By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
None of us had any money. My brother [Addison Farmer] was working sometimes because the bass players would get more work than trumpet players, you know, because many little places would have a trio. Sometimes Charlie Parker would say, "Loan me 5 dollars" or "Loan me 10 dollars. I'll pay you back tomorrow." He always paid [Addison] back. Always. He developed a reputation of being a sort of swindler, borrowing money and never paying and all sorts of negative things like that. But that never happened.
And I remember one night we were walking on Central Avenue to go to one of those movie theaters. Well, you wait until the last feature had already started and then go to the doorman and say, "Hey, man, we don't have any money. Why don't you let us in to see the end of the movie?" It worked sometimes. So there was the great Charlie Parker, who didn't have enough money to buy a ticket to go in a movie. But he was a human being, you know. He was out here just like everybody else.
I walked up to Miles Davis and asked him, "Miles, how could you help me understand what to do with jazz? How would you describe it?" "Well, Bill, I take one note that I like, and I add another and another -" he started walking off. "And another and another -" Until he disappeared. And that was it. And, truthfully, that is the answer.
Central is just as important as 125th Street in New York City or South Park in Chicago, Cedar Street, I think, in Pittsburgh. They all have it. All of the cities have a street. It's the street where the black people live. And I think it's important to Los Angeles, no matter what color you are. And it was very important to the music, jazz, because it was a place where it lived. And everyone came there, all of the biggest. You don't come any bigger than Duke Ellington. You don't come any bigger than Jelly Roll Morton. He died here. He's right out there in the Calvary Cemetery on the Eastside here.
So jazz is very important in Los Angeles, and Central Avenue - There's no place like Central Avenue. Because I'd rather come here. When I got here that beautiful day, and there was this beautiful street with a beautiful hotel to stay in, the Dunbar, which I didn't have in New York City - They didn't have a decent hotel for you to stay in there. But Los Angeles had the Dunbar Hotel and had that nice street, beautiful street.
There were not too many rules to be broken in music at that time. I think it was easier to just be you. You were playing for you. We all respected each other, and we didn't all want to play like each other. The charm of it was that you came in with your own little sound. Every night there was stuff to hear. There was interplay. Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards and Wardell Gray and Gene Montgomery and Big Jay McNeely - close your eyes and you could tell who was playing. Alto players, the same thing. Sweet Pea Robinson and Sonny Criss and Eric Dolphy and Frank Morgan. No way could you miss it. You know, four bars or whatever, you could hear it. There was something wonderful there.
I'll tell you something about Central Avenue: The white man owned all the clubs. The black man didn't own nothing. So there was no success for the black man on Central Avenue. You just had a whole lot of clubs, that's all. Selling whiskey, that's all.
But that was one of the swingingest streets in the world, man, when it was jumping. Because I've been to all those places that are supposed to be swinging, like Kansas City, Chicago and New York, and all those places. But they didn't swing like Central Avenue.
One of the most important people on Central Avenue was Leon Washington, the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel. The most important thing that I remember about him was the fact that he was the publisher, and he had a very, very important campaign movement on Central Avenue. It was defined by the phrase "Don't spend where you can't work." That is something that ran for many, many, many years. There was a lot of money being spent on Central Avenue in these stores that were not black-owned, and very, very few blacks worked as employees in the stores. So the campaign worked, and very gradually some of the money that was spent in the stores found its way into the pockets of black employees. . . .
That's my favorite spot on Central Avenue, that spot in front of the Dunbar Hotel, because that to me was the hippest, most intimate, key spot of all the activity. That's where all of the night people hung out: the sportsmen, the businessmen, the dancers, everybody in show business, people who were somebody who stayed at the hotel. . . .
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