Jazz festivals in this town throughout the year range from huge (Playboy at the Bowl) to tiny (the L.A. Jazz Collective's club-sized doings). Of all of them, we'd have to pick the medium-sized Central Avenue Jazz Festival as our fave.
It's certainly not for comfort, since the thing is literally on Central Avenue, right there at 42nd Street. It's hotter than hell out there, this being late July, parking's a bitch, there's no open bar for reporters (or any alcohol for anybody), but, man, the music is great. There's a vibe at this thing — a really hip jazz crowd, incredibly fired-up performances, the fact that it won't cost you a dime — that just lifts this thing a step above many a slicker affair.
Saturday highlights include Jose Rizo's Mongorama (at 3:30 p.m.) and saxist Azar Lawrence (at 2 p.m.), who just gets spooky on this stage, blowing that horn like a man possessed (and maybe he is): You late-period 'Trane freaks will dig this cat completely. He always has a killer band, too (we know Theo Saunders is on piano). Sunday is even better, with saxist Jesse Sharp pulling together the Horace Tapscott–inspired Gathering at 1 p.m., followed by Mr. Central Avenue himself, the great singer Ernie Andrews. Following that is the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, whose annual performances at this thing never fails to blow our minds. And finally, at 5:30 p.m. bassist Henry Franklin delivers his own intense, Coltrane-esque jazz, always a joy. That is one hell of an afternoon of jazz, each act driving the next to even greater heights.
The fact that some of these acts — and some of the fans — were part of the legendary days of the Avenue's jazz scene only adds to the feeling. Gerald Wilson began blowing trumpet and writing arrangements for Jimmy Lunceford right there at the Hotel Dunbar 70 years ago and he's here still. Where else can you find — can you feel — that kind of continuity? Don't miss this thing. Details at centralavejazz.com.
And the L.A. Jazz Collective's summer festival happens at the Blue Whale this weekend, too. Friday features the Jon Bremen Quintet, the Mike Scott Trio, a solo spot by pianist Adam Benjamin, and the Matt Politano Trio. Many of our favorite players are part of the night's lineup (like drummers Jason Harnell, Zach Harmon and Kevin Kanner, not to mention pianist Joe Bagg). Saturday has the Westland Trio, Option 3 (with guitarist Jamie Rosenn, Joe Bagg on the organ this time, and drummer Mark Ferber); III, which is saxist Walter Smith III's quartet, and you know how much we dig his playing, and inspired saxist Robby Marshall & Root System, a nonet with front line of tenor, alto, two trombones, trumpet and violin.
And, oh hell, we just gotta tell you about Louis Prima getting a star on the Walk of Fame, at 1615 N. Vine St., right in front of the Montalbán Theatre. It's star number 2,413, which makes ya wonder what took so long. Anyway, they're making up for it by throwing a bash, featuring his kid Louis Prima Jr. and the new Witnesses right there on the street. There'll be dames and booze and wise guys and a lotta laughs — at 11:30 on a Sunday morning for crying out loud. We're talking “Just A Gigilo” bouncing off the bricks and waking up all the pseudo-hip post-yups living in all them pricey condos in nouveau Hollywood, trying to sleep off last night's irony. So get up early and be there. Louis Prima was so goddamned cool the Ratpack went to see him. Who else besides Jack Kennedy could say that?
Violist Miguel Atwood Ferguson at the California Plaza on Friday, doing his own brand of creative fusion (and we mean fusion, running from jazz to hip-hop by way of all seven continents, it seems). And you cannot believe just how beautiful the setting is here, with the summer breeze and city lights and psychedelic waterfalls … it just makes the music even more intense. Free, too.
And it might seem like déjà vu all over again to some of our loyal print readers, but drummer Alex Cline's brilliant Band of the Moment are playing at 7 p.m. this Tuesday at the Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood, 310/443-7000, with cheap parking underneath and no cover). Cline has quite the bunch here: trumpeter John Fumo, electric violinist Jeff Gauthier, bassist Steuart Liebig, organist Wayne Peet and electric pianist David Witham. This is major league stuff, people.
And then there's an extraordinary big-band blowout at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday. Check out the incredible lineup: the Count Basie Orchestra, the Dave Holland Big Band and (get this!) the Dave Douglas Big Band. The Basie group is not a nostalgia act at all. They make vital, living jazz built 'round the core of the timeless Basie songbook, Dave Holland's band is in the mold of Sam River's big bands, that sort of edgy swinging brilliance, and Dave Douglas is what the state of the art wishes it could be. This will be totally happening.
P.S.: Re: the L.A. Jazz Collective's summer festival: It's $10 a night, which is a deal for so much exciting, creative music. Bring some extra cash and pick up a CD or two. And buy drinks. And there's a great noodle joint open late just around the corner, too. What more could you want?
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)