In July 2015, the Vernon-Central neighborhood of South Los Angeles closed segments of Central Avenue to celebrate the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival. The timing was particularly special as it marked the twentieth anniversary of this event. Co-sponsored by the 9th District Los Angeles City Council member Curren D. Price, Jr. and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, this free two-day event attracts approximately 35,000 people every year. The festival represents an opportunity for members of the community and visitors alike to come together and make use of space usually reserved for transit. One can enjoy savory multicultural cuisine, while visiting several pavilions and listening to live performances that include musical genres such as jazz, blues, and Latin jazz. Across two large stages, attendees listened to performers that included Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, the Kenny Burell Big Band, and Poncho Sanchez.
The Central Avenue Jazz Festival is a tribute to the community’s rich cultural history. During the 1930s and 1940s, Central Avenue was a vibrant center for jazz in this historically African-American area of the City of Los Angeles. Central Avenue also served as a temporary home for jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Despite being able to perform at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, these jazz legends were unable to stay in the vicinity as there were racially restrictive covenants in place at the time that demarcated the areas where African-Americans were allowed to live. Therefore, these jazz musicians, along with other visiting African-Americans celebrities, would stay at the now historical-cultural monument, the Dunbar Hotel located on Central Avenue.
At the time, the Dunbar Hotel featured a night club called the Club Alabam where various jazz greats would play after hours. During this period of time, a vibrant scene of jazz clubs, literary societies, and concert venues existed around Central Avenue. As such, this area nurtured an atmosphere of cultural energy for talented African-Americans. It is this cultural richness that the Central Jazz Festival seeks to pay homage to and promulgate amongst enthusiasts and spectators.
Today, the cultural influence of jazz and blues continues to be alive along Central Avenue via the annual celebration of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival. In addition, this event has come to represent an opportunity to introduce and expose other sounds and rhythms to attendees. The addition of other musical elements not only further enriches the experience of those present but it also serves as an indicator of how music and this community have evolved with the passing of time.
How does your community make use of space to bring members of the community together? How does your community celebrate its cultural history? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.