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Asian American Jazz Festival begins Friday

Promoter Paul Im doesn't mind sacrificing his sax to get the downtown L.A. event off to a rousing start.

October 30, 2009|Chris Barton

You know times are tough when a guy has to sell his horn to put on a show. That's the sacrifice 29-year-old jazz promoter Paul Im made while pulling together the inaugural Asian American Jazz Festival, a three-day smorgasbord of music starting today at downtown's Cafe Metropol.

The event features 16 artists of Asian and Asian American descent and will culminate with a Sunday-night show at the Japanese American National Museum's Democracy Forum. But it wasn't cheap to produce: As Im was putting the festival together, a buyer made him an offer for his saxophone that he couldn't refuse.

"I didn't feel bad about it because I feel like I'm selling something that is mine, but I'm producing," Im said. "Something's going to come out of this that's musical. And I can always get a horn."

A Chinese American who was raised in L.A. and studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Im has booked the weekly jazz program at Cafe Metropol for more than a year. As he met the musicians onstage and in his audience, he recognized a pattern that set a festival plan in motion.

"What I'd noticed through the years in the jazz business was that there was an incredible amount of Asian and Asian American jazz talent," he said. "We want people to be aware of the music that is happening because there are people out there doing great things."

Though the festival's focus is international, many of the weekend's performers are Southern California locals, including experimental-leaning keyboardist Motoko Honda, saxophonist Ian Vo and pianist Gary Fukushima.

While such a cross-cultural scene can fly under the radar for mainstream listeners, much of Asia has a history with the genre, particularly Japan, which enjoyed special album releases from American jazz musicians as well as its own vibrant community. A number of Asian artists have started crossing over with American audiences; Japanese pianist and Sunday headliner Hiromi recently recorded albums with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke.

Though Im was familiar with the consciousness-raising Asian American jazz movement that inspired festivals in San Francisco and Chicago, his decision to pull together the first event of this scale in L.A. wasn't motivated by a specific agenda.

"I was more concerned about the present and the future," Im said. "It's a celebration of the music . . . also it's a cultural event, and I'm definitely aware of the political connotations that come along with it."

"Jazz has always been the music of immigrants -- it's always welcomed new spices in the pot," said Filipino vocalist Charmaine Clamor, who will be performing Sunday. "To be surrounded by so many ingenious Asian jazz musicians, each bringing their culture and traditions to this modern art, is a thrill and an inspiration."

In planning and promoting the festival, Im attempted to be as inclusive as possible. In addition to booking artists with roots in Japan, China and the Philippines, Sunday night's lineup includes the international quintet Prelude, a nod to Los Angeles' large Korean population.

"We're building a bridge, which I think is important for the jazz community as a whole," Im said. "The loyal jazz audience has been diminishing for a long time. . . . You have to give people a reason to come. That's what we're trying to accomplish."

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chris.barton@latimes.com

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The Asian American Jazz Festival

When: 12:30-9 p.m today and Saturday at Cafe Metropol, 923 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles; 1-9 p.m. Sunday at Japanese American National Museum's Democracy Forum, 369 E. 1st St., Los Angeles

Price: Today, $20 all-day pass; Saturday, $22; Sunday, $26- $46; three-day pass, $100

Contact: (213) 613-1537; (213) 625-0414;www.asianamerican jazzfestival.com

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