By Darlene Donloe
CRENSHAW — Diane Robertson is putting the finishing touches on the third Leimert Park Jazz Festival, to be held Aug. 27 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall.
She has a little bit of this and a little bit of that to do before she crosses the finish line, but Robertson promises it will be worth it to those attending the event she assures will be “filled with amazing jazz.”
“I spend every waking hour on this festival,” said Robertson, an entertainment lawyer at Paramount. “This festival is about great music and economic development, plus promoting and showcasing the small business owners in Leimert Park Village. Minority-owned food truck vendors can come and build their businesses. All of this illustrates how Black businesses can collaborate.”
The festival’s mission is to build and strengthen the community while celebrating and showcasing the artistic and cultural spirit of the historic Leimert Park neighborhood.
Now in its third year, Robertson, the executive producer, believes this year’s in-person jazz festival will attract about 3,000 persons, compared to 900 last year.
“There are factors that can get us there,” she said. “This year we have the benefit of a successful festival from last year. We also have new radio station sponsors that include KCRW, which is coming onboard for the first time, and KBLA and KJZZ.”
Presented in association with the World Stage, Robertson said the Leimert Park Jazz Festival is still in the development stage.
“We are building this,” said Robertson referring to her team. “It’s wash, rinse, repeat. We can get there by creating a foundation. This is a baby that I’m birthing. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility.”
The Leimert Park Jazz Festival grew out of the Sutro Avenue Summer Soiree, an annual community block party spearheaded by Robertson that began in 2015 on a residential street in Leimert Park that drew a culturally diverse, family-friendly audience. A jazz stage was added to the soiree in 2018 and 2019.
The event, a celebration of jazz, community and culture, was rebranded as the Leimert Park Jazz Festival in 2020.
Robertson is excited about the talent she has assembled for this year’s festival, which will be hosted once again by LeRoy Downs of KCRW.
This year’s lineup includes performances by co-headliners Pete Escovedo & Family, and The Jazz Classics featuring Patrice Rushen, Ernie Watts, Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Edwin Livingston.
Robertson, a Brooklyn native, said that each year she likes to incorporate “hyper-local artists on the lineup,” which is why she included John Beasley + MONK’estra, Munyungo’s Jungle Jazz, Kamau Daaood, and A Band of Griots (Teodross Avery, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Dexter Story and Trevor Ware), The Leimert Park Experience featuring Dwight Trible (vocals), Ryan Porter (trombone), Cameron Graves (piano), Aaron Shaw (tenor saxophone), Ian Martin, Lyndon Rochelle, S.H.I.N.E. Mawusi Women’s African Drum Circle, and the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center Youth Jazz Band. There also will be a performance by the Lula Washington Dance Theater Youth Dance Ensemble.
Festival highlights this year include a tribute to Barbara Morrison, who died in March, and Derf Reklaw, a percussionist flutist, and teacher, who lived in Leimert Park and died in February.
The performance schedule includes the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center Youth Jazz Band from 12:20 to 12:40 p.m.; S.H.I.N.E. Mawusi Women’s African Drum Circle from 12:40 to 1 p.m.; the Leimert Park Experience featuring Dwight Trible, Ryan Porter, Cameron Graves, Aaron Shaw, Ian Martin and Lyndon Rochelle from 1 to 1:40 p.m.; a tribute to Barbara Morrison and Derf Reklaw from 1:40 to 2:10 p.m.; John Beasley’s MONK’estra from 2:40 to 3:25 p.m.; Kamau Daaood and A Band of Griots (with Mark DeClive-Lowe, Teeodross Avery, Trevor Ware and Dexter Story) from 3:50 to 4:30 p.m.; Pete Escovedo & Family from 5 to 6 p.m.; the Jazz Classics featuring Patrice Rushen, Ernie Watts, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, and Edwin Livingston from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; and Munyungo’s Jungle Jazz (accompanied by members of Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s Youth Dance Ensemble) from 7:55 to 8:40 p.m.
In addition to the music, the winner (Peighton Mercier) and finalists of the festival’s third annual Art Competition, along with other local artists, will display their artwork, which will be available for purchase in the Visual Arts Pavilion, managed by visual artist and AzizGallerie owner Aziz Diagne.
“We want to give exposure to these artists,” Robertson said.
In 2021, due to COVID, Robertson eliminated the Kids’ Zone. This year she is bringing it back.
There will be acoustic guitar and ukulele lessons sponsored by the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center and the Fender Play Foundation, a nonprofit solely dedicated to increasing access to music education through innovative and sustainable programs that put instruments and learning tools directly in the hands of students and teachers.
LA Commons and other arts organizations like Greetings From South LA, Art Active LA, and Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will provide art programming. There also will be a photo booth.
This year there will also be a Food Zone for mostly Black-owned food trucks, plus a wine and beer lounge sponsored by the McBride Sisters, a Black-owned winery, Crowns and Hops, and Til the Last Sip.
“Technically, the festival is at the mall and not in Leimert Park proper,” Robertson said. “I thought it was important to bring Leimert Park to the mall, to this festival, because the mall provides an opportunity to present the festival in a controlled environment, so I added an inaugural Leimert Park Village Merchants Association Marketplace.”
Robertson said it is made up of small, Black-owned retailers, who will produce a pop-up shop. Merchants expected to participate include Sole Folks, The Lion Art Gallery, The World Stage, Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, Nappily Naturals, SIKA, and Queen Amina Clothing.
Regarding safety protocols, Robertson stresses that while there is no mask requirement in place, they are “encouraging” attendees to wear them. She also warns that there are items that will not be allowed inside the show.
“We are encouraging people to go to our website for information on permitted and not permitted items,” Robertson said. “For instance, there is a bag policy. There is a clear bag policy with size restrictions. A one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag storage bag, like Ziploc, can be used. If it’s not clear, it can’t be bigger than a clutch. We are also not allowing outside beverages because of our beer and wine lounge, or outside food because we want the vendors to make money. There are no outside coolers, chairs, or umbrellas allowed.
For more information, visit www.leimertparkjazzfestival.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.