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Jazz: Still the Odd Man Out

September 30, 1987|DON HECKMAN

The Los Angeles Festival's "Evening of Classic Jazz," the first musical event of the 1987 festival, was also, for all intents and purposes, the last jazz event of this year's celebration of the arts.

Oh, there were isolated exceptions, most of which were included in the Fringe Festival: Radio station KCRW broadcast a concert by the Horace Tapscott octet; Dave Pier's Swing Band and the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut showed up at a few park concerts.

But the truth is that jazz was the odd man out in an arts event held in a city which is the home of many of the music's finest performers.

Why?

Why did the opening-night "Evening of Classic Jazz" program include a semi-amateur group from Guatemala, a revivalist collection of studio musicians, a '40s R&B outfit and only one group--Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band--that could legitimately be described as a "classic jazz" ensemble?

Why, at a time when jazz is blossoming in Los Angeles, when an emerging new generation is creating an '80s version of the innovative energies of '50s West Coast jazz, was no apparent effort made to include these adventurous young players in the Los Angeles Festival or the Fringe Festival? Why, for that matter, was no apparent effort made to include any of the area's many gifted--and underemployed--older jazz players?

Director Robert Fitzpatrick's introductory remarks in the printed program guide inform us that the Festival "presents an exciting opportunity to celebrate the world's great artists; to discover the newest creations in theater, dance and music." Are we to assume that there are no jazz performers among the "world's great artists?" That there are no "newest creations" in jazz?

The real answers, obviously, can only be provided by Fitzpatrick and the members of his staff who worked so diligently to assemble what was, in other respects, a brilliant festival.

But it's worth speculating about what might have been and, hopefully for next time, what can be.

Imagine, for example, a Jazz Festival Week as part of the overall Los Angeles Festival--a share-the-music week in which every jazz club in the area is persuaded to charge only $1 admission and reduce prices for drinks. Impossible? We'll never know until we try.

Imagine a major Los Angeles Festival program devoted to newly commissioned jazz works from the likes of, say, Gil Evans, George Russell, Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea. (How to pay for it? Record company underwriting, with a little help from BMI, ASCAP and the American Federation of Musicians.)

Imagine a festival which remembers that September is the birthday month of Sonny Rollins, Jelly Roll Morton, Bud Powell and John Coltrane, and plans appropriate celebrations.

Imagine a Fringe Festival in which L. A.'s underground jazz avant-gardists (yes, they do exist) are provided with venues--lofts, galleries, street corners and parks--to illustrate their differing perspectives on this most American of all art forms.

You may indeed say I'm a dreamer, but at least it's a start. Recriminations for what didn't take place this year are useful only if they have a salutary effect on what does take place next year. In that sense, it's time for the organizing committees to recognize that a Los Angeles Festival without jazz is a festival without soul.

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