Anyone willing to open a jazz club these days must be a little crazy, but if Joon Lee is nuts, he's doing a great job of hiding it. In fact, since its late 2009 debut in Little Tokyo, his venue, Blue Whale, has become the go-to spot for new and emerging jazz artists from around the world.
"I was uncomfortable that people were always complaining about the jazz scene in L.A.," Lee says, perched at his venue's bar. "So I wanted to create an artists' hang. A place for writers, musicians, painters -- everybody."
When Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland decided to put on a show in those classic MGM musicals, they simply found an old barn and fixed it up. But in modern-day Los Angeles, where many venues have closed due to the recession, how does a teenage girl manage to start her own nightclub and turn it into one of Hollywood's coolest hangouts?
"When we first opened, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing," says Kota Wade, who was just 19 last year when she converted her band's rehearsal room into an all-ages, no-alcohol club called AmplyFi. Located on Melrose Avenue within spitting distance of Paramount Studios, the room is filled with lava lamps, gold records and a large vintage poster of Jane Fonda. Its lineup consists largely of indie rock bands; celebrities like Don Was, Runaways singer Cherie Curie and Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey have been known to take in shows.
When in character as his alter ego, Jonny Coffin, Jonny Edwards sports a black trench coat, gloves and a top hat. With his flowing dark hair, chiseled features and dramatic makeup, he exudes an aura of sinister mystery. Completing the look is his highly curious black guitar case, which is shaped like a coffin, made from wood and vinyl, and lined with plush velvet.
Edwards makes these cases himself, and through his company, Coffin Case, has sold a quarter million of them, by his count, to everyone from Lucinda Williams to Johnny Depp. Metallica's Kirk Hammett recently commissioned one.
Alice Bag busted up the punk-rock patriarchy in September 1977. At Hollywood's Masque, she and three female bandmates walked onstage wearing brown paper grocery bags over their heads, with slashes for eyeholes. This was their first headlining show, and they played extremely loud. They called themselves The Bags.
Sure, other L.A. punk bands like The Alleycats and The Eyes had female bassists who occasionally sang a lick or two, but The Bags were the first with a frontwoman -- and a bisexual Chicana frontwoman at that.
Although the group never recorded a full studio LP -- it broke up only a few years after the show -- Bag herself retains a long list of admirers.
Wearing a ruffled dress and cardigan, Gaby Moreno snacks on a red velvet cookie and explains her obsession with retro blues music. "I'm sort of stuck on anything from the '20s to the '60s," she says.
The 30-year-old singer-songwriter, whose Shirley Temple curls frame her face, says absorbing the blues in its land of origin was a major reason she moved to the United States after graduating high school in her native Guatemala. That, and to record some blues of her own.
Twelve years later, Moreno's Spanish-language songs and smoky, cavernous voice have inspired waves of adulation throughout the hemisphere. Last year, her independently produced album Illustrated Songs hit No. 1 on the Latin iTunes chart, clocking in above such Spanish-language heavyweights as Maná and Shakira. She exclaims, "I was, like, 'How the hell is this happening to me?' "
As a teenager, Pilar Díaz spent Friday nights at Tower Records in Hollywood with her dad. It was something of a coping mechanism; her mother and sister were killed in a car accident when Díaz was just 11. She preferred the Top 40 stuff, like Donna Summer, Prince and Talking Heads -- "that kind of dance music that's smart," as she calls it now. But her father, an accomplished Chilean folkloric musician who'd moved his family to the United States just a few years earlier, preferred to school her in jazz.
Now an Echo Park resident in her late 30s, Diaz helps anchor Los Angeles' Latin alternative-music scene -- both via her music and through her continued connection with the influential Mucho Wednesdays party at the Echo. [Paragraph corrected June 18, 2012. See note at bottom.]
"Ni**as in Paris," last year's most popular song, exploded in roughly the same amount of time that its producer spent creating it.
"It took me probably 15 minutes to make that beat, and it changed my life," Hit Boy says of the ubiquitous, deliciously bass-heavy beat. In December, he watched Kanye West and Jay-Z perform the song 10 times in a row at the duo's Watch the Throne concert stop in L.A., sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy. For a 24-year-old producer -- to use the song's catchphrase -- that shit was cray.
You do not want to mess with the "Glamberts." Adam Lambert's superfans eat up everything written about the singer, and Lord help a writer if it's not 100 percent positive. They will defend their man to the death.
Interestingly, the Glamberts are mostly female, and their feelings for Lambert are decidedly not platonic -- even though he's been out as a gay man since 2009, soon after his American Idol run ended one step from victory.
Katy Goodman makes breakup albums. Her latest, Sees the Light, largely concerns her failed relationships with two former beaux. Sure, there are some happy tracks, about a third guy -- but she has since split with him, too. "I break up a lot," she explains.
One suspects the 27-year-old singer-songwriter is a heartbreaker; she certainly has inspired the adoration of breathless indie boys around the country, first with her Brooklyn trio, Vivian Girls, and now with her solo act, La Sera.