of the “most influential for the youth today.”
“Our democracy is in jeopardy,” said Janklow, who also is white. “We need to cast our vote with sincerity and authenticity. We have the ability to be much better than we are. Vote with your heart, not with your wallet.”
Noted music journalist A. Scott Galloway, one of a handful of attendees chosen to speak at the event, which was not open to the public, saying he was honored to take part.
“I can’t think of a better way to inspire people to vote in this time when transparent racism has reared its ugly head than to participate in an event steeped in jazz, America’s classical music that has historically, on its best days, defied bigotry to openly embrace not only musicians of many backgrounds, but to incorporate stylistic elements from cultures around the globe,” he said.
Other speakers included Jason Sugars and KCRW’s Tyler Boudreaux.
The second installment of “Jazz Musicians UNITE Against Racism” will take place Sept. 5, according to Downs.
Donations are suggested for the event and will help support the World Stage and Just Jazz TV in its efforts to continue to bring jazz music during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“Donations aren’t necessary to watch the concert, but they do go toward keeping the jazz alive,” Downs said.