American Tradition of Jazz Lives On

It is said to be the only truly American form of music, having peaked sometime in the 1940s when the Dunbar Hotel in South Los Angeles was a focal point for jazz musicians.

The 16th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival last weekend drew about 10,000 people who mingled and tapped their toes to a two-day lineup of musicians, vendors and activities. Men donned fine vintage suits and women showed off colorful hats throughout the music-filled open-air event.

“It’s great to see the diversity that Los Angeles has when it has an event like this,” said David Cariño, owner and chef of Sazón de Cariños, who serves jambalaya at the festival each year. “We have families come through here from all walks of life.”

Cariño’s specialty jambalaya fuses a New Orleans recipe with California cuisine, resulting in a chicken and rice version he designed for the area.

“I want Southern Californians to taste the food of New Orleans,” said Cariño. “It broadens the whole horizon for who we are in L.A.”

Jazz music filled the streets from established artists such as vocalist Ernie Andrews and trumpeter Gerald Wilson as well as up-and-coming local artists like the teen musicians in the LAUSD All-City Jazz Band. The student band played a selection of tunes with an emphasis on pieces by Thelonious Monk, a pianist known for his idiosyncratic improvisational style.

“It’s a very liberating, exciting experience,” said pianist Anthony Lucca, who plans to attend the USC Thornton School of Music in the fall. “Monk’s music is so rich and unique that it’s fun to get the opportunity to play his music and export his style.

The band is no stranger to public performance. This summer, they played at the Playboy Jazz Festival and they are regulars at the Catalina Bar and Grill.

“Jazz teaches these kids the vital importance of really listening to one another,” said JB Dyas of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. “There’s probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble, because it’s individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.”

Several of the student players graduated high school this year and plan to pursue music degrees.

“If our country worked as well as a jazz group, we’d probably have a lot fewer problems,” said Dyas.