Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

COVER STORY

It's Got That Swing . . .

But does Ken Burns' 'Jazz' mean a thing for clubs and musicians on the scene in Southern California?

February 15, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary, with its foot-tapping historical overview of America's music, has come and gone--at least for the moment. The highly promoted 19-hour documentary surely will turn up again during PBS pledge drives, and it's already available on home video (10 tapes or DVDs). Music stores, too, are overrun with "Jazz" CDs: a boxed set, a "best of" album and 22 individual discs devoted to artists featured in the series.

America has had a brief but spectacular rush of sounds, information and commentary about jazz. And we know it's had an impact when we hear someone in the grocery checkout line talking about Louis Armstrong.

But what are the more practical results for musicians and clubs in the Southern California jazz scene?

The verdict, so far, appears mixed.

Ruth Price, who runs the Jazz Bakery, one of L.A.'s principal jazz destinations for national acts, jokes that the most immediate effect of "Jazz" was that it kept people at home watching TV instead of going out to hear live music.

Price's reaction, of course, reflects the fact that the documentary only recently completed its airing.

"It's really too soon to tell in terms of the kind of turnouts we have here," she says, "but I have the suspicion that it's like preaching to the choir. The people who are really crazy about that series are the people who are already crazy about the whole period of jazz [that is emphasized in the documentary]. But I don't quite know what it's going to do for the players who are continuing the tradition. And that's going to impact what I do here at the Bakery since I feel that presenting young people is a basic part of my mission."

Many club owners tend to view the documentary wondering if it will enlarge the crowds at their venues.

Catalina Popescu, owner and chief talent booker for Catalina Bar & Grill, feels upbeat, reporting that she is hearing a significant buzz about the Burns series.

"All the customers who come in say they've watched it, and they all have comments," she says. "Most say they're annoyed because it didn't pay attention to the players from the last few years. But I think it's going to have a positive effect in the long run."

"The good side of the show," says Herbie Hancock, "is that, everywhere I go, the first question people ask me--even if they're not jazz fans--is 'What do you think of the Ken Burns series?' And I can tell from their reactions that they've watched it, enjoyed it, and for some of the older people it seems to have served up some juices from their early years, when jazz was the popular music. I just hope that kind of reaction translates into a sustained interest in jazz from a live performance and a recording standpoint, too."

But Hancock, the renowned jazz pianist and Grammy Award winner, doesn't stop there.

"My other feeling is that it seems to suggest that the heroes are all in the past and they all happen to be dead. It also seemed odd that, when there are musicians alive from the '30s and '40s and '50s--and even beyond--who have stories to tell, that they weren't [asked]. I mean, why are we listening to Wynton [Marsalis] talking about things that happened before he was born? Why would they ask Wynton about Miles [Davis] when Ron Carter and Wayne Shorter [who played with Davis] are still around?"

Pianist Chick Corea takes a somewhat more upbeat point of view, describing the series as "a huge effort, very well done, that helps the broader public have a look into the music we love." (This, even though "Jazz" paid scant attention to Corea's many accomplishments.)

Rick Clemente, proprietor of the Jazz Spot and its associated Los Feliz Restaurant, finds that at his club, "[e]verybody knows about it and everyone's talking about it." But, he says, there's a big difference between assembling a documentary about jazz in the past and dealing with jazz in the present.

"I could say the same thing to Ken Burns that I often say to [KLON-FM (88.1) jazz disc jockey] Chuck Niles," says Clemente. "I tell him he has it easy because he has all the recordings of all the guys who are dead. On our stage, not only do they have to be live, they have to be in L.A., and we have to be able to afford them."

In fact Los Angeles has a thriving jazz scene. This weekend in particular happens to be a very busy one for jazz aficionados.

Singer Nnenna Freelon, for one, performs in a special Grammy Festival concert at the Jazz Bakery on Sunday night.

Freelon, who will be the only jazz artist performing on the Grammy show Wednesday, says the documentary has generated a positive response from her fans.

"We are visual people," she says, "and the series was so well put together that it has raised people's awareness. I think it will have a 'trickle-down' effect in different ways, including the allocation of funds, grants, bookings and so forth.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|