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Flea's a horn of plenty for school

September 25, 2008|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

IN YEARS past, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music's annual Hullabaloo benefit concert has featured Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder and a little local act known as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But this year, the Peppers' Flea, the conservatory's co-founder and resident rock star, decided to forgo the glitz and glamour -- if tube socks and flannel count as such.

"We've learned from other Hullabaloos that if you're going to have jazz and classical players, then you shouldn't have a big famous rock band play," Flea said in one of the conservatory's eight practice spaces. "It's just not fair. You have all these kids ready to get their heads blown off by loud rock music, and a jazz legend is up there playing and they're ignoring him."

So this year's concert and auction, the fourth benefit to raise funds for scholarship lessons for children from low-income families, will focus on jazz and classical. On Saturday at Union Station, performers will include trumpeter Roy Hargrove, jazz singer Roberta Gambarini, a bass quartet from the L.A. Philharmonic, students, and a band of teachers including Flea and his childhood friend, Keith Barry, conservatory co-founder and dean.

But don't expect to hear the slap-bass intro for "Higher Ground" -- Flea's going back to his first love, the trumpet, which he played with Barry at Bancroft Junior High and Fairfax High schools. Flea's also studying it at USC, along with composition and theory.

Auction items include court-side Lakers tickets with Flea and Tony Hawk; a Tony Hawk afternoon (a catered lunch, skate park tour and lesson); art from Shepard Fairey; and two iPod minis with playlists and signatures from Flea and fellow Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis.

Barry and Flea started the conservatory in 2001 after Flea's dispiriting visit to Fairfax High. "The music program there had disappeared," Flea says. "They only had a couple of acoustic guitars, a volunteer music teacher, but no program, no nothing. And I thought, something has got to be done."

For the first two years, Flea paid for the conservatory's expenses as it got established as a nonprofit. "But then I couldn't do that anymore. Now it's fundraisers, donations, we're always trying to get money."

Past Hullabaloos have raised $75,000 and as much as $500,000, but the conservatory -- which has 600 students enrolled, 175 of whom are on scholarship -- says it still operates at a loss. Finding funds is a constant challenge, though that doesn't deter Flea or Barry.

"I could care less about the show," Barry said, "though I know it'll be fantastic. I just believe in what we're doing. We're not looking for the star performers of tomorrow. This is about music lessons for every child."



Hullabaloo benefit, Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St., L.A. 5-11 p.m. Sat. $125.

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