The festival takes place July 27-28, and features live music, art, vendors, a food court, and health services.
By Jason Lewis
Central Avenue was once the West Coast mecca for jazz music. The rich history of jazz and Black culture still exists on the eastside, and every July for the last 24 years, it’s celebrated at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.
“Our community demographics have changed through the years, and it’s important that the people that are in our community know the history,” said Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. “It’s a great history, and it brings joy. Music is a universal language, and our jazz history is profound and it is a unifier.”
The free festival, presented by Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. and the New 9th, takes place on Saturday July 27 and Sunday July 28 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on both days. The festival is on Central Avenue between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Vernon Avenue.
“For more than two decades, the Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival has been a staple for the community—celebrating the area’s rich cultural past, present and future,” Price said. “It gives me so much joy to see people of all ages and backgrounds embrace this community event year after year.
“I love seeing our seniors dance to jazz legends and our youngsters gain a new appreciation for jazz with emerging stars. This is a festival that truly has something for everyone.”
While many Black Angelenos have moved west toward the Crenshaw district, and to other areas of the city, many Black families have not left the Central Avenue area, and many of them who did leave come back on a yearly basis for this festival.
“It has been a reunion of people from the community,” McClendon said. “One of the reasons that it is important to maintain that history is because a lot of people are getting older and passing away. So we cannot let their history and their legacy die. We want to make sure that the younger generations know about the festival, and get involved.”
Younger people will have an active role in this festival, as A Place Called Home, which is a community service organization that provides support for education, arts, and college prep for local youths, will open the doors to their state of the art Bridge Theater for a performance titled “Ella Fitzgerald, The Lady, Her Music, & Me.”
“Our youth are doing all of the technical support for the play,” said Jonathan Zeichner, executive director of A Place Called Home. “They’re doing the lighting design, the sound design, and they’re going to be running the theater on the days of the performances. That’s a really cool way of passing the torch from these legendary musicians and the jazz festival to the youth in the community.”
The special concert performance stars Tina Fabrique as Fitzgerald. Fabrique will act out moments of Fitzgerald’s life, as well as sing the iconic jazz artist’s memorable songs.
“I’m putting her in a time when she is reminiscing about the Central Avenue area,” Fabrique said. “She’ll talk about her early life in that area. Where she stayed; the clubs she performed at. It will be an conversational tone.”
The performance is being produced by the Central Avenue Historic Business Improvement District, which strives to improve the economic vitality for each individually assessed parcel in the district. The goal is to celebrate the rich cultural and urban enterprise history of the neighborhood, and to promote cultural events along the corridor, such as the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival. Clent Bowers Presents is co-producing the performance. Bowers, among others, is keeping the memory of Central Avenue’s heyday alive.
“As my Father always says, we leave what we have thinking we're going to find something better when we could choose to stay and make what we have better and retain our culture,” Bowers said. "Central Avenue is where it all happened for us. People moved to the west side looking for a better life when they were sitting on a pot of gold in culture. What we strive to do as part of the Central Avenue Historic BID is to enrich the community by holding on to our cultural history and keeping it alive.”
There will be three stages plus performances at the Dunbar Hotel. Tickets, which are free, are required for the Ella Fitzgerald performance as seats are limited. The one-hour show runs on both days at noon and at 3 p.m. Register for tickets at www.eventbrite.com (search “Ella Fitzgerald”). For more information about the festival, visit www.centralavejazzfest.com and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.