Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz (Images of America)
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From the late 1910s until the early 1950s, a series of aggressive segregation policies toward Los Angeless rapidly expanding African American community inadvertently led to one of the most culturally rich avenues in the United States. From Downtown Los Angeles to the largely undeveloped city of Watts to the south, Central Avenue became the center of the West Coast jazz scene, nurturing homegrown talents like Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, and Buddy Collette while also hosting countless touring jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. Twenty-four hours a day, the sound of live jazz wafted out of nightclubs, restaurants, hotel lobbies, music schools, and anywhere else a jazz combo could squeeze in its instruments for nearly 50 years, helping to advance and define the sound of Americas greatest musical contribution.
bebop hero. His fast swinging horn was at home on Central Avenue. He played with bandleaders Johnny Otis and vocalist Billy Eckstine before linking up with Norman Granz in the late 1940s. The under-recorded saxophonist made a few records in the 1950s and 1960s, but he took his own life at the age of 50 after a difficult battle with stomach cancer in 1977. Los Angeles–born alto saxophonist Art Pepper was the underfed white kid hanging out on Central Avenue in the early 1940s. He found success as
members went on to help define the sound of jazz for decades. Unfortunately, aside from rocking the walls of the Downbeat club, their music will never be heard again. (Courtesy of the Shades of LA, Los Angeles Public Library Collection.) 82 Tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson frequently gets the credit for the disbanding of the Stars of Swing. He brought his bold sound to multiple Charlie Parker Dial sessions and later paired up with Miles Davis for 1954’s Walkin’. While still living in Los
known for his roles on Chico and the Man and in The Shining, was another local comedian who recorded an album for Dootsie Williams in the early 1960s, helping to launch the comedy record boom. 99 Dootsie Williams only released a few straight-ahead jazz records, but those that he put out were immensely important to the history of the Central Avenue jazz scene. Los Angeles–born tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s Dexter Blows Hot and Cool captured the tenorman without any other tenor competition.
line. Any African American looking to buy a home south of Slauson would likely be met with some angry neighbors. Physical violence and burning crosses were not out of the ordinary. Los Angeles–based attorney and future California Eagle owner Loren Miller represented over 100 plaintiffs looking to combat the restrictive covenants held in Los Angeles that refused home ownership to African Americans, regardless of income or status. In 1948, the landmark case Shelley v. Kramer was taken on by the US
deteriorated, leaving him with persistent breathing issues. It took more than a decade for his widow to get around to placing a headstone at his grave. She only spent her own money after a local traditional jazz society organized a fundraiser to pay for the headstone. The money was instead spent on the stone of banjoist Johnny St. Cyr. 13 Trumpeter Buddy Bolden famously discovered trombonist Kid Ory in New Orleans. When work dried up in New Orleans, Ory settled in Los Angeles around 1919. He