Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bop and Swing = the Sound of Cool West Coast Jazz

If you were in Los Angeles in the 1950s and hot to hear West Coast music, you’d head to The Lighthouse Café or maybe The Haig. Then again, you might take a walk on Central Avenue in Watts. You’d likely hear R&B and jazz floating out of every jazz club door. Musicians like Etta James, the bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, trumpet players Miles Davis and Jack Sheldon knew the place. If you’re curious, listen to “Central Avenue Breakdown” and let Lionel Hampton and Nat King Cole take you “right downtown” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBGgWzAC7y4


I’d like to walk down Central Avenue back in the day 10 years before the six days of Watts’ riots in the summer of 1965 and listen to those mellow sounds all night long.


Research sure can be fun! A couple of other things I ran into while rooting around in 1950s LA were the Watts’ Towers and the Angels Flight Railway. I guess I’ve had my head in the sand because I was unfamiliar with both. In case you’re in the same fog as me, the Watts’ Towers were built by an Italian artist over a period of 30 years. You can still visit them and marvel at their height, whimsy, and oh-my-gosh power. The Angels Flight Railway with its trolley-like train cars used to transport people up steep Bunker Hill. It’s been moved due to urban renewal, but you can still visit and ride. Delightful!


Have I written a word over the last two days? I’d have to answer with a resounding NO! I did catch up with Opal, but I still needed to feel the pulse of LA in 1955 and listen to its heartbeat. Bless YouTube for providing all those things. There are 1950s films, audio of the music of the times, and lots of inspiration for a writer on the trail of an elusive character who refuses to show herself. I think I’m sneaking up on her now, so maybe tomorrow there will be actual words on paper. Perhaps she will agree to walk down Central Avenue with me and listen to the music.


Movie Quote: “Take a walk on the wild side, Lowenstein!”  Nick Nolte to Barbara Streisand in The Prince of Tides. Let’s try that in LA!


Write On!



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