Mall to host return of Leimert Park Jazz Festival

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK — The community will celebrate jazz and the cultural heritage of the Leimert Park enclave at the Leimert Park Jazz Festival Aug. 28 on the upper parking deck at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

The public is invited to attend live performances featuring some of L.A.’s premier jazz artists from 3 to 8:45 p.m. Admission is free and doors open at 2 p.m.

“I’m expecting this to be the year the festival is put on the map,” said Diane Robertson, who is the executive producer of the festival in association with the World Stage. “The new location and strong artist lineup will, undoubtedly, grab and excite the crowd. People are eager to get back out.”

Initially, Robertson was going to continue with a virtual presentation as she did in 2020. She also thought about presenting a drive-in concert.

After consulting with her advisory board and others, she decided to make the festival live for the first time since she rebranded the event that at one time was a block party on a street adjacent to Leimert Park.

“Another virtual event would not have been appealing,” Robertson said. “There has been an overabundance of virtual events. People have virtual event fatigue.

“When the state opened on June 15 and venues started producing live events, the consensus was to do an outdoor event. We’re confident we have produced a first-rate show.”

Robertson, who started working on the event in June, said producing it was challenging.

“There are a lot of moving pieces to this kind of event,” she said. “I have so many balls in the air. It’s all worth it, though, because I know this is going to be a successful event.”

Robertson said the festival has been “growing organically” for several years.

“I see it having longevity,” she said. “This year, because it’s at the mall, it has changed the whole dynamic. I didn’t know it was going to be so big. The challenge has been doing this during COVID and not knowing from week to week if we had to stop our planning.”

Robertson said other challenges include corporate sponsorship.

“We are a fledgling festival,” she said. “I am particular about what I put my name to. The size is irrelevant. It needs to be produced impeccably. Also, a challenge has been trying to pull this together in three months. We started at the top of June. So next year, I’m going to start planning 11 months out.”

For decades, Leimert Park has served as the center of African American art, music and culture in Los Angeles.

One of Los Angeles’ most vibrant and historic neighborhoods, Leimert Park is home to the World Stage Performance Gallery, the Vision Theatre, Barbara Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, KAOS Network, Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center, Art + Practice and more.

This year’s event, hosted by Leroy Downs, will feature Sy Smith, Dwight Trible, Katalyst Collective; Adaawe, Azar Lawrence, Jose Rizo’s Mongorama, and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, featuring Jacques Lesure.

Smith will open the festival at 3 p.m. followed by Adaawe, the Katalyst Collective, Lawrence, Mongorama

and Heath.

City Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marqueece Harris-Dawson are expected to participate, Ridley-Thomas introducing the closing act and Harris-Dawson introducing the winners of the festival’s art competition.

Assemblyman Isaac Bryan is expected to encourage the community to take advantage of the free vaccinations offered at the event.

The Leimert Park Jazz Festival grew out of the Sutro Avenue Summer Soiree, an annual community block party 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 was rebranded as the Leimert Park Jazz Festival in 2020. Due to COVID-19, it was presented as a virtual festival that was held on Facebook Live and YouTube.

Besides the music, a number of food trucks also will be on site.

This year’s festival also will feature free COVID-19 vaccinations to unvaccinated people 12 and over with no appointment and no insurance required. There also will be backpacks with free school supplies given away.

Free HIV/STD testing will be provided by the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition of the AIDS Health Foundation. No appointment is necessary.

Besides the music, there will be a community resources zone and a health and wellness zone where festival goers can obtain information about first-time homebuyer programs, small business/entrepreneurial programs, physical/emotional/mental wellness programs and services, youth programs and services, and more.

The popular kids zone has been eliminated for safety precautions.

The winner and finalists of the festival’s second annual Art Competition, will display their artwork along with other local artists in the Visual Arts Tent, managed by visual artist and Aziz Gallerie owner, Aziz Diagne.

Jacadi White is the winner of the art competition and the finalists are Maria Elena Cruz and Udeze Chidi Ukwuoma.

Robertson said strict COVID protocols will be in place and enforced throughout the festival.

“I am concerned about the rising COVID numbers, which is why we want to be sure we are producing a safe, responsible festival,” she said.

Robertson said festival organizers are going to “do the best we can” to ensure safety.

“We have indicated that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask,” she said. “We will have signage to that effect. We will have masks available for those who need them.

“We have strong security and volunteers who will be deployed throughout the event space. We will not be confrontational. Unless they are actively eating or drinking, we are asking everyone to wear a mask. We need the cooperation of our guests.”

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 ddonloe@gmail.com.

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