Everyone's always saying that jazz is dead — at least since the fuzz shut down New Orleans' Storyville in 1917 — but jazz will never die. Musicians on the other hand can, do and have.
And quite a few jazz legends are buried in L.A. In fact, it's pretty surprising how many pivotal stars have their final resting place here, in plots ranging from glistening grassy lawns to dusty disarray.
Ella Fitzgerald (Above)
Inglewood Park Cemetery
In 1960, Fitzgerald released an album entitled “Let No Man Write My Epitaph.” Hopefully, when she passed away in 1996 years later, she got her wish with the simple plaque emblazoned with a perfect fourth in an odd key. That plaque hangs in a serene second floor hallway in the Inglewood Park mausoleum that pipes in classical music amid the Pine-Sol smeared tiles. (Just down the hall are blues legends Charles Brown and Lowell Fulson.) The “First Lady of Song” lived well in Los Angeles, soaking up the Beverly Hills lifestyle and accepting the adoration bestowed upon her. She died peacefully at age 79.
Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
Art Tatum is recognized as one of the greatest pianists who ever lived. His lightning quick fluidity and bottomless wit have never been matched. After making his name in New York, he spent his final years in Los Angeles. Often with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon under his arm, he played things on the piano that convinced many musicians to quit entirely.
His physical self-destrucitiveness never got in the way of his art, but the largely blind virtuoso died of kidney failure at the age of 47. He was buried near downtown at Angelus Rosedale but was moved in 1991 by his widow to Forest Lawn Glendale. His stone remains at Angelus Rosedale and is adorned with a snippet of a Gershwin melody. Despite the empty grave, this is one of the better kept markers in an otherwise dusty cemetery dotted with empty beer bottles.
Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
Multi-reedist Eric Dolphy was born in Los Angeles and developed his horn skills here, after which he headed to New York, joining up with a childhood friend, bassist Charles Mingus. Dolphy went on to pioneer his free jazz horn lines, eventually joining John Coltrane's seminal ensemble and helping push Coltrane's experimental leanings into the stratosphere. Stories abound about Dolphy's strange diet; he slipped into a diabetic coma while on tour with Mingus in Berlin and never recovered. He was engaged, at the top of his game and less than two weeks past his 36th birthday. His modest stone is located next to his father's on a flat expanse near Washington Boulevard.
Holy Cross Cemetery
Not far from the modest stones of Bing Crosby and Bela Lugosi, trombonist Kid Ory lies with his wife on a hill in Culver City. As his stone notes, Ory was one of the pioneering musicians during the birth of jazz in New Orleans in the early 20th century. When things slowed down in the South, he moved West but had difficulty finding work. He became a janitor for years before being rediscovered and enjoying a late life renaissance. Unlike many other musicians of his time, Ory had a good run, dying at the age of 86 in Honolulu.
Jelly Roll Morton
Pianist/composer/arranger Jelly Roll Morton claims to have invented jazz, and he's certainly as good a source to blame as any other. Morton made his name in New Orleans, eventually working his way around America. He spent time in Los Angeles in the late '10s and early '20s before moving on. By the 1940s he had fallen out of popularity but was was planning a comeback in Los Angeles when he died of respiratory failure at age 50. A hot jazz society attempted to buy a stone for his unmarked grave but his wife insisted she'd do it herself; it took years before a stone was erected in the enormous East Los Angeles cemetery overlooking downtown.
Sean O'Connell frequently gives guided tours of the Los Angeles jazz scene. Want to meet some of these swinging ghosts for yourself? Contact him.
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