The Alleged L.A. Jazz Community

Those of us who live in Los Angeles and appreciate jazz music like to think of ourselves as part of an eclectic and passionate family, an intimate clan united in our love for America’s greatest contribution to global arts. We’re part of something we call the Los Angeles Jazz Community. 

The evidence, though, suggests there’s no such thing. Oh, there are various Jazz Societies and nonprofit advocate groups pursuing a variety of cultural agendas. And dozens of venues offer jazz or “jazzy” entertainment on a regular or semi-regular basis. But like the ethnically diverse city we live in with racially divided ghettos checkerboarding the county map, the alleged LA Jazz Community is more like Italy’s parliament, a disunited coalition of warring factions and cliques that are almost never able to muster collective support for anything.

Three more jazz “institutions” (if anything so fleeting and impermanent can be called that) are set to expire in the coming weeks. After six years of weekly shows featuring some of the most transcendent artists anywhere, The Vic, in Santa Monica, is closing. The Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, which has gamely presented talented locals five-night-a-week for the past year, is closing — and will reopen in March as a Korean karaoke joint. And my own Tasty Tuesdays series at Catalina Bar & Grill has ended after a three year run.

Catalina’s is still around, presenting more and more R&B, fusion, and cabaret to subsidize the marginally viable jazz acts. The Jazz Bakery is still around, drawing ever fewer patrons. Charlie O’s is still around, serving drinks at strip club prices to hardcore bebop fans. And every few months some deluded impresario will come along with a new club, a new concept, a new burst of energy. The venues will persist. But the fans, the alleged “community” seldom materializes in a meaningful way, leading one pianist friend of mine, one of the top players in town, to conclude that, “people hate jazz, and that’s why it’s impossible to make money playing it.”

Even the people who profess to not hate this music stay home more often than not, failing to support live shows en masse. This is why most performances are attended by the friends and family of the musicians onstage, not the so-called “community.” Jazz folks in Los Angeles like to talk about “supporting” fellow artists and like-minded purveyors, but a tiny minority actually muster the strength to hire a babysitter, fight the traffic, park the car, fade the tariff, and miss “American Idol” in order to attend live jazz events in our sprawling metropolis.

Jazz isn’t dead. The musicians aren’t dead. But the alleged LA Jazz Community is showing worrisome signs of ill health.

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