Yesterday at some point I decided I was in the mood to see some good live Jazz, and checked out the program at the Catalina and considered John Patitucci and his trio. There was still no Jazz Bakery schedule to check as there is as yet no news as to whether they will be really coming back at some venue somewhere… I thought I’d scan a few more places and noticed that a venue I’d not been to before had… Ahmad Jamal! Gosh, how did I never notice Jazz at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center before? It is right in mid-city on Washington between Crenshaw and La Brea, near where in days past, there were several Jazz clubs such as The Parisian Room, The It Club and The Hillcrest Club. (All now gone, sadly, leaving a relative vacuum in terms of support for regular live Jazz in the heart of the city.) While the Nate Holden does not look to be set to become a regular Jazz venue featuring great music every night, there were encouraging things said in the announcements before Ahmad Jamal came on to play. Things that voiced an awareness that people miss those places, and the music, and that expressed the delight at having him come to play. This – and the whoops of agreement from the audience – does not translate into actual will to put on such music on a more regular basis, nor the will of people to support it if it were there, but it was good to hear anyway.
Ahmad Jamal was his usual playful self, with his love of simple melodic motifs around which he grooves for a good chunk of time, turning regularly to wave at his bass player (James Cammack) drummer (Kenny Washington) and/or his percussionist (Manolo Badrena – with the curious (but not too over the top in this case) bag of tricks that non-drummer percussionists in Jazz often have – you wonder what bizarre thing will he bring out next to make a sound from?) at various points to direct them in various ways. (Click the photos for larger views, as usual.)
There’s always something magical about hearing him play since he is largely very understated for long periods, lulling you into a pleasant place with the piano-bass-drum groove before then blazing forth with a brief pyrotechnic display of brilliance to set you alight and move you to a different place. Quite marvellous. His most famous piece that is characteristic of his work and style is probably Poinciana, and I found a version on YouTube for you to enjoy. It is at the end.
Another very pleasant aspect of the evening is the venue itself. I’d not been to anything there before, and it si very pleasant indeed. The resident Ebony Repertory Theatre has a commitment, in their words “to bring diverse, high standard, professional performing arts to the Mid-City community, as well as the greater Los Angeles area, to engender business development along the Washington Boulevard corridor, and to make the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center Los Angeles’ Newest Culturla Destination!”. Before and after the concert I could sit in the lounge that they’d set up selling food and drink, and which had such a friendly group of people who are clearly invested in the community of people who come to the place and run the place. There were groups of friends sitting around chatting and enjoying themselves just hanging out in the old-fashioned way of visiting for a while over food and drink – and everyone seemed very welcoming. I joined the table of one group for a while, just to use the chair while I waited, and found myself chatting with them in no time. Later, I ended up joining in with singing happy birthday with another group who’d brought out a surprise cake with candles for one of the local businessman who helps support the center. Overall it was an excellent community feeling that gave the whole evening a certain extra human resonance that I value so highly, especially when most times everyone in the city seems in a hurry to get somewhere else, and reluctant to make real contact with others and spend some good, slow, quality time.
I wish that this truly excellent venue was doing more events and especially more Jazz (the website currently shows very little indeed), but you take what you can get I suppose. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on what they’re doing there from now on (looking at past events, I can see that there has been a variety of marvellous things there from time to time, from theatre through readings and dance, to music). It’s worth a visit if there’s something on you’re interested in. There’s also some lovely art in the lobby worth browsing while you wait, so with the bar and the snack food, and the welcoming people with a sense of community, you’ve got all you need for a pleasant night out.