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THE BLACK MUSIC HISTORY OF LOS ANGELES--ITS ROOTS by Tom Reed (Black Accent on L.A. Press, P.O. Box 27487 Los Angeles, Calif. 90027, (213) 669-0424: $60; 478 pp.)

February 07, 1993|Stanley O. Williford

This book is as much a paean to Central Avenue in the '30s, '40s and '50s as to black music and the many heralded and unheralded black musicians and entertainers. Author Tom Reed writes: "Central Avenue, the street of dreams, the hub, smoke-filled rooms, after-hours joints, jazz and blues, the gathering place of the black bourgeoisie, dance halls, theaters, nite clubs, filled with women, illegal booze, service personnel and illegal gambling." A former disc jockey, Reed gathered and collated hundreds of publicity stills, posters, fliers, ads and clippings from various collections. The photos, with elongated captions, offer useful historical information. Unfortunately, few of the photos reflect the atmosphere of these now-defunct clubs and music halls. Still, there are occasional gems, such as boxing legends Joe Louis and Jack Johnson together on Central Avenue, above (although Norman Siminoff has the official credit on the photo, it was reportedly taken by his assistant, Ruth Washington, who went on to become publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel). There's a fine snapshot of the Al Russell Trio with Nat Cole, and another great photo of Ferdinand (Jelly Roll) Morton with Albertine Pickens and Ada (Bricktop) Jones. There are actors, composers, journalists and gospel greats. But one quickly gets the feeling that the number of times a personality is pictured is more closely related to the owner of the collection than to that person's importance in L.A. musical history. Leonard Reed and Johnny Otis seem to have two of the larger collections, so their pictures pop up frequently. The author did not cheat on his own likeness, and he is clearly overrepresented in the book. Further, this pictorial history could have benefited from a stronger editorial hand, a more affordable price, and an index of personalities and collectors. It is no scholarly reference. It is, however, wonderful memorabilia, and it opens an important window on a much-neglected area of Los Angeles history.

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