Friday, December 19, 2014


Hey there, kids. The Beast has just posted our last articles for 2014 over at Los Angeles magazine's blog: #17 in our music series The United Sounds of Los Angeles and our annual gift-guide roundup of 2014's Best "Little" Music Books. Below are some more suggestions to supplement those. Happy Holidays and see you in the New Year.

The Essential Ellen Willis (Minnesota UP), ed. by Nona Willis Aronowitz
Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter (Oxford UP) by Richard Barrios 
Where the Streets Have 2 Names: U2 and the Dublin Music Scene, 1978-83 (Liberties Press) by
     Patrick Brocklebank & Sinead Moloney
Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel (ForeEdge) by Stephen Budiansky
Metal Cats (powerHOUSE) by Alexandra Crockett
Acadian Driftwood: The Roots of Acadian and Cajun Music (Fox Music Books) by Paul-Emile    
The Flatlanders: Now It's Now Again (Texas UP) by John T. Davis
Miles Davis / 1973 (Vigliano) by Stephen Davis
The Smell of Death (Rare Bird) by Bruce Duff
King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records (Illinois UP: Reprint) by Jon Hartley Fox
Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot (Riverhead Trade) by Masha Gessen
Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984 (PM Press) by Ian Glasper
True Love Scars (Neumu Press) by Michael Goldberg
Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock 'n' Roll Journalist in Los Angeles (Outpost) by 
    Dean Goodman
Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin,the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone Press) by Colin     Harper
Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (California UP) by Nadine Hubbs
Elvis Has Left the Building: The Death of the King and the Birth of Punk Rock (Overlook) by
    Dylan Jones
Is It My Body? Selected Texts (Sternberg) by Kim Gordon, ed. by Branden W. Joseph
Austin City Limits: A History (Oxford UP) by Tracy E.W. Laird
The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field (Wolsak & Wynn:  
    Reprint) by David Lee
The Greatest Albums You'll Never Hear: Unreleased Records by the World's Greatest Artists 
    (Caseli) by Bruno MacDonald
Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop and Rap (Plexus) ed. by Evelyn McDonnell &
    Ann Powers
Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Duke UP) by Paige A. McGinley
Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee (Chicago UP) by Helen
Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz (Arcadia Publishing) by Sean J. O'Connell
Punk USA: The Rise and Downfall of Lookout! Records (Microcosm) by Kevin Prested
NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990 (Bazillion Points) by Tony Rettman
Frank: The True Story That Inspired the Movie (Riverhead) by Jon Ronson
Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin (Reaktion) by Tobias Ruther
Remixology: Tracing the Dub Diaspora (Reaktion) by Paul Sullivan
Haunted Rock & Roll: Ghostly Tales of Musical Legends (Llewellyn Publications) by Matthew R.
Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen (Duke UP)
    by Sherrie Tucker
A Different View: A Memoir - The Story of the the Father of Modern Bass Playing (BT Music) by       Bertram Turetzky
Confidence, or the Appearance of Confidence: Best of The Believer Music Interviews  
    (McSweeney's), ed. by Vendela Vita & Ross Simonini
The Auntie Em's Cookbook: A Musician's Guide to Breakfast and Brunch (Prospect) by Teresa C.
Talking 'Bout Your Mama: The Dozens, Snaps, and the Deep Roots of Rap (Oxford UP) by Elijah       Wald
Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Wesleyan: Reprint)       by Robert Walser
The Black Horn: The Story of Classical French Hornist Robert Lee Watt (Rowman & Littlefield)       by Robert Lee Watt
Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music (Chicago UP) by Eric Weisbard
Huey "Piano" Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues (Louisiana State UP) by John Wirt
No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens 
    (DiWulf) by Amy Yates Wuelfing & Steven DiLodovico

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On A Windswept Plane

(Pitchfork Media)



(Daily Beast)

(The Guardian)

(Brick Wahl)

(The Wire)



(L.A. Record)

(Dust & Grooves)


(The Quietus)


(Wax Poetics)


(Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches)


(Mixed Meters)

(Lament For A Straight Line)

(Ni Kantu)

(Art of Freedom)

(The New Yorker)

(Pitchfork Media)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Passing Though The Nickel Whilst Fishbonin'

The Beast has just published a new installment of our series The United Sounds of Los Angeles, whereupon we wax nostalgic about one of our fave L.A. bands: Fishbone.

JUST ANNOUNCED! This Sunday (Oct. 26) at 7:30pm,  Filmforum will be presenting the L.A. premiere of Alina Skrzeszewska's documentary Songs From The Nickel. The Nickel is an area of downtown L.A. (centered around Fifth Avenue, hence its nickname) that houses a lot of transient hotels; indeed, the importance of The Nickel to L.A. music history involves free-jazz godfather Ornette Coleman. In the early 1950s, Coleman lived for a brief period at The Morris Hotel on Fifth Street and Ruth Avenue, which housed many rank-and-file black entertainers, from dancers to showgirls to musicians. Sammy Davis Jr. and the Will Mastin Trio had stayed at the Morris in the mid-1940s; Davis used to dance on the corner for extra change, laying his hat on the sidewalk or entertain sick comrades at their bedside.Despite its dodgy location near L.A.'s Skid Row — "Everywhere I looked were the dregs of Los Angeles," Davis remembered, "as if every pimp and dope peddler in town had moved onto Fifth Street." In fact, the father of Fishbone guitarist Rocky George (as well journalist/essayist Lynell George), was a policeman who used to walk a beat on the Nickel back in the 1950s.

JUST ANNOUNCED! MOCA will present a special screening of Larry Clark's iconic film Passing Through on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 12:00 noon. This is a rare opportunity to see this film made in 1977. Horace Tapscott, Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq & Jesse Sharps appear in the film. Go here to read the Beast's 2008 preview of the film here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bobby Bradford Reconvenes the Mo'tet [UPDATED]

Fresh off his 80th Birthday and a showcase concert at the Angel City Jazz Festival last week, composer/bandleader/educator Bobby Bradford will reassemble an extended octet version of his band The Mo'tet exactly one month from today, on Sunday, November 2, 2014 at the Mayme Clayton Library in Culver City. The lineup: BB (cornet), Chuck Manning (reeds), Michael-Pierre Vlatkovich (trombone), Don Preston (keyboards), Ken Rosser (guitar), Roberto Miguel Miranda (bass) and Christopher Garcia (percussion). As an added treat, saxophonist Vinny Golia will join the band for the second set, which will highlight compositions from Bradford's longtime collaborator, clarinetist John Carter.

The concert is from 2-5pm, preceded at 1pm by a brief interview with Mr. Bradford by the Beast's pal (and repository of bad jokes), music writer Jeffrey Winston. Admission is $20 and seating is limited. You can purchase tickets here.

Mr. Carter and Mr. Bradford, L.A., 4/22/78
[photo courtesy of Mark Weber]

JUST ANNOUNCED: Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq is back for one engagement before returning to Europe for an extended tour. On Sat., Oct. 11, He will be performing at Roscoe’s Seabird Jazz Lounge (730 E. Broadway, Long Beach, CA, 562-522-8488) with Acknowledgement, a group that was founded in the summer of 1975 by himself and 6 other members of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Of the original members who are still with us and will be performing on this night are Ishmael Hunter, who is the current organizer of this group as well as trumpeter Steven Smith and saxophonist Michael Sessions. It promises to be a very musical and enjoyable evening bringing back some of the original founding members of this musical coalition after being separated as an entity for almost 40 years. The event will be complemented with pianist Bobby Pierce on piano and bassist Jeff Littleton. First set starts at 9pm.

SON OF JUST ANNOUNCED: Ken Moore of Howling Monk is starting a series of six 4th Sunday afternoon concerts called "The Jazz State of Mind" at Fais Do Do. Reedman Bennie Maupin ("and Friends") will be the first featured show on Sunday, October 26 at 3pm. Doors Open at 2pm.

Oh yes, how could we forget? The Beast has published a few more lil' ditties over at Los Angeles Magazine. Check out the newest entries in our ongoing series The United Sounds of Los Angeles: #11 & #12, #13 and #14. There's also a new documentary on Arhoolie Records and its founder Chris Strachwitz that we reviewed here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

REST IN TEMPO: Gerald Wilson, 1918-2014

[The following is taken from an Oral History Interview between bandleader/composer Gerald Wilson and writer Steven Isoardi, conducted of March 21, 1991 for the UCLA Central Avenue Sounds Project. It has been edited for length.]

ISOARDI: Let's begin at the beginning and talk about your roots: where you were born, what the environment was like, family, friends, when you first encountered music.
WILSON: I was born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1918, September 4 being the birth date, 1918. Shelby, Mississippi. A very small town about eighty-five miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. At that time, it was called "the heart of the Delta. " I just remember this from being a very small child—that it was a place where, in this delta, in this section, they raised more cotton than in any place in the world. I remember they used to say that all the time. I know there were three or four gins in my hometown, Shelby. But that's just a part of Shelby. Shelby was, as I said, a very small town, a very small black community. My mother [Lillian Wilson] was a schoolteacher at the Shelby grammar school, where she taught from the twenties through the time that she retired, which would be in, I'd say, the late sixties.

Really? That long?
My mother taught school there for many, many years...In Shelby we had a grammar school—that was all we had there—for black kids. In those days it was segregation, of course. It was right at the end of World War II, 1918. The armistice had been signed. I can remember some of the soldiers coming home. It was a time of war and peace. However, as I said, my mother teaching at the school, I attended that school until I finally graduated from grammar school there.

From left: Gerald Wilson (trumpet), Irving Ashby (guitar), George "Red" Callender (hands over ears), Lee Young, Sr. (drums), and Phil Moore (piano)
[courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection]

Can I ask you where your mother got her education?
My mother was educated and she graduated from Jackson College, which is now called Jackson State [University]. That's in Jackson, Mississippi, the capital of Mississippi. That is where she received her education. She was also a musician. She played piano. She 2 taught some of the early classes in music in Shelby. And then she also played in the church, even up until the time that she could not play any longer due to health reasons. So I got my beginning in music, actually, with my mother, who started all of us. The Wilson kids, my brother [Shelby James Wilson] and sister [Mildred Wilson]—we all got a start in music.

You must have been very young.
Yes, very young. So being around music all my life, it was easy for me to pick up on it and begin to like it. As I said, my sister was a fine classical pianist. I had already heard her play compositions by Mendelssohn, [Ignace] Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Beethoven. In my early days I knew of these composers and heard my sister play their music, besides being interested in the music of the day, which was jazz coming out of New Orleans, which was...very close by—about, I'd say, maybe no more than three hundred miles from my hometown, directly south. Direct. Because the Illinois Central [Rail Line], New Orleans to Chicago is direct north to south, straight—no turnoffs or anything. So I was listening to all of the music. And even in the early days when I was a child around five or six, I was already hearing Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and Papa Celestin. I heard about all the great black musicians playing jazz during that period, even. So it was easy for me to be headed on my way to music. And of course, as I say, getting my earlier days of music in Shelby, even—before I left Shelby I already knew of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines and Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford...They were already famous organizations. Carroll Dickerson, Erskine Tate, Tiny Parham— And not only these people. There were people even out of New York, out of Baltimore. I was already into jazz, already listening to jazz before I left Mississippi.

I left Mississippi at the end of the eighth grade because there was no other place to go there. I had to go someplace. So I went to Memphis. I attended Manassas High School, where Jimmie Lunceford had once been a teacher. I started trumpet lessons there with Mr. Love, who was one of the pioneer music teachers of Memphis, who was recognized in that capacity in the city of Memphis—one of the early pioneers in Memphis. He was my trumpet teacher. He was the leader of the Postman's Band. I heard the fine bands of Dub Jenkins and all the Mandarin bands from the Mandarin Club and many musicians from Memphis, Tennessee.

Had you been playing trumpet?
I had started playing trumpet before I left Shelby.

Why the trumpet?
Only because it was a shiny instrument, I guess. I really should have taken the piano. I started on the piano; my mother started us on the piano. I should have stayed on it. It's really the master instrument to my mind, because it has everything there...But anyway, I studied there in Memphis a couple of years. After that, my family, at my insistence, having the— I had gone to Chicago for the world's fair in 1934, and I was very much impressed with Chicago, because it had some liberalism for blacks—not an awful lot, but some...More than what I had experienced. You didn't have to go to the back of the streetcar. It was possible to go to integrated schools, which I did in Detroit, Michigan. I finally ended up in Detroit, though.

You didn't go to Chicago? 
I didn't go to Chicago. My mother arranged for me to study in Detroit—had friends there from Shelby. I'm glad. I would rather have been in Detroit, because it was much more liberal than Chicago.

Oh, really? 
Yeah. They had so many integrated schools. When I started attending school in Detroit in 1934, mostly all of the schools of Detroit were integrated. And besides, they had such a great music department where I attended, Cass Tech[nical High School], which is one of the greatest music schools in the world even to this day. They had it all. So I enrolled there, and I stayed in Detroit for five years, where I studied. 

Five years you were at Cass?
Yes. And not only that, I played in the area with different orchestras and different musicians, where I learned so much playing with members of McKinney's Cottonpickers, members of bands that had been led by Don Redman and Benny Carter. Yes, he at one time led a band out of Detroit. And many of the fine bands they had in Detroit: Stutz Sanderson's band, Gloster Current, Harold Green, Bob Perkins—these were all bands that were very musical. The leaders were fine musicians. [It was] a place to really learn about music. I stayed there and played around Detroit with the different orchestras and studied in school.

How did you get to play with people like McKinney's Cottonpickers and Don Redman and Benny Carter?
Well, now, what I said was "bands that had been led by Don Redman and Benny Carter. " Benny Carter had been one of the leaders of the band called the Chocolate Dandies out of Detroit. Don Redman had also been one of the music directors for McKinney's Cottonpickers...These were top-notch musicians in Detroit. These were the best there were in the world, not only in Detroit. They were the best in the world. And Detroit, of course— You remember Jean Goldkette there with the Graystone [Ballroom]. He actually was kind of like the manager of McKinney's Cottonpickers and the Chocolate Dandies, because he had this ballroom that they could play at. It was called the Graystone, which is one of the greatest ballrooms in the world and known all over the world. In fact, they have a museum in Detroit about the Graystone Ballroom. So I really enhanced my musical education there spending five years in Detroit, from 1934 till 1939, when I finally joined Jimmie Lunceford's band.

How did that happen?
I replaced Sy Oliver with the Jimmie Lunceford band. Jimmie Lunceford had been to our school, Cass Tech, to hear our jazz band there, and he had met me there. However, I had people in the band that knew me because I used to hang around the band every time they would come to Detroit, which would be two or three times a year. I knew them by name. I knew Sy. Sy would sit me up on the bandstand beside him at the Graystone, just let me sit there. I knew Eddie Tomkins and Paul Webster and Willie Smith and Joe Thomas, [Earl] Carruthers, [Dan] Grissom. I knew every man in the band personally because I would hang out with them when they'd come. They knew I was attempting to study music and wanted to be a musician. However, I met many musicians in Detroit. I not only met Jimmie Lunceford, I met Count Basie. I met his band with Harry Edison and Buck Clayton and Earl Warren and Lester Young, Herschel Evans. We met them all. We actually met them because we all lived together at that time. They had to see us. They had to live where we were. That was the only place they could live. They had to eat where we ate, because that was the only place for them to eat. And we would see them.

Same thing in New York, which was no different than Chicago. When I did go to New York with Jimmie Lunceford, it was the same deal. I'd see all these great people every day. I'd see Duke Ellington every day, or Chick Webb, Benny Carter. You'd see them there. They were right with you. They're in the restaurants you eat at, they're in the bars that you go to, they're in the theaters that you play, the ballrooms that you play. You're all together. So I had a very lucky thing happen to me during that period to meet all of these people and to learn, because they knew— You know, the schools can only take you so far. You can imagine—when I left Detroit from Cass Tech they were barely into four-part harmony...So I was very lucky to study with people who were innovators at that time and people that were really going places. As I say, orchestrating and composing and arranging is really my business. That's what I do.

It's too bad. In a way, it seems like more and more jazz musicians are getting educations in institutes and schools, but they're not getting the education such as you have: learning at the feet of these marvelous musicians who are out in the clubs all the time and innovating all the time on the stand. It's something missing. Part of the soul is missing that you get from that experience.
That's quite true. You see, I had people like Sy Oliver, Edwin Wilcox, William Moore, Phil Moore, all of the great arrangers—Benny Carter, Don Redman. These people were giants in the twenties. They were already giants. And I was very lucky to pick up and be able to study their efforts coming up so that, with the rudiments and basics, then I could go on to what my bands have become.

Had you thought then of doing any writing yourself or arranging? 
I had already started arranging before I left Detroit. I wanted to be a writer. That is what I wanted to be. I am exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a bandleader and an orchestrator, arranger, and composer. I am that. I have arranged for practically everything. I want to bring you my resume, because you'll have to have that.

So you've done everything from jazz to theater to movies to the L. A. [Los Angeles] Philharmonic [Orchestra].
Symphonic. Right, right. And I do it with no problem. I can do it without thinking about it. The thing that I have going for me, of course, is that it is my heritage. Jazz is my heritage. I don't have to think about it. It's like the guy that plays the mariachi trumpet. He doesn't have to think about it because it's his heritage. He knows the music. He knows how it's to go. I am a jazz musician because jazz is my heritage. I feel it, I can hear it, I don't have to worry about it, I don't have to study it. It comes to me.

So in about the late thirties, 1939, you leave Cass and you go to Jimmie Lunceford?
Yes, I leave Cass. I left. I was playing with the band at the Plantation Club. Every great city had a Plantation or a Cotton Club. Or a Club Alabam. One or the other...Detroit had its Plantation, where Billy Eckstine worked, where Pearl Bailey worked, where all of the greats worked in show business. I was in that band. It was led by a fellow by the name of Cecil Lee, who had been a member of McKinney's Cottonpickers, along with Harold Wallace, the tenor player and arranger who had been with McKinney's band; George Morrison, the bass player; Todd Rhodes, who had been the pianist with McKinney's Cottonpickers...And these were fine musicians. They guaranteed they could play any kind of jazz music. And they could read. They knew all about how you had to fake a harmony part. They taught me a lot in that band. I stayed with them for a couple of years. I stayed with Gloster Current's band for about a couple of years in Detroit. Gloster Current was a great musician. He played sax, he could play most of the instruments in the band, he could arrange and orchestrate. He later became the executive secretary of the NAACP...Harold Green, of course. We had Milt Buckner, who was one of their arrangers. You know, he was one of the greats. He played the keyboards. His brother Teddy [Buckner] played with the Lunceford band. He was one of my benefactors. He knew of me, and he had a word for me with getting into the Lunceford band. So I left this band to join a young band from Ohio, Chick Carter's band. Snooky Young was a member of that band. Ray Perry, who later became one of the wheels with Lionel Hampton—played sax and violin—was one of the
members of that band. It was a fine, young band. They had already been to New York to the Apollo [Theatre]. And I wanted to get with a young band. They had young, modern arrangements. They were thinking along the lines of modernism. And I joined them. For about a month I stayed with them.

While I was in Dayton, Ohio, with the band—Snooky Young was there, in his hometown, actually, Dayton, Ohio—I received a wire to ask me if I would like to join the Jimmie Lunceford band. I called Jimmie, as the wire requested. He asked me if I'd like to join. I said yes. I just went down the next morning, picked up my ticket, some money, on the train, and I went to New York. Then, from that time on I was on top, because they were on top. They were not a struggling band. They were on the very top. This was June of 1939. They were at the height of their fame but to even go higher. Because the Lunceford band went higher after Snooky Young and I joined the band...He came six months after I did. And with us in the band, we stayed there almost three years. I lacked one month of being three years in the band. The band skyrocketed. We went to Columbia Records—we had many hit records on Columbia—and then back to Decca [Records]. We recorded on both of those labels, even when we were with them. We made Blues in the Night here [in Los Angeles] for Warner Brothers [Pictures] in 1941. We played the Casa Manana in 1940, the Paramount [Theatre] downtown, the Shrine Auditorium, where they had so many people they had to stop the dance. We were the biggest draw in the United States at that time.

That's pretty heavy stuff. You were twenty-one, twenty-two years old?
Twenty-one years old. But you must remember, we were coming up at a different time. I was coming up out of Cass Tech: I could already read music, I could already write music. I was already into the modern things of everything going around at that time in jazz because I was an aficionado besides. I was following everything. I had already met Dizzy Gillespie in 1938...We were already friends before I joined the Jimmie Lunceford band. I already knew Lester Young and Count Basie. We knew all of these people, even before that. So this gives you an idea of what we had to draw on as young musicians. You're right there with people that are doing it, and they're doing the very best. The Jimmie Lunceford band was the first black band to play the Paramount Theatre in New York City. Many people would think maybe otherwise. But no, [his] was the first black orchestra that played in the Paramount. And we played there...every day for six weeks. Then we went back for a return engagement another six weeks while I was still in the band...I don't know anyone at that time that could outdraw the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra.

You did some arranging, some writing for the Lunceford band.
I did. In fact, last Monday we played the first number that they recorded of mine at the big band reunion [Big Band Academy of America], which was recorded in 1941 on Decca Records. It's called "Yard Dog Mazurka. " I played it last week out at the Sportsmen's Lodge here.

You got on top, but you weren't satisfied. It seems like you've always had through your whole career this desire just to push the envelope a bit more, to always be creative, to continue to expand the horizons of music. That really seems to be a central drive in you.
That is my central drive. That is really what it's all about with me. I know that I have one of the greatest bands in the world. I don't know anybody in jazz today that lives today that would want to come up against me in writing. If he does, he's a strong man, and he's got a tough row to hoe. [laughter] And I don't know any you can find out there who will tell you that he wants to go up
against me. And if you do, tell him to come on. [laughter] But that's not for egotistical purpose. That
is not an egotistical purpose. This is what I have done. I have studied all my life. I'm still studying. Today I'm studying. This is what it means to me: my people. I wish there were some of my people that I could help now, because I can see they're on their way into— Where are they going? They
came from people like Duke Ellington and Don Redman and Jelly Roll Morton. But where are they going now? I want to help some of them to be— If Zubin Mehta calls me and says, "I want you to make an orchestration for me and the Philharmonic, " then I can do it. I don't have to think. If George Stoll calls me from MGM and says, "I want you to write the music for Where the Boys Are, " I say, "Yeah, " and do it. "But you don't even put my name on the screen because I'm black. " I'm saying I have gone through all this that you're talking about today. But I'm here today, and I would like to see a lot of my people into this today. I'm not seeing that. In fact, I'm seeing less and less as I go about the United States lecturing on orchestration and composing and arranging. And I look up in a class of a hundred, and I only see one black, or I see no blacks. Two weeks ago, at the Grove School of Music, I lectured to the arranging class, and there was not one black there. That disturbs me. Where are we going to be, then? What are we going to do? Will there be one day that there will be no more? It will be like when I went back to Detroit and I saw McKinney's Cottonpickers band and there was only one black in it.

Boy, what a historical irony.
I was there, because they sent for me. They had a big thing. But I'm talking about these things because I'm trying to explain to you what music, jazz, means to me and my people. Where are my people now? I'm a member of the board of governors of NARAS [National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences], the Grammy people, for the second time. I had two nominations. I have two first- place Down Beat awards. I have many awards. But where are my young people that are coming up to carry on the thing for these people? We are a people here. As much as we can be swallowed up, we are still a people. Where are we going? What are we doing? These are the things I'm thinking about now.

[To read the complete transcript -- it's 153 pages, btw -- go here.]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

THE PEOPLE'S KEY: An Oral History of the World Stage

On Sunday, August 24 at the Ford Amphitheater, multiple generations of jazz's best and brightest will assemble to pay tribute to the late jazz drummer Billy Higgins. The concert is part of a 25th anniversary celebration of The World Stage, an Afrocentric music and arts venue that the Higgins co-founded with poet Kamau Daáood in 1989. What follows are memories of the scruffy early years of the Leimert Park landmark culled from interviews with three of its pivotal participants: Daáood, writer/professor Michael Datcher, founder of the Stage's long-running Anansi Writers' Workshop, and the Stage's current Executive Director, singer Dwight Trible.

As of his passing in 2001, Billy Higgins was one of the most recorded drummers in jazz, a Watts native who took to percussion at age five and was later forged a lifelong musical friendship at the Jacob Riis reform school with fellow truant, trumpeter Donald Cherry. Energized by bebop and hard bop, Cherry and Higgins were still young enough to have ears for the future, and the future arrived in the form of an eccentric young saxophonist from Texas named Ornette Coleman. Coleman's mold-breaking free approach would galvanize their playing and launch their storied careers in all corners of the jazz pantheon.

For his part, Higgins collaborated with the likes of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Steve Lacy, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Milt Jackson, Art Pepper, Joe Henderson, Pat Metheny, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Chick Corea and Sun Ra. (That's just the short list BTW.) "Billy is a natural," Lacy once told writer Valerie Wilmer. "He can play on an ashtray, on top of a bar or on the floor, and it'll sound beautiful."

In 1978, after a lucrative career as Blue Note Records' de facto house timekeeper ("Smilin' Billy" could adopt any style required of him), Higgins returned to Los Angeles from New York and eventually settled with his family in Inglewood. Unfortunately, his neighbors in the bedroom community didn't take too kindly to the sound of a jazz master practicing his drums, no matter how beautifully (or quietly) he did it.

Enter a young poet named Kamau Daáood.

KAMAU DAÁOOD: I came out of the Watts Writers' Workshop, the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra, The Watts Media Center and [an arts collective near Western & 45th] in the 1970s called The I knew the value that these kinds of storefronts and little community institutions had on the lives of people, giving them a positive outlet to grow and develop their artistic skills.

Daáood worked both for assemblage artist John Outterbridge, director of the Watts Towers Art Center, and as an outreach worker in AIDS education. He led a street team that distributed free condoms in his own neighborhood, a small area southwest of downtown named for developer Walter H. Leimert, who originally conceived the neighborhood back in the 1920s as a whites-only residential and shopping community.

Since the 1950s, after such racist housing covenants were struck down by the Supreme Court, African-American, Latino and Japanese residents began moving into Leimert Park. Since the Watts Uprising, however, white flight to the suburbs left Leimert Park blighted and mostly dark, save John and Alonzo Davis' influential Brockman Gallery, which had set up shop on Degnan Boulevard back in 1967. Since the 1970s, the adjacent plaza at 43rd Place and Crenshaw had hosted the occasional community rally and cultural festival; after-dark, it transformed into a popular cruising spot for South L.A.'s gay population. 

KD: In the mid-1980s, the Watts Towers was honoring Billy Higgins and I had never met him before, but they asked me to write a piece for him ["The Last Psalms"]...After I read the poem, me and Billy got to talking afterward, and he was complimenting me and encouraging me about my work and he said, "Man why don't we get together? I have other things that I play besides the drums, so let's just work on some stuff." I was, "Wow, this is Billy Higgins, the cat that played with [Thelonious] Monk and John Coltrane and Lee Morgan." Basically, he'd come down to the Towers and I'd bring my little Superscope tape recorder, hit 'record'...But Billy didn't come down to play no drums. He would bring these little African instruments that he'd grown quite proficient with. He'd play this instrument called a gambra [and] I'd read my poems. I was in awe of the man.

MICHAEL DATCHER:Billy saw a need to have a place to jam in the neighborhood.

In 1982, drummer Carl Burnett, whose roots went back to the Latin Jazz heyday of the late 1950s, opened ARTWORKS 4, a small performance space at 3436 West 43rd Street. Debuting with a live radio broadcast of a group led by Higgins, ARTWORKS was one of the first attempts to revitalize what locals called "the village" as a grassroots oasis for African-American art, music, dance, and poetry. Burnett, to his everlasting credit, even reached out to members of South L.A.'s nascent hip-hop community.

DWIGHT TRIBLE: ARTWORKS 4 was where I got introduced to Leimert Park. [The World Stage] is kind of modeled after ARTWORKS. Everything that's been going on here -- the vocal workshops, the concerts, the poetry readings -- was going on there. Both Carl and Billy Higgins were interested in this kind of thing...It must have been open for about five years.

KD: I did a few things at ARTWORKS 4, and Billy helped Carl with that as well. He and Billy were on the road a lot. Billy was always in demand. Everybody wanted him and he was so giving with his time. Carl was doing a lot of stuff with Horace Silver, and he didn't really have the energy to promote the place. Eventually he had to close it.

ARTWORKS closed in 1989 and Brockman Gallery a year after that, but both left seeds of black bohemia in the village, which was still mostly dark storefronts. Nevertheless, two new spaces appeared: the multimedia arts center KAOS Network, opened in 1984 by Ben Caldwell, a former Howard University professor who had worked at both the Brockman and ARTWORKS, and Brian Breye's relocated Museum in Black.

KD: There were virtually no outlets for creative music in L.A. at that time, or at least nothing on a consistent level. The clubs had fallen down from what they once were. So it was a place for us to work on our stuff and to interface. Billy told me that if ever I saw a place that we could do something at to let him know. And I was in Leimert Park one day...and there were a lot of empty spaces. One of them was under the control of the Brockman Gallery, and I inquired about it, because I could visualize what we could do with that space...I should mention that when Billy and I were trying to get the place, [drummer] Tootie Heath and [two associates] were also interested in getting it. But they later found out that they could not sell anything -- it wasn't set up to be a retail outlet -- so they pulled back and I got the place as an Artist-in-Residence. It was only supposed to last six months.

It couldn't have begun less inauspiciously: A stark brick-and-mortar boit for informal and infrequent creativity. In those early days, Daáood often slept at the tiny space and every morning had to sweep numerous used condoms away from the street by the front door.

KD: Because I was bringing in all these other artists, they let me continue...I immediately began to hit people up for money. Me and Billy, we called on a number of artists who made contributions and we put down two grand, paid the first and the last, and that was the beginning. After we signed the lease and I got the keys. Someone came around and said there were Carl's [old-timey theater] chairs out in the alley and they were getting ready to haul them off to the junkyard, so we paid a guy we saw going down the street twenty bucks to throw them on the back of his pickup and drive it over. We also got Carl's stage. That was it...Then there was an artist next door named [Kisasi] Ramsess, and Ramsess had a baby grand piano that we asked if we could use. We popped the legs off and put it on his son's skateboard and just rolled it down the street. Of course, Billy brought his drums.

Things were so loose that Daáood tossed another set of keys to one of his mentors from Watts who had relocated to the village, Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra leader Horace Tapscott.

KD: One day Billy was in there playing drums and Horace just walked in off the street, didn't say anything, and sits down at the piano and he and Billy went into it. That was the first music that really christened the place. There was another saxophone player who showed up and took his saxophone out of it case, and I really wish he wouldn't have. [laughs] Philosophically, in the beginning, it wasn't all that deep, just cats who did not have place to play or even rehearse...It was a very humble space and I had the audacity to name it "The World Stage."

The World Stage Cultural Center officially opened its doors to the public in June 1989. Its motto: "Seeking Light Through Sound."

KD: We started doing live things periodically. There was no set schedule or anything. Plus, we had to get people to come down and at the time, the 1980s, the press was bad on the neighborhood. They had drilled this thing into all of us that gangs and crack cocaine ruled South Central, and to some extent that was true, but I think it became stereotypical. So the thought of people coming out at night in South Central was something they had to think about. So I think what we were doing by having concerts at night was a bold gesture.

DT: When the Stage opened, I was living up in West Adams and Kamau would literally get on the phone and call everybody in his telephone book: "We're at the World Stage tonight! There's so-and-so playing here tonight at the World Stage! Come on down! It's THE WORLD STAGE." When Kamau says that with that deep voice of his, it sounds like something HUGE.

KD: I felt that anywhere you went, there was the center of the world, anywhere you are is the center of the stage and even in this small, funky little room, magic could happen with the right intentions.

DT: After about three weeks of him calling, I told my wife, "We gotta go down there and support the place. We can't let a brother go down in flames." So one night we came down and it so happened that [saxophonist] Michael Session was playing that night...Mind you that on this particular Friday night there was noooothing on this street. None of the stores you see now. It was empty, and the World Stage didn't yet have any lights out front, so it was dark in front of the place too. It seemed kind of...seedy. There was about ten of us listening and [the] band was smoking, and then, Michael said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're gonna welcome Mr. Horace Tapscott." But Horace didn't play with the band, he got up onstage and just played the piano all by himself. I never saw anybody give so much of themselves before. This meek skinny man turned into a lion right in front of our eyes, and it was so intense that it was becoming too much for me. I was ecstatic and disturbed at the same time...That moment changed my concept of music. It was just like the sea, the roaring sea. When we were walking out, my wife and I were both kind of quiet because we could not put our feelings into words. So after we got into the car and were on the road for a little while, we said: "Wow, how does he handle himself outside of when he gets to playing music? How does he handle all that emotion that goes on inside him for the rest of the day?"
     After that, we would come here regularly, because a lot my friends started playing here. So we'd get through with our gigs at the other clubs and come down here at one in the morning and find the jazz session would just be getting started.

Almost from the beginning, Billy Higgins presided over the World Stage's long-running Monday night drum workshop. His students ranged from veteran musicians looking to learn from a master to children so tiny that when Higgins sat them on the drum seat their feet could barely reach the bass pedal.

[Photo courtesy of Anbiya Smith]

MD: [I saw him teach his drum workshop] many, many times. He was very patient and very loving. I am a professor and teacher myself, and what I learned from Billy Higgins is that love is a technology. It can help you negotiate everything from your marriage to raising your children to how to play your drums. He loved those kids in such a vulnerable, honest way that they felt confident enough to make a mistake or at least to try something new, and they just blossomed around him. Watching him and Kamau and with the kids, it would make you cry.

"They need a place to play, a place to work things out," he says. "Otherwise they don't know how it is to play for an audience."
The kids are the first segment of each drum workshop. One by one they come up on the little stage, bang around on the drum kit for a few minutes, take a bow and get their applause. The first boy, Samson, is only 4, but like the others, he's got spirit. Another small boy doesn't want to leave the drums once he's up there. He gives the cymbals a climactic whack, gets up to leave, then turns around and smashes them again. Wheels to leave again, turns back and whacks again. Finally Higgins has to shepherd him to the stage front. "Take your bow," he says with a firm smile. One kid drummer, about 8 with long dreadlocks, stays to jam with the adults and his father, a conga player, till 11. You can't feel too bad about the boy missing sleep on a school night.
Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly, 12/15/99

DT: The number one [graduate of Billy's drum workshop] was Kharon Harrison. Kharon was this big [indicates by holding hand four feet from the floor] when Billy got ahold of him, and now Kharan's a grown man and playing drums professionally now. Michael Session's son Mekala came up under Billy...and of course there's Willie Jones III -- his whole style and concept of drumming was based off the work he did with Billy...It was a royal combination when you put Billy and Kamau together.

Thanks to the example set by Daáood and Higgins, other participants emerged to donate their time. For nearly a decade, a man named Don Muhammed wrangled musicians, ran the door at shows and even swept up afterwards. Drummer Cornel Fauler actively went around to the city's established jazz clubs to coax their marquee acts down to run the occasional Saturday music workshop. More importantly, Fauler started the Thursday night jam sessions that still run to this day. Rose Gales, a soft-spoken pianist from Houston whose husband Larry backed Thelonious Monk in 1960's and who ran her own sessions in the '70s at a Hyde Park club called L.B. West, also hosted jams on Saturdays that drew the bebop elders of the surrounding area. Gales continues to run the Sisters of Jazz jam sessions for female musicians on Sunday nights. Daáood also called upon poet friends Nafis Nabawi, Akilah Nayo Oliver and Anthony Lyons to institute a writing workshop, but like the music at the World Stage, it started in drabs. Remembered Nabawi to journalist Lynell George: "At one time, Anthony and I would sit in there and look at the clock on the door: 'Ain't nobody here by 9 o'clock, we're splitting.' But we kept doing it."

KD: At first the crowds were smaller but next thing you know you start having butts in the seats, and then about a year and a half later, 5th Street Dick's came around and Richard Fulton, who was originally down there facilitating an Alcoholics Anonymous place, wanted to have a coffeehouse because it was one of his dreams...and he saw what we were doing and thought, I could probably do live music in there too.

The three things I love to do most in the world is sit on my ass, drink coffee and listen to jazz.
Richard Fulton, from the documentary Leimert Park: The Story of a Village in South-Central

KD: Richard opened up at the time of the rebellion in '92. He would always laugh and say that some of the first people he served coffee to was the National Guard.

The destruction of the Rodney King riots of 1992 reached as far as the village. A mosque was burned to the ground. A market on the corner was leveled. But something interesting happened: people descended on Leimert Park to protect new spots like the Museum in Black -- even moving its artifacts to safer locations -- when they were threatened with similar fates. Suddenly, there was something worth saving. The Leimert Park renaissance had begun.

MD: I was in graduate school [at UCLA] living in Westwood and hating it and looking to move...I was driving on Crenshaw and I turned left at 43rd Place and Degnan. I'm a big jazz fan, and I thought, What is that sound? It was this very loud Afro-type beat coming from down the street. It was a Saturday afternoon and people were crowded in front of this little door. The band was just blowing up so hard an people were yelling, "Blow man blow!" So many people were excited about it. So I went in an asked, "Whose place is this? What is this place? Who's in charge?" and Don Muhammed...explained to me what the World Stage was, but he also said that their poetry program had been suspended. He told me the guy who as the co-founder was a poet and he had this awesome record shop around the corner called Final Vinyl.

I walked down Degnan, hooked a left at 43rd and saw a bright yellow sandwich board shouting Final Vinyl. I stepped inside the record shop. There was a salt-and-pepper-bearded brother sitting on the staircase, talking on the phone. His eyes followed me in. I browsed through the large collection of used jazz records, waiting for him to finish his call. "How can I help you, brother?" a deep baritone inquired behind me...I told him my name is Michael Datcher and I was a graduate student in African-American studies at UCLA. Brother Muhammed at the World Stage just mentioned that there used to be a writer's workshop at the venue.
"Yes, because of staffing issues it's been on hiatus for the last six months."
"Well, I currently conduct a workshop out of my apartment. I live in the Palms but I'm considering moving here to Leimert Park. I would love the opportunity to help the workshop get up and running again."
Kamau didn't say anything. He'd been studying me closely since we'd been talking.
"Michael, may I call you Michael?"
"Michael, please don't take this the wrong way. I don't know you. I don't know the kind of person you are and how you approach business. It's a little awkward for me really because you just walked in off the street and asked to be involved in something that's very, very important to me and other people in this community. What I'm saying is that if things work out in such a way that you can come and lend your energy here, you have to understand that the World Stage is a sacred space and we approach the work from a sacred space."
From Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story by Michael Datcher

Datcher proved his mettle by bringing a core group of about 14 budding writers from his own workshop. Datcher took over what would eventually become The Anansi Writers' Workshop (after the West African spider-trickster god) in 1993 and applied a new, rigorous approach he dubbed "aggressive positivism" that he'd gleaned from his undergraduate days at Berkeley.

The poets walk into the World Stage Writer's Workshop clutching their lives in tattered notebooks. They stand patiently as I number one to twelve for the open-mic list. They place their names in slots: kaleidoscopes through which the complicated patterns of their lives can be viewed. The room begins to swell quickly with black word slangers. Sophisticated snapping handshakes, flirtatious conversations, and pure charisma make the air frisky. On the counter by the door, I light candles and Black Love incense. Smoke wafts up towards the slow-spinning ceiling fan twenty feet above. The first-timers occupy themselves with the black-and-white photographs lining the wall...Poets sitting along the white north wall beneath a painting of Miles Davis on fire. Dominating the opposite wall, a pensive John Coltrane seems to observe it all like a root doctor mid-diagnosis. These nurses and waiters and drug dealers and cashiers and Crips and math teachers and cooks and engineers and titty-bar dancers come to this place, where they are judged only by the quality of their work. The only stones cast are lazy poetry.
From Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story by Michael Datcher

MD: I recall that there was a bit of a pushback at the level of the intensity of the feedback...Writers and poets are notoriously sensitive about their work. Most of them read to their mothers or grandmothers, who are loving it -- You are one bad motherfucker with that poem! Woo! -- but for the workshop we added very honest but not harsh feedback. I tried to demonstrate by example how it should go: "I really loved your use of alliteration and how you attacked a very complicated topic, but when you began the poem 'Roses are red, violets are blue'? I think I've heard that before.'" But what was great about it was this: Because of that feedback, those who came in here began to grow artistically, so their work became this really powerful collection of poems. Also, the conversations we'd have, so many great stories, and it was also a really safe, warm space to have them in.

Between Higgins' contacts and Fauler's efforts, The World Stage became a have-to-drop-by spot for musicians coming through town to play or run Master Classes. They included Max Roach, Charles Lloyd, Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson, Roy Hargrove, Kenny Burrell, Kurt Elling, Bennie Maupin, Dianne ReevesFreddie Hubbard, Robbie and Alice Coltrane, Jackie MacLean, Pharoah Sanders, Barry Harris, Buster Williams, Herbie Hancock, Dr. Art Davis, Cedar Walton, Branford Marsalis, Don Cherry and Bobby Hutcherson. The growing reputation of Datcher's workshop drew esteemed writers like Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Jervey Tervalon, Saul Williams, poets Jayne CortezYousef Komunyakaa and Keopisitle Kgositsile, and prototypical rap groups The Watts Prophets and The Last Poets.

KD: We were able to survive as long as we did because what we gave was something you couldn't get anywhere else: freedom of expression, sincerity of expression, and at times such a high level of virtuosity. There were things that I saw happen in that room that were just incredible -- oh man, I thought that the walls had just vaporized, the stuff would be so high, I felt like the place was just lifting up in the air, the cats onstage were gone; it wasn't uncommon for that kind of stuff to happen right there in that little 50-seat-at-most environment -- like if you ate garlic and belched in there everyone else would know about it. You never knew who was gonna show up. I walked in one night and Chaka Khan's onstage sitting in. Another time, it was around dusk, I was walking past and there were only two people inside. Billy helped mentor this trumpet player who's still down there, Richard Grant...Richard was around seventeen, and he was on the stage doing a solo, no piano player or anything...and sitting in there watching this seventeen-year-old boy was Nina Simone.

But it wasn't about just the big, out-of-town names. The Stage became a magnet for multiple generations of L.A.'s unsung jazz talent, from saxophonist Harold Land to his pianist son Harold, Jr., from trumpeter Clark Terry to his violinist cousin Lesa, from Don Cherry to his son David Ornette. It drew the royal ladies of L.A. jazz, from saxophonist Vi Redd and trumpeter Clora Bryant to bassist Nedra Wheeler and pianist Barbara Morrison. Then on a constant level playing in there were all the subdivisions and permutations of Horace Tapscott's Arkestra and its extended family of hometown talent like drummers Woody "Sonship" Theus, Don Littleton and Fritz Wise, trombonists Phil Ranelin and George Bohanon, bassists David Bryant, Jeff Littleton, James Leary  and Henry Franklin, pianists Nate Morgan and Bobby West, saxophonists Azar Lawrence, Charles OwensMichael Session and David Murray, flautists James Newton, Jesse Sharps and Maia, trumpeters Steve Smith and Oscar Brashear, and the ever-evolving lineups of the Arkestra's female choir The Great Voice of UGMAA.

KD: Horace used to say, "Our music is contributive, not competitive." All of the artists had an alliance, we were trying to make it happen, it wasn't like, "Oh man, Richard [Fulton]'s got a full house tonight and we ain't got nobody." It wasn't like that, it was, What can I do to help you?

Back in 1989, the same year the World Stage opened, a health food restaurant at Crenshaw and Exposition called the Good Life Cafe begins hosting innovative "No Cussin'" open mic nights that gave voice to some of the most influential underground rappers of the 1990s. When The Good Life closed in 1994, its party-literate aesthetic was drawn south by Project Blowed's open-mic nights at the KAOS Network and the revived street life of Leimert Park.

KD: The biggest statement someone could make was Richard Fulton putting tables on the outside of 5th Street Dick's. He did this in South Central, at night. People playing chess and dominoes on the street, drinking coffee, music upstairs, music around the corner -- all in this supposedly violent place in South Central. The next thing you know the streets are crowded with people from all parts of the city, and it blew away the stereotypical myths: there ain't no deaths, no fights, no thefts from here on in...Those tables out on the street were forums, where the young could talk to the old...Then cats started coming in [to Final Vinyl] and looking for records to sample: The Pharcyde, Biz Markie, Afrika Bamabatta, Warren G, the Freestyle Fellowship, Medusa, even Tupak [Shakur]. The kids across the street brought him over one day to meet me. He was very nice, very respectful...Next thing you know you're walking down the street and there's a young one coming your way and they nod and say: "Hey O.G., much respect."

i stand on the og corner
tell old school stories with a bebop tongue
to the hip hop future
i see new rainbows in their eyes
as we stand in puddles of melted chains.
From "Leimert Park" by Kamau Daáood

"If there are no questions, peace and blessings. The mic is now open for works in progress."
A.K. Toney rises out of his seat near the back and rambles towards the stage...Five-foot nine and painfully thin, he walks with the slight stoop of the wounded...This twenty-year-old man looks like the sixteen-year-old orphan he was and is.
A.K.'s spindly fingers snatch the head of the mic.
In unison, the crowd returns this early Egyptian dynasty greeting, which means 'Peace.' He pauses and looks down at the black notebook in his hand.
"I've been working on this piece," he begins. "I recently got out the hospital. I was walking down Broadway near Eighty-Ninth with one of my partnas, and this nigga rolled up on us and pulled out his strap [and] just blasted my man in the chest right in front of me. Blood was everywhere. Then he turned to me. I knew this dude, we didn't have no beef. I was like, 'Hold up, man, wait.' He started blasting shots into both of my legs [and] I collapsed right there in the street. Then he just turned around and walked away...This poem, "Chronicle Trauma," is about that experience. I need some feedback."
The audience sits still, stunned, as A.K. begins to read."
From Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story by Michael Datcher

KD: [telling parable] There was this guy that thought his axe was stolen by this kid next door, and everyday he would see the kid and think, Thief! The kid just looked all creepy to him, just looked wrong. And this went on for a year, all that animosity building up in this guy's head towards that kid who stole his axe. Until one day, he was out in the shed and under a bunch of stuff he finds his axe, and day by day that kid started looking different to him, didn't look so much like a thief anymore.

Arguably the late nineties were the golden age creativity of the village and artists associated the Stage. In 1997, Kamau Daa'ood released Leimert Park, an evocative capsule of the eponymous neighborhood with a core group formed out of the Stage regulars and guests dubbed the Army of Healers. Groups like Black/Note and the B Sharp Jazz Quartet, made up of young up-and-comers who first connected under Higgins' tutelage, reinvigorated L.A.'s unsung history with acoustic hard bop. Jazz and hip hop interfaced through the efforts of pianist Billy Childs, who formed the funk group Prophecy with poets from Datcher's workshop, which was producing dividends of fresh talent: Toney, Conney Williams, S. Pearl Sharp, Pam Ward and Pulitzer-nominated novelist Ruth Foreman.

KD: Around ten years into the stage, officialdom -- the city -- began to lean on us. They threatened to shut us down if we didn't get a business license...We weren't a club. We didn't sell anything. The intake that we received from the door for our programs and classes, which was very minimum [$5], was used to pay the lease and keep the lights on. And would pull money from his own pockets to make up the difference, and there were times where I had to do the same. The light bill was different though, it was cool 'cause the box was on the inside of the building, so the only way they could cut it off was to get inside the building. We controlled it, so a lot of times we could keep them at bay.

MD: This is terrible to say now, but as a jazz fan I was so in awe of Billy Higgins that I was never fully myself around him...One day he came in and suggested, "Hey man, you should think about having congas going while your reading out your poetry," which was a great idea. But I was so moved and inspired by him and his work...Billy was just a really beautiful humble cat, such an impressive figure and people really came to this spot because of him...He inspired this whole community just by his presence.

KD: Billy had been sick...He had two liver transplants, the first one failed and they put another one in right after that, but that one was deteriorating too and he wasn't gonna get another one. That was tragic, he couldn't get another one because he didn't do everything he was supposed to do with the one that he had...At times he chose to work in order to do what he had to do. He had to work, he had a family to take care of...Billy gave to his own detriment, because he was taking huge chunks of money out of his pocket to help keep the Stage going, and Billy wasn't wealthy.

DT: Billy had so much compassion that it didn't matter who you were. If you encountered the guy and he didn't have to know you -- you could be a bum on he street for all he knew -- and he could have so much compassion for you that he would take you for a meal and sit with you while you ate. If you needed some sort of advice, he'd take the time to give you his pearls of wisdom.

KD: I remember we came out of this place one time, and this guy with a walker come up and asked Billy for some money. Billy only had twenties in his pocket so he handed the cat a twenty dollar bill. I tell you, I'd never seen a person lift up their walker and run down the street so fast! Billy busted up at that.

DT: I find that with guys like Billy and Horace that they mentored by example. Sometimes it wasn't so much what they said as it was what you saw them do, and if you just hang around and watch then you'll get all the lessons that you need. One thing that I certainly still miss to this day is every Friday after about 3pm after they would go to the Jama, and then Billy would come down to the Stage and hold court and we'd just sit here and listen to him tell his stories about working with Coltrane, Miles, Sonny Rollins...After all of those conversations, he'd talk about how the drummer fits in with everything: "The drummer can make or break everyone else in the group because it's the loudest instrument," or "When I go into a room that I've never played in before, I always start with brushes 'cause the room is gonna tell you what it needs. Then once I get hip to the vibrations of the room, then I pull out my sticks." We'd say, "Billy, man, you need to write a book" and Billy would say [affects a hepcat whisper] "Hey man, I'm writin' a book right now!"

KD: Horace did a gig in there one night and afterward I walked up to him and said, "Horace, man, we only made twenty dollars tonight." Horace just laughed. He wasn't trippin' off no money. He took ten dollars and said, "It's so good to be able to work in your own community and then walk home afterwards."

As the new millennium dawned, The World Stage experienced two implacable losses. Plagued for years by health problems and suffering from a palsied right hand, Horace Tapscott played the very last song he would ever play at the World Stage one late night. He finished the song "Isle of Celia," his tribute to his wife of nearly 50 years, and, exhausted, sat back on the piano bench and said, "That's it. I'm done." Tapscott died of lung cancer on February 27, 1999.

Billy Higgins followed on May 3, 2001. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in East Los Angeles. 

KD: What happens when the father is no longer in the home?

On such difficult and dark nights of loss and reflection, The World Stage revealed another incarnation as a place to gather and honor those lost and to help those in need. Some folks started calling the place "Church."

DT: We had a drummer who passed away last week, and we don't know if he even has enough money for a funeral, but you can bet your bottom dollar we will have a memorial service for that drummer. That's also what we do here. We've had hundreds of fundraisers and memorial services for the brothers and sisters that get sick or need some help. Whether you are famous or well-to-do or poor, if you're part of this village we will not let your life go out in vain without being recognized.

THE WORLD STAGE 25TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION HONORING BILLY HIGGINS starts 6pm on August 24th at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. Go here for more information on tickets and performers.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jazz in the Rainforest

The Beast ran into our friend Mr. Bennie Maupin yesterday and he told us about a special screening this Sunday of his new documentary-in-the-making Jazz in the Rainforest. Directed by Paul Sabu Rogers, the film documents Maupin and his ensemble's trip to Manaus, Brazil as cultural ambassadors and features their performance at the 8th Annual Amazonas Jazz Festival. The film will be shown at 2pm tomorrow (Sunday, July 27) at the Pasadena Central Library's Donald R. Wright Auditorium. For tickets to this event, go here.