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The salon movement in local jazz

December 26, 2010 |  6:30 am

Betty Jazz flowers fullest in intimate hothouses, where artist and audience share the space, and energy flows both ways.  The music has had patrons, all the way back to the 1920s when wealthy aficionados like Nancy Cunard and Carl Van Vechten hosted their own parties with jazz accompaniment. Heiress Doris Duke hosted musicales at her Falcon Lair estate in Beverly Hills in the 1950s. Chet Baker sang a haunting ballad one night and trumpeter Art Farmer broke the silence: “Chet, why don’t you sing on your next album...?”

Today’s local salons offer a rich mix of listener and artist.  Pianist Billy Childs recalls a recital at Yvette Coleman’s home in Baldwin Hills.  “It was a fundraiser for the World Stage in Leimert Park,” he said.  “I saw Russ Tamblyn, the actor who played Riff in 'West Side Story.'  We talked and he told me about his daughter Amber.  Next thing I know,” he chuckles, “that 'Joan of Arcadia' show was big.”

Pianist Bill Cunliffe has enjoyed playing a three-pianists-on-two-pianos gig at Betty Hoover’s A-Frame salon with Tamir Hendelman and Gerald Clayton.  “That was tough,” Cunliffe says, “but it was a ball.  Two pianos are easy because you just have to decide who has the upper register and who has the lower.  With three you’ve got two on one piano and you figure out who’s doing what.”

He’s just returned from a tour of Japan with the LaBarbera brothers -- drummer Joe and saxophonist Pat.  “The promoter, Yoshie Mitsukoshi, has her own label.  She has her own jazz coffee house and her family lives above it.  We played for about 40 people all crammed into this living space, and it was great.  Of course, we had to take our shoes off.” 

How did that work on the piano pedals?  “I wanted to go barefoot,” Cunliffe says, “but they made us keep our socks on.”

Read the full article: Jazz salons keep the beat going

-- Kirk Silsbee    

Photo: Jazz at the A-Frame presents Seattle vocalist Greta Matassa, Josh Nelson (piano), Hamilton Price (bass), Clayton Cameron (drums) and Kim Richmond (alto sax).

Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times