Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles / Edition 1

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The musical and social history of Los Angeles's black community from the 1920s through the early 1950s comes to life in this exceptional oral history collection. Through the voices of musicians who performed on L.A.'s Central Avenue during those years, a vivid picture of the Avenue's place in American musical history emerges.

By day, Central Avenue was the economic and social center for black Angelenos. By night, it was a magnet for Southern Californians, black and white, who wanted to hear the very latest in jazz. The oral histories in this book provide firsthand reminiscences by and about some of our great jazz legends: Art Farmer recalls the first time Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie played bebop on the West Coast; Britt Woodman tells of a teenaged Charles Mingus switching from cello to bass; Clora Bryant recalls hard times on the road with Billie Holiday. Here, too, are recollections of Hollywood's effects on local culture, the precedent-setting merger of the black and white musicians' unions, and the repercussions from the racism in the Los Angeles Police Department in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Central Avenue Sounds fills a major gap in California's cultural history, and it shows the influence of a community whose role became as significant in the jazz world as that of Harlem and New Orleans. The voices in this book also testify to the power and satisfaction that can come from making music.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
A vital mosaic of Jazz in Los Angeles.
United News Service
"This volume is a loving learning experience, please by all means buy it and learn about living and jazz."
Kirkus Reviews
With a long list of editors, this oral history is the product of a committee, composed mostly of musicians who lived and worked in Los Angeles during the heyday of the Central Avenue jazz scene. Today, Central Avenue largely consists of empty lots, burned-out stores, and terrible slums—the heart of the area known as South-Central L.A. Once, though, it was the vibrant heart of black Los Angeles, a street whose music clubs gave birth to a myriad of jazz and rhythm-and-blues talents and showcased virtually every major African-American popular musician of the 1930s and '40s. The history of jazz in California is woefully underdocumented, and this volume is a major contribution to redressing that imbalance. Under the auspices of the Central Avenue Sounds Committee (the volume's editors), Steven Isoardi, an interviewer for the UCLA Oral History Project, spoke to 30 musicians; 19 of those conversations appear in this book. Certain themes recur: the importance of family bands as a breeding ground for young musicians; the significant support youngsters received at the local Jefferson High School from a serious and dedicated music faculty; the importance of Central Avenue as a gathering place and training ground for players; and the importance of the struggle to open up the segregated local musicians' union. Many of the interviews are a delight to read. Jack Kelson waxes rhapsodic in painting a word picture of the avenue after dark. Marl Young offers a witty, hard-headed recounting of the union fight. The importance of these testimonies is inestimable. But the decision to preserve each interview as a separate chapter is a misguided one. The book that results is often repetitive andoccasionally dull. An important book for jazz historians, but it could have been so much more. (b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520220980
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 470
  • Sales rank: 1,495,759
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

The authors are members of the Central Avenue Sounds Editorial Committee, which includes seven musicians represented in the book: Clora Bryant,Buddy Collette,William Green, Jack Kelson, Horace Tapscott, Gerald Wilson, and Marl Young. Steven Isoardi is researcher/interviewer for the "Central Avenue Sounds" project of the UCLA Oral History Program.

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Table of Contents

Maps of Central Avenue area
Introduction: The Formation of Los Angeles's Black Community 1
Pt. 1 The Emergence of Central Avenue 15
Marshal Royal 22
Lee Young 51
Fletcher Smith 74
Pt. 2 The Watts Scene 89
Coney Woodman 94
William "Brother" Woodman, Jr. 103
Britt Woodman 114
Buddy Collette 134
David Bryant 164
Cecil "Big Jay" McNeely 179
Pt. 3 The Eastside at High Tide 195
Jack Kelson 203
William Douglass 233
Melba Liston 255
Art Farmer 261
Horace Tapscott 282
Pt. 4 Drawn by Central's Magic - New Faces 305
Gerald Wiggins 311
Gerald Wilson 324
Clora Bryant 342
William Green 369
Marl Young 381
Conclusion 401
Notes 407
Bibliography 415
Index 421
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