There's no denying that classic jazz--which can range from two-beat Dixie tunes belted out by a gregarious ensemble to a stomping shuffle blues crisply delivered by a R&B unit--can be a joyous experience.
But the selection of Friday's "Evening of Classic Jazz" at the Embassy Theater during the Los Angeles Festival, with its accent on modern if not avant-garde theater, music and dance, might seem a mystery to some. After all, the styles that fall under the classic jazz umbrella--traditional Dixieland or swing, for example--are arguably some of the more tamer elements of the jazz art form, whereas be-bop and unstructured jazz are much more in keeping with the festival's seemingly adventurous slant.
So, why classic jazz?
"I love to juxtapose elements," said festival director Robert J. Fitzpatrick. "This is most evident in the music component, where we go from an opera-like 'The Fiery Angel' to a weeklong (John) Cage celebration to an 'Evening of Classic Jazz.' "
Thomas Schumacher, the festival's associate director, said: "If there's one guide word (for the festival) it's to try to present range. We want to take an audience on a journey. And while many pieces may appear to be contemporary, many of them are almost museum pieces, like Roadside Theater--pure, clean
storytelling from Appalachia, stories passed on through generations, an oral tradition. Which is very much like classic jazz."
The classic jazz evening came about as a result of a series of meetings primarily between Schumacher and John McNally, an announcer at KCRW-FM and a representative of the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival. (Friday's concert kicks off the Classic Jazz Festival, which will be held through Monday at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel and the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel.)
Appearing Friday will be Dr. Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band, Pete Kelly's Big 7, Joe Liggins' Honeydrippers and the Paco Gatsby Band from Guatemala.
Choosing the bands was a lengthy process that, though it involved participation from committee members of both festivals, was chiefly undertaken by Schumacher and McNally.
The first artist chosen was the late Joe Liggins, who with his tune "The Honeydripper," became one of the best-known artists in the field of R&B. Liggins died July 31.
"This group that Joe has developed is right up there with any top performing, entertaining show," said Shelly Thomas, who had been a tenor saxophonist with Liggins for eight years and who has taken over leadership of the nine-piece combo. "It's not pure jazz or anything like that: It's a show. There are a variety of tunes from vocals to instrumental numbers that will make you pat your foot."
Schumacher likes that idea: "The festival is really about joy and taking pleasure in the arts."