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Music in the Air

JAUNTS: in and around the Valley

Outdoor setting may be the biggest draw to concerts at Descanso Gardens.

June 04, 1998|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here's a great plan for those who want to spend time outdoors in a relaxing setting that combines nature with entertainment.

Granted, it hasn't been as warm and sunny as usual for this time of year, so bring a sweater. Then again, you can always keep warm dancing to the tunes.

Most Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 7, Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge will present a variety of concerts in its lush oak forest.

The series, called "Under the Oaks," will feature an array of ethnic, jazz and big band music by local artists. There will also be a poetry reading, Native American dancers and a mime. Performances are free with $5 admission to the gardens.

The entertainment schedule is great, but clearly this is one of those things where ambience is probably the biggest attraction.

The venue is like a miniature version of the Hollywood Bowl or Greek Theatre. It's an intimate setting where interaction with the artist is commonplace. Every seat has a good view of the stage, and the sound is good.

A round, wood stage is surrounded by colorful azaleas and camellias as well as bushy ferns. Redwoods soar up 50 feet, and centuries-old oaks stand over the theater area, which seats about 250.

A cool breeze blows constantly and birds can be heard chirping between sets. This is an ideal place to kick back for an afternoon.

"These concerts have a long tradition, though the series has changed through the years," said Descanso Gardens spokeswoman Karen Dardick. "We had concerts here in the 1950s."

This year, organizers looked for and contracted with talent that represents the diverse cultural groups in the L.A. area, says Karina White, who helped pick the acts.

For instance, Marisol, a group that plays Latin American jazz, will take the stage Saturday. The group's leader, Marisol Saens, is a graduate of the Conservatory of Music of the Andes in Venezuela.

Other acts in June include Makoonaima, Thanjavur and Bobbie Jo Curley. Makoonaima is a Brazilian ensemble that plays samba and bossa nova rhythms written by that country's most popular songwriters. Thanjavur plays contemporary Indian music that features the traditional barrel drum of South Indian classical music and a nine-string fretless guitar and sitar.

Curley sings Irish folk songs and contemporary pop hits complemented by a Celtic harp, piano and guitar.

"This is the longest extended concert series because we've had such great feedback and they're very popular," White said. "People really like that it's an open and personable setting where you can actually speak to the performers when they're done."

July performances include big band music by the Verdugo Swing Society, environmental songs by Jon Sherman, classical lute by David Pircher and classical guitar by John Nelson.

The August acts feature Scottish and Irish folk music by Highland Sun, jazz-infused folk with vocals by Jennifer Robin and the classical harp and flute duo Harp d'Elegance.

The series will end Sept. 7 with the Eagle Spirit Dancers, a Navajo drum and dance group whose performance includes a discussion about the history of its tribe.

Each show lasts about two hours with a brief intermission.

"It's a great way to connect with nature," White said.

After the performance it's worth taking a stroll through the dense, 160-acre Descanso Gardens, which include millions of flowers such as roses, lilacs, tulips and irises. There's also a wonderful, 35-acre camellia forest that is considered one of the best camellia collections outside China.

BE THERE

Weekend concert series through Sept. 7 at Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge. Performances begin at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and are free with $5 admission to the gardens, open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Schedule and information: (818) 952-4400 or 952-4401.

* Send Jaunts ideas, allowing at least two weeks' notice, to staff writer Irene Garcia at The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Irene.Garcia@latimes.com.

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