*Los Angeles – Jazz fans knew that the month of April was declared Jazz Appreciation Month. We didn’t need an Act of Congress to encourage us to celebrate our love of America’s #1 Art form-JAZZ!.
For the un-initiated, Jazz Appreciation Month, (fondly called JAM) was created at the Smithsonian Museum in 2002 to herald and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz for the month of April. The intent was to stimulate and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz, study the music, attend concerts/festivals, listen to jazz on the radio and recordings, read books and magazines about jazz, etc.
The jazz community in Los Angeles is very fortunate to have a popular, beloved women, who go by the name of Barbara Morrison amongst us. Barbara Morrison and her team at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center up the ante during Jazz Appreciation Month.
Broadway in Leimert Park was the brainchild of Barbara Morrison, who not only impressed audiences with her legendary two-and-a-half octave range, and fun, electric stage presence. Ms. Morrison has paid it forward by establishing a Performing Arts Center in historic Leimert Park Village.
The venue hosted a jammed-packed line-up of tributes to all of the greats from Ella & Dizzy to Holiday and Sinatra and beyond.
On Saturday, April 30th, International Jazz Day, Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center partnered with KJAZ 88.1 (America’s #1 Jazz Station), and Co-sponsored by the City of Los Angeles for International Jazz Day Festival, “Swing Royale.” This was by far the biggest celebration of International Jazz Day on the West Coast, which paid tribute to jazz greats. International Jazz Day Festival was the grand finale to Jazz Appreciation Month Celebrations. International Jazz Day, in its fifth year, was created to highlight jazz and is a culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month. Its role is to unite people of all corners of the globe in their love of jazz. International Jazz Day also brought together communities, schools, artists and all music lovers to learn more about this unique and iconic genre, and to celebrate its roots, future and cultural impact it has made and continues to make.
The local jazz community was well represented at this festival held at the Vision Theater Backlot on a windy, chilly day in beautiful Southern California. Leroy Downs, Program Host, KJAZZ FM 88.1FM served as Master of Ceremony.
The program got underway with the amazing vocal styling of the great Dwight Trible. He performed “All Blues,” and “Brother, Where Are You? Before launching into a tribute to Oscar Brown Jr. on the tunes “Rags and Old Iron,” “I’m in a World of Trouble” written for Lou Rawls, “Brown Baby,” and a swinging version of “Dat There,” and “Afro Blue.” The audience gave him a standing ovation.
Leroy Downs acknowledged the presence of another great vocalist in the audience, Mr. Freddie Cole. Councilmember Curren D. Price, 9th District, Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr, District 10, County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, District 2, and a representative from the Office of Mayor Garcetti was also present to lend their support and to accept Certificates of Appreciations.
The Show shifted into high gear during the segment featuring Chester Whitmore and the Opus One Big Band tribute to the legacy and genius of Duke Ellington. The crowd and I were thoroughly entertained on several levels, we were thrilled with the sounds of The Opus One Big Band, and we went on a voyage through the history of dances from back in the day that is very popular with a new generation of swing dancers. The band’s upbeat, up-tempo set consisted of the tunes “A Train,” “Chatterbox,” “Black Beauty,” “Cotton Tail,” “Cross the Track Blues” and “Day Dream.” A well-deserved standing ovation concluded his set.
John Stephens’ Big Band came out roaring onto the stage with “I Can’t Stop Loving You”-this is the sentiment for how people feel about Barbara Morrison. Barbara joined the band to sang “You Go to my Head” and “Relax Max” leaving the crowd asking for more. John Stephens’ Big Band continued straight-ahead and swinging hard during their splendid program of tunes by jazz royalty Count Basie on the tunes “Blues in Hoss Flat,” “April in Paris,” “Lonely Street,” “Moten Swing,” “Corner Pocket”/ “Until I Met You,” and “Jumping at the Woodside.”
Both Big Bands combined for a high octane grand finale Battle Royale coupled with a cutting battle amongst the sax section on “Every Day I Have the Blues.” The crowd applauded thunderously for the entire day of outstanding jazz.
Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer. Contact him via: [email protected]