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Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles by Edited by Clora Bryant, Buddy Collette, William Green, Steven Isoardi, Jack Kelson, Horace Tapscott, Gerald Wilson & Marl Young

Together, these two books do a splendid job of filling a big gap in existing jazz histories, which tend to leave readers thinking of the West Coast as the province of Stan Kenton and white studio musicians. The wealth of interesting detail on the heyday of Central Avenue in the first illustrates a scene with links to New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, but with an ethos all its own.

Interviews with the musicians on the editorial committee (as above), plus a dozen more, explain the rise and fall of the L.A. equivalent of 52nd Street with colorful frankness. Pianist Fletcher Smith, for example, stresses the casual, more swinging atmosphere of Central Avenue as compared with New York’s-“Next to Central Avenue was Kansas City.” The stories of Britt Woodman and his brothers indicate the value of family tradition and teaching. The late Marshal Royal pictured a large scene in the opening interview, and later Jack Kelson, his successor as lead alto in today’s Count Basie orchestra, has a fine, thirty-page section to tell his tale. Kelson’s early music teacher, incidentally, was Caughey Roberts, who also played alto for Basie. The role of black musicians in securing the amalgamation of the city’s musician unions is a secondary but very creditable theme.

California Soul covers a broader area in terms of time and geography, from San Diego to Oakland, from Jelly Roll Morton to Motown. Blues and gospel, too, get close attention. Of special interest to this writer was a chapter by Eddie S. Meadows on the effect of a radio station’s “lites out jazz” policy on public taste and employment opportunities for jazz musicians in San Diego, which, as Charlie Barnet used to insist, “never was a good jazz town.” Fully documented, the book will prove a valuable resource.

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