Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

AWESOME – Frasier the Sensuous Lion

People often ask me how I choose the subjects of my posts. It’s a tough question to answer… often I’ll start working on a post, only to find that by following random links I’m led completely off topic to discover something that’s much more interesting than the original article I had in mind. This is one of those times. So, for the curious, here’s how this post happened: while doing research for a future article on the old Marineland, childhood memories of long-gone Lion Country Safari (1970-1984) distracted me. The quick google search that followed led me to the story of Frasier the Sensuous Lion, shown in all of his sexy glory below.

Frasier the Lion

It was this paragraph on the Yesterland website that jumped out at me: Frasier movie poster

“Lion Country Safari was given a big boost by an unlikely star attraction. An elderly, nearly toothless lion named Frasier came from a Mexican circus in February 1971. The old cat’s tongue dangled from one side of his mouth, and he had trouble walking. He may not have been much to look at as far as we humans were concerned, but the lionesses saw him differently. There was population boom of lion cubs at the park. Frasier’s sorry visage adorned tee-shirts and other park souvenirs. Frasier sired 35 cubs until his death in June 1972 at 17-20 years of age, equivalent to a human age of 85-100 years. Frasier even inspired a 1973 feature movie, Frasier the Sensuous Lion, rated PG.” (See creepy poster at right)

Vaguely remembering this funny looking lion from my childhood, I had an instant urge to find out more about Frasier. Imagine my surprise when I found out his active sex life had actually gained enough notoriety for the late jazz greats Jimmy Rowles, Johnny Mercer, and Sarah Vaughan to create a song documenting it (video and full lyrics after the jump).

Go Frasier! (more…)


PART 2 – The Ambassador Hotel All-Stars

SERIES: Visions of the Ambassador

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIPrZzStLxg[/youtube]
click for larger viewDuring the roaring 20s and 30s, the Ambassador Hotel’s nightclub “house bands” quickly became the most popular orchestras in the world. An issue of (the then-popular and catchy-named) Talking Machine World magazine identified Abe Lyman’s California Ambassador Orchestra (see video clip above) as “Los Angeles’ most famous popular musical organization” in 1923.

Abe Lyman (August 4, 1897 – October 23, 1957) was a popular bandleader from the 1920s to the 1940s. He made recordings, appeared in films and provided the music for numerous radio shows, including Your Hit Parade… For an engagement at the Cocoanut Grove in The Ambassador Hotel on April 1, 1922, Abe added a violinist and saxophonist. Opening night drew a large crowd of 1500 guests in the Cocoanut Grove, plus another 500 more outside.”

For a five year run in the 30s, a dapper group of musicians known as Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra (see video below) was then stationed at the Cocoanut Grove and widely considered to be the most popular band on the West coast. In 1930, the band began to feature male singing trio The Rhythm Boys, featuring a young singer named Bing Crosby. Arnheim Orchestra alumni also included Stan Kenton, Russ Columbo (seen playing violin and singing in the middle of the trio in the clip below), Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, and actor Fred McMurray (on saxophone).
[dailymotion width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1u2m8_gus-arnheim-and-his-ambassadors1929_music[/dailymotion]


FOCUS – The Dunbar Hotel

©USC Digital ArchiveSince a lot of people don’t know much about the history of the Central Avenue jazz scene that happened in Los Angeles, to accompany my last post noting Mama’s passing I decided to expand on it. The neighborhood played such a crucial and historic part not just in jazz history, but in African American history as well, it’s a worthy point to add.

The top jazz club on Central Avenue during its heyday was Club Alabam and *the* place to stay was the Dunbar Hotel, with a guest list that regularly included the likes of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Originally known as the Somerville Hotel, the structure was erected in 1928 entirely by black contractors, laborers and craftsmen and black community members helped John Somerville and his wife Vada to finance the entire project.

In 1907 Jamaican-born John Alexander Somerville became the first African American to graduate from the USC School of Dentistry. He earned the highest grade-point average in the class of 1907, and had passed the State Dental Board examination six months before graduation. His wife, Vada Watson Somerville, became the school’s first African-American woman graduate in 1918, going on to achieve distinction as the first black woman licensed to practice dentistry in California. Besides managing a successful practice, the Somervilles were instrumental in opening the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. John Somerville also contributed to the local landscape by developing upscale properties. He was the second African-American member of the Chamber of Commerce and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission from 1949 to 1953.” SOURCE

After the jump is a video discussing the important role the Dunbar played in American history and a vintage postcard of the hotel circa 1938 (according to the card, the room rates at the time were $1 per day and $5 a week).

The Dunbar Hotel still stands, however its current future is sadly uncertain. (more…)


RIP – Mama of Babe & Ricky’s

mama Somehow I missed the sad news that on October 3rd we lost beloved Laura Mae Gross, matriarch of Liemert Park’s iconic blues bar Babe & Ricky’s and one of the few participants left from Central Los Angeles’ swinging days of hot jazz.

Before South Central became famous for violence, its main thoroughfare was known worldwide for glamorous packed nightclubs and swinging ballrooms. As late Saxophonist Art Pepper described the scene:

“It was a beautiful time. It was a festive time. The women dressed up in frills and feathers and long earrings and hats with things hanging off them, fancy dresses with slits in the skirts, and they wore black silk stockings that were rolled and wedgie shoes. Most of the men wore big, wide-brimmed hats and zoot suits with wide collars, small cuffs, and large knees, and their coats were real long with padded shoulders. They wore flashy ties with diamond stickpins; they wore lots of jewelry; and you could smell powder and perfume everywhere. And as you walked down the street you heard music coming out of everyplace. And everybody was happy….

T]here were all kinds of places to go, and if you walked in with a horn everyone would shout, “Yeah! Great! Get it out of the case and blow some!” They didn’t care if you played better than somebody else. Nobody was trying to cut anybody or take their job, so we’d get together and blow.” (SOURCE)

Open for 45 years, Babe’s and Ricky’s moved from Central Avenue to Leimert Park in 1997 after financial difficulties, but the club’s heart and soul always stayed the same. While she never made much money, Mama nurtured (and fed) generations of Angelenos and provided a safe haven for jazz and blues lovers to network with link minded musicians. Babe & Ricky’s remains open without Mama and still hosts their famous Monday night jam session complete with their traditional $10 soul food dinner. (more…)


TONIGHT – Jazz Photography *Icon* Herman Leonard!

ellafitzgeraldWhat: Mingling with 86-year old legendary jazz photographer Herman Leonard in person. Enjoy art and refreshments along with music provided by Joey Altruda and his Cocktail Crew.

When: Tonight (8/29),  8-11pm 

Where: Reserve,
420 North Fairfax

Price: FREEEEE!

Details: AIGA/LA & Reserve present The Photography of Herman Leonard. Meet legendary jazz photographer and coolest guy in the world, Herman Leonard, at his solo exhibition.

“In the late 1940’s, Herman Leonard’s passion for jazz brought him to the swinging clubs of Broadway, 52nd Street and Harlem. With the camera as his free ticket, he photographed and developed friendships with some of the greats of jazz history including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and many more.

A year’s apprenticeship with Yasuf Karsh provided invaluable experience photographing the likes of Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman and Clark Gable. In 1956 Leonard was chosen to be Marlon Brando’s personal photographer for an extensive research trip to the Far East. In the late 1950’s Leonard headed for Paris where he worked in fashion and advertising and served as the European photographer for Playboy Magazine.

(more…)


VIDEO – Dave Brubeck’s Magic Carpet Ride

In Los Angeles, even jazz legends on flying carpets get traffic tickets.

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2htbaJFEAXQ[/youtube]

In this video, the Dave Brubeck Quartet is shown riding a magic carpet over an L.A. freeway while performing Blue Rondo A la Turk. This performance was a segment on the Vic Damone-hosted variety television show The Lively Ones and aired July 25, 1962.


HLA PICK – Sweet Jazz & Ginger Cocktails

UPDATE: As of January 18, 2010 Betty Bryant’s show at Street is on hiatus. :(

*To launch the image gallery for this HiddenLA Pick, please click on the tasty drink below.*

Betty Bryant and Ginger Cocktails at Feniger’s Street

What: Your own private jazz concert… featuring Betty Bryant singing her heart out
Where: Feniger’s Street, 742 Highland Avenue, Hollywood (323) 461-7813
When: Thursdays 7:15-11 pm and Sundays 6:15-10pm

Some of the best secrets in this town are hidden in full view. You may not have seen the wonderful jazz pianist and vocalist Betty Bryant but if you’ve eaten at the new hotspot Street in Hollywood she just might have seen you. A long-time fan, when chef Susan Feniger took over the old Highland Grounds location, she had her architect create an upstairs nook with the specific purpose of giving Betty a place to play and sing her heart out to the diners below… and that’s exactly what she does every Thursday and Sunday night. Accompanied by long-time bass player Tom Gargano, Betty seranades the dining masses below from her own private catbird seat above them. The secret is this: few diners wonder where the music’s coming from so they’re missing out on where the real fun is. (more…)