By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
As the summer wanes, this box can relocate you in another time -- but still, strange as it seems, the same place you're in. Look out the car window at the same hills, the same streets, some of the same landmarks (though nearly all those of Central Avenue are gone), while your ears and mind club-hop through time, and another era's memories become your own. An education is rarely this much fun.
CENTRAL AVENUE WAS RECONSTITUTED IN AN ENTIRELY different fashion a couple of Sundays ago, when a $500-a-plate benefit was held at Paramount Studios for the projected Wattstar Theater. For some years, community boosters have been raising funds to remodel the auditorium of Markham Middle School on East 104th Street into a theater for movies and performances in an area that, having ranked as a sub-zero priority for investors, lacks any such venue. Thanks to help from L.A.'s Community Redevelopment Agency, LAUSD, Paramount, Disney, PacBell, Boeing, Ronald McDonald and other organizations (including Rhino, which is donating a portion of Central Avenue Sounds' proceeds), Wattstar is well along the road to realization.
For the occasion of the "Watts Renaissance" benefit, the Paramount lot was set up to resemble an urban area from around 1940, with movie-set façades bearing such famous L.A. names as Club Zombie and Club Alabam. Billy Barty, Rodney Allen Rippy and City Councilman Rudy Svorinich were there. A number of Central Avenueera musicians, including Clora Bryant, Lee Young and Gerald Wiggins, were present to be honored. There were vintage clothes, vintage cars, vintage vegetables and not-quite-vintage jazz performances. There was catering from Aunt Kizzy's, Kate Mantilini and many other restaurants. There was a silent auction, whose goods included a dark-skinned baby doll in starched white lace from Marie Osmond Fine Porcelain Collector Dolls.
Buddy Collette was there among the honorees, wheelchair-bound for some time now because of a stroke but still tall enough that you could talk to him without stooping. Asked why we should remember Central Avenue, he said it represented a kind of ideal that shouldn't be forgotten. "It was a lot of people joining together with creativity and love."
The great saxist Big Jay McNeely was there, nibbling chicken as he explained his switch from bebop to R&B: He had a hit with the latter, and just continued down that path. "It's all who you fall in with," he said, recalling his training under the musical patriarch Samuel Browne at Jefferson High -- a partial replica of which edifice loomed not 30 paces away. Authentic? "It's okay," he shrugged.
And Central Avenue Sounds pilot Steven Isoardi was there, talking about his upcoming Collette biography and fielding congratulations. "Anytime I can see all these people together, it's great," he said. So -- he's got the Central book and box; what about the movie?
Isoardi scanned the movie façades around him, and one could almost see recollections of The Benny Goodman Story and Birdpass across his eyes. He had nothing to say about movies.
Smart man. Central Avenue may be a legend, but it's not fiction yet.
VARIOUS ARTISTS | Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles (19211956) (Rhino)