Central Avenue Jazz Festival returns as live event

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Central Avenue has a rich musical history that dates back to the 1920s.

For 30 years, the street was not only considered the cultural, social and entrepreneurial epicenter of the Black community in Los Angeles, but it was also known as a world-class hub of the West Coast jazz scene.

Affectionately referred to as “the Avenue,” back in the day, the multicultural thoroughfare of music and entertainment was considered a must destination for jazz enthusiasts in and around Los Angeles.

On Sept. 23, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the 28th Central Avenue Jazz Festival will pay homage to that historical era.

The free event, hosted by City Councilman Curren Price in conjunction with the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, will feature some of the region’s most exceptional musicians, including five-time Grammy award winner Billy Childs, Hubert Laws and Boogaloo Assassins, a 12-piece Latin soul and salsa group from Los Angeles.

This year marks the triumphant return of the festival as an outdoor celebration after it was held virtually the last three years due to the COVID pandemic.

“It feels so good to finally bring back this treasured community experience and we plan to make it our best one yet,” Price said. “This will be an unforgettable day filled with soul-stirring melodies, electrifying performances and the infectious rhythm of jazz from world-class musicians. It’s time to reconnect with old friends, make new memories and celebrate the rich history of jazz.”

The one-day family-friendly event, taking place on Central Avenue between Vernon Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, will feature jazz, blues and Latin jazz on three stages including the Ernie Andrews Stage, the Barbara Morrison Stage and the historic Dunbar Hotel Stage.

The Ernie Andrews Stage, at 43rd Street and Central, will be hosted by Jose Rizo and Michael Dolphin and  will feature performances by Hubert Laws with special guest Eloise Laws, Central Avenue Jazz Experience (featuring Ryan Porter, Brandon Coleman, Cameron Graves, Ben Williams, Tony Austin, Toni Scruggs, and special guest), Yosmel Montejo & La Caliente, Elaine Gibbs and the Top Shelf Brass Band.

The Barbara Morrison Stage, at 41st Street and Central, will be hosted by Jimetta Rose, with performances by the Billy Childs Quartet with special guest Sean Jones, Boogaloo Assassins, Legally Blynd, Yuko Mabuchi and JazzAmerica.

“I am so excited to be playing the Central Avenue Jazz Festival,” said jazz pianist Mabuchi, who is married to Billy Mitchell, jazz pianist and founder of the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy. “It gives me an opportunity to create, express and have fun. I usually perform with a trio, but I’m performing with a five-piece band this time. I’ll be performing songs from my CD ‘Caribbean Canvas.’”

Mabuchi, a native of Fukui, Japan, who began studying classical piano at the age of 4, said performing on the Barbara Morrison stage is “inspirational.”

“I met her in 2010,” said Mabuchi, who for the last five years has worked with the Watts Willowbrook Youth Orchestra. “She was one of my inspirations. She was a wonderful singer. It is my pleasure to perform at this festival.”

The Dunbar Stage, at 42nd Place and Central, will be hosted by Joshua Wong, and will feature performances by Yafeu Tyhimba and the Young Musicians Foundation’s Los South Central Players.

The Dunbar Hotel was a popular jazz mecca during the height of Central Avenue’s popularity.

The hotel attracted jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Billie Holiday.

Artists like Gerald Wiggins and Art Tatum played in the hotel’s Turban Room piano bar. Duke Ellington’s band and the Count Basie Orchestra also rehearsed and played in the hotel.

Another popular jazz venue on “the Avenue” included Club Alabam, located right next to the Dunbar Hotel.

The Downbeat was also considered a swingin’ hot spot on the Avenue, as was Elk’s Hall and The Bird in the Basket, noted for its late-night jam sessions.

The Lincoln Theater, also located on Central Avenue, was the largest African-American theater at the time. It hosted artists like Sammy Davis Jr., Lionel Hampton and Nat King Cole. The venue was considered the “West Coast Apollo,” after the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.

The history of Central Avenue and the music that emanated from such jazz greats as Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, Ernie Andrews, Gerald Wilson and more, is now celebrated annually in Price’s Ninth District.

This year’s festival also will feature a youth pavilion with educational programming, games, and arts and crafts for children; an art pavilion with visual cultural art exhibits featuring cutting-edge artwork from renowned local artists; a health and wellness pavilion offering a wide range of free and confidential health care services, dental screenings and more.

There will also be a public resources pavilion with city departments providing valuable resources and services to residents of Los Angeles.

In addition, the diverse culinary experiences will include dozens of local food and beverage vendors onsite.

Festival parking is limited. Public transportation or rideshare providers are recommended for those planning to attend.

For more information, visit centralavejazzfest.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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