Washington Rucker pulls into the parking lot behind Stein on Vine, a drum shop in Hollywood, and cuts his engine, pausing to contemplate a too-familiar scene: hundreds of people gathering at the United Federation of Musicians Local 47 to honor another dead jazz legend.
Today they are here for Teddy Edwards, a tenor-sax man who died April 20 of prostate cancer, at 78. But Rucker, a veteran drummer, wonders where everyone was when Edwards was alive. “Musicians will come out to honor somebody — after they’re dead,” he says.
For 60 years, Edwards traversed swing, bebop and modern jazz with stubborn originality. Yet near the end, Rucker says, Edwards played mostly in Europe, where black jazz musicians “go to die.” Before he passed away, despite his recorded legacy, Edwards had intimated to a friend, “I hear my songs on the radio all day long, but the phone never rings.”
“Teddy understood the frustrations of being a ‘jazz musician’ in L.A.; studio work was not forthcoming,” says Rucker. “But true jazz musicians don’t play the game. They play the music.”
Rucker walks across Vine Street and enters the union-hall lobby. A row of elder musicians and union honchos are seated in high-backed chairs. He pays respect to the old lions and enters the hall, which is packed with enthusiasts and bona fide musicians rotating on the bandstand and sharing memories of Edwards.
Aside from the players he recognizes from his nightclub days, Rucker is surrounded with studio musicians and hangers-on, who, he says, “know damn well this is the most live music they’re gonna see all year.”
Drummer Louis Belson fights his way through a throng of handshakers and makes his way toward Rucker. They were inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame together. “Wannabes are all over Louis,” Rucker says, as Belson approaches. “Always trying to get with the real musicians.”
Times like this, says Rucker, it’s safe for studio musicians to identify with bebop, out of respect for a dead bebop legend or a desire to mingle with real players. But the business rewards a different sort, he says.
After the black union merged with the white union, Rucker alleges, the bosses kept separate datebooks: one for versatile, usually white session players and one for hard-bopping black players. “They will only call a black cat when it’s absolutely necessary,” he insists. At this year’s Academy Awards, Rucker says he was one of two or three black musicians in an orchestra of 60.
Edwards knew this, Rucker says as he moves through the crowded hall, and like many great ones was stigmatized by both the color of his skin and the straight-ahead style he refused to abandon.
“I once did a record date with John Williams conducting, and I ran into this bassist, a white guy,” Rucker recalls. “I go, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t seen you since we played with Cannonball [Adderley],’ and he says, ‘Ssshhh, I don’t want them to know I play jazz,’ and walked away from me like I had the plague.”
Rucker makes his way out to the patio, where jazz widows have set out foil-covered platters of chicken, potato salad and cake. He stops to talk with horn player Clora Bryant, a Central Avenue original, as singer Gene Diamond steps off the bandstand in a razor-sharp white sport coat with black pinstripes. “Taking care of business up there, Gene,” Rucker says.
An MC asks Rucker to take his turn on the drums, but instead he makes for the door. “I didn’t come to play,” he says, “I came to pay respect to Teddy.”
On his way out, Rucker runs into bassist Al McKibbon, who discovered the Afro-Cuban rhythms that Dizzy Gillespie popularized.
“What’s going on in there?” McKibbon asks.
“People talking about Teddy,” says Rucker.
“Didn’t have nothing to do with him when he was alive,” McKibbon says.
“Uh-huh,” replies Rucker.
McKibbon offers a gruff explanation of the stratification of the Los Angeles jazz scene. “The top strata is the union and the recording artists, then you got the subs,” he says. “Then, you got the ones who can actually play.”
Rucker shakes his head and says his final goodbyes.
Returning to the drum-shop parking lot, he recalls the memorial service for Hampton Hawes, the legendary pianist who died in 1977. That’s the way to handle these memorials, he says. “I went down to the funeral home before the service and just sat and talked with Hampton for an hour,” Rucker says, “before all these people showed up.”
Heeb, the magazine of hip Jewish culture, is lucky to have made it to a third issue. Judging by the reams of press the magazine’s first issues generated in early 2002, the magazine itself, and particularly its title — a misspelled variant of the racial slur — were hugely controversial. Its debut received sizable mentions in publications ranging from The New York Times to The Source. Its founders made an appearance on Howard Stern.
Public interest, of course, was far less widespread than the press reception indicates. Heeb — like Giant Robot, Grand Royal and James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake — is one of those publications: widely talked about, little read, minimally funded and difficult to find in your friendly neighborhood bookstore. Still, its target audience (young, hip, left-leaning Jews) greets new issues like, well, the Second Coming. What other magazine would mix a roundtable discussion on the alliance between Bush and Zionist Jews with a photo spread titled “Sexy Exotic Sassy Brainy Hairy Busty Big-Boned Lusty Jewess”?
Last Tuesday Heeb intended to take Los Angeles by storm with a party at the Hollywood dance club Deep, a venue known for appearances by Baywatch cast members, not observant Jews. Tuesday also happened to be Holocaust Remembrance Day. Joshua Neuman, one of the magazine’s founding editors (music) and its new publisher, told me that this was a coincidence, though such mixing of the sacred, the profane and slutted-up clubgoers is exactly what the magazine is going for.
“The Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig talks about the distinction between philosophy’s obsession with studying the world and the practice of just studying life,” Neuman explained to me that morning. We were breakfasting at the Grafton Hotel on Sunset, poised above the hotel’s swank pool. Neuman, who dropped out of a Harvard graduate program and serves as an adjunct professor of philosophy at NYU, has pale skin and mussed hair. He wore glasses, ’80s-vintage athletic clothing and Diesel blue jeans. In other words, he is one part scholar, one part Beastie Boy. “At some point in my academic career I began to go through this thought process that mimicked the question Rosenzweig asked, ‘Why do you want to create these elaborate castles with your philosophy and live in the shack next door?’ I want a place for philosophy and thongs in my life, but in a crunch, I’d go with the thongs.”
“We have 400 RSVPs for tonight,” Neuman told me. “We have the World’s Worst Jewish Comedian. We have the rapper 50 Shekel. Our parties in New York are madness. I figure if New York is the Jerusalem of the West, then Los Angeles is Tel Aviv, so I think it’s going to be something great.”
But at 9 p.m. that evening, there were only a dozen people lined up at the door of Deep. By 10 there were perhaps six dozen inside the club, milling about the tables, picking at the gefilte fish and garlic-salted matzos that were strewn on the tables. Two of Heeb’s dirty dancers undulated behind glass in the stripper cages behind the bar. The World’s Worst Jewish Comedian, dressed in a deep-red shirt, yarmulke and tzitzit, told jokes. “So, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said, by way of setup. “I know you don’t think the Holocaust is funny, but it absolutely killed them back in Poland.” Deep’s main room was packed, but the back rooms were empty. Right before his set, 50 Shekel, a scrawny white Jewish guy dressed as his namesake 50 Cent, could be seen alone in one of the VIP rooms with his fingers plugging up his ears. “Go, Voychek, it’s your birthday!” he would later sing, “We’re going to sip ’shevitz like it’s your birthday.”
The turnout wasn’t disastrous — a good percentage of the attendees were sexy, brainy, slutted-up Jewesses. (Not so many thongs.) There were even people looking to make deals. A voluble bald man in clunky black glasses and a gray suit handed out dual business cards, one for his day job at the Jewish Federation, another for his event planning/promotional marketing sideline. However, this was nothing like New York where, last February, hundreds lined up in subzero conditions, trying and failing to get into Heeb’s launch party at a Lower East Side bar.
Neuman walked around the club with a look of stunned recognition on his face, contemplating how far the magazine had yet to go. So, does he still think Los Angeles is the Tel Aviv of the West?
“Maybe not,” he said. “Maybe Los Angeles is more like Haifa.”
—Alec Hanley Bemis
Democratic Party fund-raisers used to be rousing working-class events where candidates would shake hands with ordinary Janes ’n’ Joes in a stinky union or veterans hall somewhere. And campaigning these days? Last week, presidential candidate John Kerry, through the miracle of teleconferencing, turned up at a Women for Kerry event via speakerphone at the home of Linda and Rabbi Robert ä
Jacobs, inside the Woodland Hills gated community called Pinnacle Estates.
Quite a lovely home it was, with autographed Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe jerseys on the wall, as well as photos of Democrat heavyweights posed with various members of the Jacobs family. There were Bill and Hill, Jesse J. and, of course, John Kerry himself. But the largest of the party tributes was an enormous picture of John Kennedy throwing out a baseball. A nice balance — loyalty to Democrats ’n’ Dodgers in equal amounts.
At the appointed time, a group of female lawyers, software designers, political consultants and two older activists — only three men were in attendance — gathered in the Jacobs’ kitchen for the teleconferencing portion of the evening. It was somewhat like a Roosevelt “fireside chat,” except that in the old days, one didn’t have to sit on hold through wretched Muzak. When JFK2 eventually came on, the entire kitchen hung on the senator’s words carefully. As well they had to — unlike George W. Bush, Kerry spoke in unhalting, precise terms on virtually every major issue without a single pause. It was impressive, aimed-at-the-base stuff — no anti-choice judicial appointments, strong statements about renewable fuels nor even the Reaganesque “are you better off today than you were [insert the applicable duration]?”
Just in case Kerry’s voice wasn’t enough, his face also turned up on a 15-minute promo video — a carefully crafted piece of salesmanship, leaning heavily on Kerry’s war heroism in Vietnam, with anecdotes from Kerry’s crew mates balancing the senator’s statements as the head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, was prominently included with “equal partnership” implied, à la Clinton. Other subtle parallels: Kerry’s novice guitar playing in place of Clinton’s sax and Kerry’s hockey fanaticism replacing Clinton’s golfing. Still, among the faithful, questions lingered: How did Kerry feel about corporate dominance, the botched war in Afghanistan, the takeover of the news media by the right? Not an ordinary focus group.
But there was one strange common thread that bound many in the room. A love of Boston, Kerry’s home. At least three of the women in the room had gone to school there, at Boston College, Harvard and Wellesley College, and Ms. Jacobs’ mother-in-law hailed from the suburb of Brookline. The room was filled with a strange, misty-eyed nostalgia for the “Athens of America.” Which made the Women for Kerry gathering not unlike a Mission of Burma, Upper Crust, lots of expats getting together in the presence of a Townie homie!
Jennifer Hodges — neither a New Englander nor a New Breed Professional Democrat, but evening news anchor at KPFK — surveyed the scene somewhat warily. But in the end, she seemed impressed by Kerry. “Here in California, where the Democratic base is more liberal, Kerry and [former Vermont Governor] Howard Dean are the big guys, they’re preaching to the choir.” “Does that include your choir at Pacifica?” I asked. “No, Kerry is probably not for them,” she admitted. “A lot of the listeners are stuck in a time when politics was different, but we fill a vital function anyway, even when we’re wrong. Gadflies need a home too. And I was impressed with him. The best thing you can say about Senator Kerry is that he’s electable; he can win. Right now, with Bush in power, what else matters?”
looking back at
25 years of l.a. weekly
The fashion establishment is quickly realizing that American design can no longer be exclusively defined by the New York collections. L.A. has created its own fashion aesthetic, and the rest of the world is buying it. The many designers living and working in L.A. are producing distinctly individual fashions, but they share some things in common. They are influenced by our climate . . . They are influenced by the Orient . . . They are influenced by the rock culture . . . California fashion is blowing across the country like a fresh breeze. It succeeds where the stiff shoulders and peplum waists of this year’s haute couture fail, and the fashion industry is coming to realize that it sells.
—Joie Davidow, “Style in L.A.,” August 24, 1979