In the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, jazz was as ever-present in Central and South-Central Los Angeles as palm trees. There were such renowned clubs as the Parisian Room, Marty’s on the Hill, and the Down Beat, as well as scores of lesser-known rooms.
Now those clubs are gone but there is still a lot of good music in the area, if you know where to find it. In the Leimert Park neighborhood, for example, you’ll find two establishments that focus on young talent.
5th Street Dick’s (3347 1/2 43rd Place, one block north of Vernon Avenue near Crenshaw Boulevard, music Friday-Wednesday, cover varies, (213) 296-3970) is tiny, with only about 30 seats in its narrow yet attractive upstairs music space. But that diminished area lends an intimacy to performances rarely found in larger clubs.
On a recent Monday, a quartet led by drummer Willie Jones III, a member of the Black/Note quintet, played with delicious abandon, tearing into such classics as Miles Davis’ “Tune Up” and Rodgers and Hart’s “It Could Happen to You.”
Altoist James Mahone, another Black/Noter, soloed persuasively, as did pianist Greg Kurstin. Jones, whose surging, dynamic style suggested such influences as Billy Higgins and Philly Joe Jones, and bassist Trevor Ware provided a solid backing for the soloists.
Owned by Richard Fulton and offering a variety of coffees, teas and light meals, 5th Street Dick’s spotlights music even when there are no musicians playing: Fulton spins vintage ‘50s and ‘60s LPs on a sound system that can be heard into the street.
“Music brings people together, helps them to open up,” says the affable Fulton. Upcoming artists: trumpeter Richard Davis tonight and Saturday, followed both nights by a 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. jam session; and Mark Shelby and others, Sunday from 1:30 p.m. Jones returns Monday.
Around the corner from Dick’s is the World Stage (4344 Degnan Blvd., music Thursday-Saturday, donations requested, (213) 293- 2451). It’s another small space, seating 40 patrons theater style, and showcases such bands as Randall Willis’ quartet and the B Sharp quartet. The room also hosts a jam session on Thursdays and invites out-of-town musicians in for Saturday afternoon workshops. Recent guests included pianist Barry Harris, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and drummer Victor Lewis.
“It’s like a jazz church,” says Cornell Faulner, who books the bands at the World Stage, where Mark Thornton appears tonight and Saturday.
About 15 blocks east is Marla’s Jazz Supper Club (2323 W. Martin Luther King Blvd., music Friday-Saturday, Sunday brunch, cover varies, (213) 294-8430), the oldest room operating in South-Central. Reopened two months ago after a fire last year, the club, which seats about 125, looks spiffy and has a solid sound system, which used to be the club’s weak link.
On a recent Friday, violinist Karen Briggs held forth, offering pleasant versions of “Maiden Voyage” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” On tap tonight and Saturday: bassist Nedra Wheeler; Dwight Dickerson and Larry Gales play the brunch.
All these rooms are attractive, personnel are courteous and there is plenty of safe, well-lit parking, either in private lots (Marla’s) or on the street.
Critic’s Choice: The wondrous saxman Clifford Jordan, who died recently, will be honored at a free tribute on Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., at the Southland Cultural Center in Inglewood. Notables on tap: fellow saxophonists Harold Land, Teddy Edwards, Charles McPherson and Charles Owens, pianist Horace Tapscott and singer Jimmy Witherspoon. Information: (310) 545-6740.