CENTRAL AVENUE SOUNDS: Jazz in Los Angeles by Clora et al.--Eds. Bryant


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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 and occasionally dull. An important book for jazz historians, but it could have been so much more.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0520220986
Page count: 502pp
Publisher: Univ. of California