Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Improvisation Conversation

The Beast received gracious permission to repost a recent Facebook conversation between jazz/improvisational music artists/promoters about the scene in L.A. -- or lack thereof:

 Gregg Bendian Conducts Some L.A. Friends at his 50th Birthday Bash at the Baked Potato (7/18/13 -- read Greg Burk's review of the show here)
[photo by Sander Roscoe Wolff]

GREG HOTCHKISS: Is it just me? or is the greater Los Angeles improvisational music scene practically non existent? Mr. T's Bowl, Cafe Metropol, Royal T's, Rocco's various venues, il Corral, DONE! Steuart Liebig, Kris Tiner, Jeff Kaiser, Dan Clucas, Wayne Peet, Anthony Shuduck, Jeff Gauthier, Alan Cook, John Fumo, Nels Cline, Nathan Hubbard, Jeremy Drake, G.E. Stinson, Noah Phillips, Joe Berradi, Tony Atherton, Vince Meghrouni, Bill Barrett...Those were just the names of the musicians I knew off the top of my head. There's dozens more who could be found playing through the city any given time of the month. I know Nels Cline, Ben Wendel and the other Kneebody members and Rocco Somazzi moving out of the area had a little to do with this, but I'm I missing something? Is it just me? Is there a website I'm missing?

As a person who was so deeply impacted by the music I've seen in L.A. over the last 13 years I feel bad that younger kids falling in love with Jazz will miss out on it. As a person who was so deeply impacted by the music I've seen in L.A. over the last 13 years I feel bad that younger kids falling in love with Jazz will miss out on it.

G.E. Stinson (L) with Nels Cline
[photo by Peak]

G.E. STINSON: I've been in L.A. since 1982. Never seen a worse time in terms of venues. It's easier for me to get gigs in Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento and other places up north than L.A. Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, The Blue Whale and a few other places are happening -- but scattered and few. Rocco is in Oakland running Duende. There are some other underground venues like The Handbag Factory and The Wulf -- slightly different music but still interesting. Also, Grand Star Jazz in Chinatown. Are you on the Angel City Jazz mailing list?

BEN WENDEL: Hey Greg - the L.A. creative music scene is always going up and down. The main issue is so few venues to play in - there are actually a lot of musicians from NYC coming through and/or moving to L.A. so I know there's potential. I'm working on building up a small, humble series at a new theater in Santa Monica called The Broad Stage -- they have thankfully allowed me to increase jazz programming there. Next season in there 120 seat black box theater, there will be folks like Gerald Clayton, Dan Tepfer, WildUp!, Julia Holter, etc. The honest answer is it takes individual like Rocco, etc. giving their time for the love of the music and creating a scene - you could be one of those people if you wanted but it's really just a labor of love.

Dan Tepfer (L) with Ben Wendel

GH: Thanks Ben. I was entertaining the idea of opening a venue/record store/creative empowerment center. Experience has shown me that Orange County isn't the place to do it and I don't have the desire to try it in L.A.

ADAM BENJAMIN: Orange County could really use a place like that. If you can find a relatively central location with low low overhead and institutional support, I believe it could succeed.

JOE BERARDI: Hey Greg, you're not wrong overall, but there are still a few things going on. Eagle Rock Center is still active every month. I am doing a trio with Steuart Liebig and Kira Vollman on Aug 4. Steuart and I just played at Battery Books + Music in South Pasadena (Rich West's store) and I just did a solo show at the Folly Bowl in Altadena on Saturday. These are just my recent experiences. Everybody else can fill you in on theirs. Point being, it's not quite done, but definitely less than it was. Things can still pick up, there are still players out there and new ones coming in all the time. Cheers!

NATHAN HUBBARD: Thanks for the shout Greg. I live in San Diego, was in AZ for about two years (2011-2012). I've played most of the venues you mentioned plus Line Space Line, Cryptonights at Club Tropical, Dangerous Curves, Chris Garcia's series at Harbor College and a few others. I've tried get up to L.A. to play as much as I can, both with groups from S.D. as well as playing with as many of the amazing people in L.A. as I can. That being said, it usually works out to once (or maybe twice) a year for the last 13 or so years. There has also been a lot of work (by myself and members of the Trummerflora Collective) to bring L.A. people down to perform in S.D.

Nathan Hubbard

NH: I agree w G.E. and Joe, things are slow with venues, but there are plenty of great things happening. Just look at G.E's soundcloud or Steuart's bandcamp, plenty of new music and all sorts of exciting collaborations. San Diego is going thru a similar situation on the venue front. It will swing back. As for other spots I don't think got mentioned yet, check Gatsby Books in LB (Scott Heustis is doing great things) and Rich West's Battery Books.

SCOTT HEUSTIS: Yes. The Book Shop circuit. Gatsby Books and Rich West's Battery Books. The Story of Open is unfortunately out of business. Even the Eagle Rock Center For The Arts used to be a library. I'm working on more venues. It's a DIY world buddy. All adventurous improvisors should cultivate at least one venue each. It's not hard to do. Instead of crying about the weakness of the LA scene, I'm creating one myself. And sharing it with everyone.

Gatsby Books

ROCCO SOMAZZI: Good conversation. For me the hard part is trying to develop an audience that will support a venue presenting this kind of music. It's easy to find a space to present music but if nobody comes to listen to it, it's very hard to make it last. I've been trying for 15 years to set-up a sustainable music presenting venue and the closest I ever got to it is my current venue in Oakland. LA has an amazing music scene but the audiences are notoriously fickle. Maybe there is too much other stuff going on all the time or maybe the venues are so spread apart it's hard to get to them.

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