In its nearly 10 years of existence, the World Stage has helped launch the careers of some of today's most promising jazz artists.
Tenor saxophonist Robert Stewart, now a member of Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra who records for Quincy Jones' Qwest label, played here often and cut his first recording for World Stage Records. Likewise Black Note bassist Marcus Shelby's combo, which went on to record for both Columbia and Impulse!, also came out of the World Stage and the surrounding Leimert Park scene, as did the B Sharp Quartet, now with four albums out on the MAMA label.
"The Stage keeps the music we call jazz within the community context," Stewart says of the Crenshaw district performance space. "It gives kids a place to get off the streets and it provides positive images. It was tremendously significant for my career to record on their label with Billy Higgins."
Drummer Higgins and poet Kamau Daaood had specific goals when they founded the Stage. "The whole idea was to have a venue where young people can perform and work on their music," Higgins says. "It was something that was really needed in the community. But an idea is one thing. To put it into practice is another. It's always a struggle to keep things going."
The struggle continues Saturday when the Stage holds its first Jazz for Youth Festival at the Vision Theatre. Headliners include New York-based bop pianist and educator Barry Harris, saxophonist Stewart, an all-star band with pianist Horace Tapscott, bassist Art Davis and drummer Higgins. Also on the bill are poet Daaood, the 22-piece Los Angeles Multi-School Band under the direction of Reggie Andrews and the Young World Stage All Stars, a band that offers firm proof of the World Stage's importance.
* Jazz for Youth Festival, Vision Theatre, 3321 W. 43rd Place, Leimert Park; Saturday, 8 p.m. $10. (310) 820-8874.
* Harris will be conducting clinics for students today and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Donations accepted. Information: (213) 293-2451.
Blues for Bryant: Trumpeter Bobby Bryant, who died June 10 of a heart attack at age 64, had a live recording session with his Next Wave Big Band scheduled for this past Monday at Catalina Bar & Grill. The event went on as scheduled, with trumpeter Leslie Drayton directing the cross-generational orchestra and trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez taking Bryant's parts. It served as a celebration and remembrance of the musician-arranger-educator's life.
Rodriguez, who says he considered Bryant in the same class as Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, was in his mid-20s when he first took lessons from Bryant. "To this day, every time I play the blues, I think of Bobby Bryant and what he taught me," Rodriguez said between sets.
Bryant, born in Mississippi in 1934, was a fixture in Los Angeles' best big bands since moving here in 1961. He recorded with Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Gerald Wilson and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra over the years as well as recording his own albums on Chess, Cadet and World Pacific Jazz.
In the '90s, Bryant was active in jazz education. The Next Wave Big Band, with its mix of emerging and established musicians, including saxophonist Pete Christlieb, served as a proving ground for its young artists. The 20-piece orchestra performed admirably Monday on tunes from Drayton, John Clayton, Nelson and on Bryant's own arrangement of "My One and Only Love."
"Bobby always said that when one wave is out, it's way out, another is on its way in," said his widow, Pam Bryant. "That's where the name of the band came from."
There is no word on when the album recorded Monday will be released or whether the Bobby Bryant Next Wave Big Band will keep its previously scheduled appearance at the Long Beach Jazz Festival on Aug. 9.
Cuba Connection: The well-deserved recent excitement over Cuban music and musicians coming to Los Angeles reminds us of the Cubans in our midst.
Conguero Francisco Aguabella, now based in Glendale, left Cuba for Rome in 1954 to perform in the Italian film "Mambo," starring Shelley Winters. Before that, according to Aguabella, he was loading sugar boats in Havana by day and playing in the clubs at night.
He toured through Germany and France, Argentina and Australia before ending up in Los Angeles in 1959. Since then he's been heard with an impressive list of headliners--Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Lalo Schifrin, Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra as well as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Cachao and Tito Rodriguez.
In 1992, he was awarded a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and played at the White House. He's the subject of the 1995 documentary "Sworn to the Drum" by director Les Blank. His latest album, "H2O," was released on the OLM label in 1996.
"My music is a blend of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz now," says Aguabella of his eight-piece band, "but there is, of course, a lot of Cuban tradition in it."
Aguabella appears Saturday at Steamers in Fullerton, (714) 871-8800; Monday at the Baked Potato in North Hollywood, (818) 980-1615.
Free Music: Vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art tonight at 5:30. LACMA's slimmed-down Sunday Big Band Jazz series hosts the Frank Capp Juggernaught on July 5 and the Bill Holman Orchestra on July 19, 1:30 p.m.; (213) 857-6000.