A Take on L.A.’s Jazz History

To historians of ’60s/’70s free jazz, Los Angeles plays second fiddle to New York. More like sixth or seventh fiddle, actually.

Fortunately, there’s been an effort in recent years to preserve L.A. jazz history — in the work of the Nimbus West label, in Horace Tapscott’s reissues on Hatology, in the John Carter/Bobby Bradford 3-CD set issued by Mosaic in 2010.

Now, filmmakers hope to complete a documentary that would tie the past and present of Leimert Park, a south L.A. neighborhood and art enclave that was a home to Tapscott and to Jesse Sharps. The Gathering: Roots and Branches of Los Angeles Jazz is a behind-the-scenes documentary of a 2005 concert, led by Sharps, that matched young musicians with veterans of Tapscott’s Pan-Afrikan People’s Arkestra.

A CD of the concert emerged in 2008, but the movie is still awating completion. Sharps and filmmaker Tom Paige have turned to Kickstarter to raise $18,500 for post-production, including composers’ licensing fees.

Jesse Sharps

For me, there’s a personal angle: My parents grew up in central L.A., and Leimert Park, which is the setting for the film, is just south of their neighborhood. The Crenshaw district used to be an upscale area; sadly, it’s better known today for the 1992 Rodney King riots. I never realized there was a cultural hub nearby, with places like the World Stage, an education and performance space founded by drummer Billy Higgins and poet Kamau Daáood in 1989.

As an event, The Gathering celebrated Leimert Park’s jazz history but was by no means a petroglyph. Part of Sharps’ purpose was to collect young musicians, to show how Tapscott’s energy and spirit still inspire. But it’s pretty cool to see some familiar names in the band roster, too:

  • Phil Ranelin (sax), who created Tribe in Detroit and knows a thing or two about community
  • Azar Lawrence (sax), who I’ve discussed here
  • Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), who’s active in the Vinny Golia and Emily Hay vectors of L.A. jazz
  • Roberto Miranda (bass), who’s part of the high-powered L.A. crew on Tim Berne’s early albums
  • Ndugu Chancler (drums), who’s played with Miles Davis and Weather Report
  • Kamau Daáood (poetry), the aforementioned World Stage founder.

The Gathering’s Kickstarter campaign will end on the morning of Dec. 15, twenty-five days from now. It’s off to an admittedly modest start, but I hope it gains steam. It would be a shame if this project, like so much of California’s jazz history, goes unnoticed.