By Darlene Donloe
LOS ANGELES — Rev. Shawn Amos is happiest when he’s making music.
“I like everything about music,” said Amos, a songwriter, blues singer, record producer and harmonica player. “One kind of music isn’t better than another. It’s what you feel. It’s like deciding if you like your left arm or your right arm more.
“It’s magic. I don’t know of any other art form that can connect the head, heart and spirit and connect you to someone else. It’s the one thing I trust. I trust music. It’s one of humanity’s last hopes.”
His love of music is what attracted Amos, 56, to the BroadStage in Santa Monica to curate its Blackbox series of jazz and blues artists.
Up first for BroadStage’s 2023-24 season is Mando Dorame with Carl Sonny Leyland and the Boogie Woogie Boys who will perform on The Plaza at 8 p.m. Sept. 30.
Los Angeles-born tenor saxophonist Dorame, with his roots in R&B and jazz, is best known as the co-founder of Royal Crown Revue. Some of Mando’s biggest influences are Sam Butera, Illinois Jacquet, Big Jay McNeely, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon.
Making his BroadStage debut, Dorame is bringing along his band, Leyland, a fine jazz improviser, and the Boogie Woogie Boys.
“This is the fourth season we’ve done the Blackbox,” said Amos, a father of three, who balances his time between Los Angeles and Dallas in order to be near his children. “I was briefly on the BroadStage’s board of directors. Because I tour a lot and meet a lot of musicians, I offered to bring folks in. I decided on Mando Dorame with Carl Sonny Leyland and the Boogie Woogie Boys.”
Music is in Amos’ blood. A former artistic director at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Grill who “grew up” on the A&M music lot, he has released multiple studio, live, single and extended-play titles under the “Reverend” moniker.
Admittedly, Amos is not a reverend who preaches from a pulpit.
“It’s the magic of the internet and Universal Life Church,” said Amos, who attended the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. “I played blues shows in Italy 12 years ago. They shouted, ‘El Reverendo,’ a form of flattery. I kept the moniker. With a Google search, I became a reverend. I have officiated at five weddings. I have six to do in October. I’m a blues preacher. I take it seriously.”
In 2022, he released the NAACP Image Award-winning semi-autobiographical debut novel, “Cookies and Milk,” which documents his upbringing in 1970s Hollywood as the son of cookie entrepreneur Wally “Famous” Amos.
I recently caught up with Amos to talk about his music, the Blackbox, being a reverend and his novel.
DD: What exactly goes into curating this event?
SA: Three steps: What story do I want to tell with these artists? Finding three acts that make sense. There has to be a continuity to it. Who is going to be able to both entertain and push them a little out of their comfort zone and who is gonna challenge folks a little on some level?
DD: Tell me what the audience will see on Sept 30. Describe the show.
SA: There will be about an hour and 10 minutes of storytelling and toe tapping. People dance and get out of their seats. It feels a bit like a dance hall. Hopefully, we will turn it into the Cotton Club. Leave your self-consciousness at home. It’s time to get sweaty and groove.
DD: Talk about Mando Dorame and what he brings to the table.
SA: He is a revivalist. The swing revival. I love his loyalty to that genre of music of the ’20s. He’s a purest.
It’s hard for that music to find big stages. I feel an obligation to give him a chance to keep that music alive. He’s a beautiful saxophone player.
DD: Tell me why you like swing.
SA: There is such a freedom to it. There is a beautiful balance of heart and mind. I love music that gets you moving before you know you’re moving.
DD: When did your musical aspirations start?
SA: I’ve always loved music. It saved me. I would be in my room listening to albums. Through songs — they were my greatest teachers. My mother was a nightclub singer and my father was a talent booker. I grew up around musicians. It was always part of my life. I like to create something from nothing.
DD: How did music save you?
SA: I come from a divorced family. My father was away a lot. My mother suffered from mental illness. I had a hard go. Music was a comfort for me. I could hear thoughts expressed similar to my own thoughts. I felt like a misfit. I was a Black kid in an all-white neighborhood. Music lights up so many parts of the brain.
DD: Talk about “Cookies and Milk” — and your dad — Wally “Famous” Amos. The book is the NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Literary Work Youth/Teens.
SA: The impetus for the book was my father’s dementia, which was quickly emerging. It’s also about my relationship with my son. I was estranged as a result of the divorce. My father’s memories of me were deteriorating. I wanted to connect with both my son and my father. I had divorce in my childhood and now I’m divorced as well. In my head, I was brought back to the cookie store. It was a safe harbor, a beautiful protective space. It doesn’t have any bad memories.
DD: Was writing the book cathartic?
SA: Yes. In so many ways. Memories came back that I had forgotten. It was a time to forgive others and myself. I cried a lot. It’s a gift to make peace with a lot of my past. Fictionalized version of my childhood. It was a chance to leave some of my history behind — the weight of that was finally lost.
DD: What did you learn from your father?
AS: I learned about hard work and perseverance, not backing down, paying attention to details and treating everyone equally. I wanted to capture it. I wanted to leave some breadcrumbs for my kids to follow.
DD: What was it like growing up the son of Wally “Famous” Amos?
SA: I had to share him with a lot of people. It got annoying. It wasn’t always convenient.
DD: How did the success of the store, the cookies, etc. affect you at the time?
SA: I liked that it was successful. It’s a historic landmark. It’s my family home. I still have pride now. There was a time I was dismissive of his accomplishments because of the father I wanted him to be — and he wasn’t. Now, he’s in the last stage of his life. I’m so proud of what he did. I wouldn’t change a thing.
DD: You’re writing another book.
SA: Yes, my second book is out on Oct. 6. It’s called “Ellis Johnson Might Be Famous.” It’s named after my son.
DD: Do you bake cookies?
SA: Every now and then. I’m actually dating someone who has a gourmet doughnut shop. I’m a cookie snob. I don’t try other cookies.
Blackbox: Mando Dorame with Carl Sonny Leyland and the Boogie Woogie Boys, presented by BroadStage, The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 8 p.m. Sept. 30, 8 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and available at 310 434-3200 or www.broadstage.org. Parking is free.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.