|Photo by Max Gerber|
When Dale Lya Pierson was growing up near Vineyard Avenue in South Los Angeles in the ’40s and ’50s, she viewed the area’s kinetic jazz scene as simply an extension of family. After all, her grandfather was a musician, her mother a jitterbug enthusiast who went to school with avant-garde wunderkind Eric Dolphy, and her father played trumpet with Dolphy in the Dorsey High School band. “This stuff was all around me,” recalls Pierson. “Hampton Hawes was in the neighborhood, too.”
Pierson, also known as Dalili, formerly worked as assistant director of the Museum of African-American Art and is currently manager for jazz trombonist Phil Ranelin and his ensemble; in 1992, she founded Build Crenshaw Arts, a local arts-advocacy organization that helped focus her lifelong passion to preserve the rich but rarely delineated history of L.A. jazz. Last summer, driving past the Denker Recreation Center in her
family’s old hood, Pierson saw a new building under construction and got inspired: Why not name it after Dolphy? She quickly rounded up support from an impressive range of folks, from politicians to the Herb Alpert Foundation to the congregation of a Latino church that Dolphy once attended. By the standards of city bureaucracy, the project was completed in record time: The Eric Allan Dolphy Jr. Memorial Community Recreation and Cultural Building was dedicated this past January.
Next, Pierson has her sights set on erecting a similar memorial at Crenshaw and Washington boulevards, the site of the old Parisian Room (“It’s like an Indian burial ground of jazz”). Her ultimate goal is to have one in every council district. “I’m trying to construct concrete memory,” says Pierson. “But I’m also documenting black culture. Recognizing the contributions of these artists is my way of fighting the racism of their time.”