The Sounds of Central Avenue

From the 1920s through the early 1950s, Central Avenue was the economic and social center for African American Los Angeles. It was also a hub for all Southern Californians who wanted to hear the latest and best in jazz. The sounds of Central Avenue reverberated throughout California.  In coordination with the 20th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival (25-26 July), several pre-concert events were organized and a Central Avenue public-history website created. 

The Historic Central Avenue: A Public History Resource Website "seeks to consolidate the best historical and archival resources available to support the public's interest and the efforts of policymakers, community organizations, and others to develop the public visibility, educational value, and community-economic development of the Central Avenue Cultural Corridor."  I created an Archive Pinterest page The Music of Central Avenue and Beyond featuring performances and lectures relating to Central Avenue and to jazz, so that Archive materials could be featured on this new website.  (It is listed on the Historic Central Avenue website under "Historical Photos, Videos, and Audio.")

Thanks to Professor Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, the Ethnomusicology Archive holds a variety of materials related to Central Avenue, including lectures from notable Los Angeles musicians and the Bette Cox collection.  Many of these recordings are now available on the California Light and Sound Collection on the Internet Archive (and many more are forthcoming, so stay tuned!)  California Light and Sound is a project of the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP).

I would also be remiss if I did not mention our colleagues at the UCLA Center for Oral History Research.  Oral History has two series that relate to Central Avenue:  Black Music and Musicians in Los Angeles: Spirituals, Gospel, Jazz, and Spoken Word and Central Avenue Sounds Oral History Project

Black Music and Musicians in Los Angeles: Spirituals, Gospel, Jazz, and Spoken Word features interviews with Bette Cox, Margaret Douroux, Albert McNeil and Don Lee White.  Bette Cox, of course, wrote the book Central Avenue: Its Rise and Fall, 1890-c. 1955: Including the Musical Renaissance of Black Los Angeles (BEEM Publications, 1996).

The Central Avenue Sounds Oral History Project features a veritable who's who of musicians:  Ernie Andrews, Gil Bernal, Joseph Bihari, Rene Bloch, Hadda Brooks, Clora Bryant, David Bryant, Buddy Collette, William Douglass, John Ewing, Art Farmer, William Ernest Green, Leroy Hurte, Jackie (John) Kelso, Ruben Leon, Melba Liston, Paul R. Lopez, Larance Marable, Cecil McNeely, Frank Morgan, Anthony Ortega, Vi Redd, Minor Robinson, Marshal Royal, Fletcher Smith, Clifford Solomon, Horace Tapscott, James Tolbert, Gerald Wiggins, Gerald S. Wilson, Britt Woodman, Coney Woodman, William Woodman, Lee Young and Marl Young.  These oral histories were the inspiration for the book, Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles (UC Press, 1999)


Music of African Americans in California, lecture by Bette Cox (2001).  Cox, author of "Central Avenue: Its Rise and Fall (1890-1955)," was a music educator in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, the founder of the BEEM (Black Experience as Expressed through Music) Foundation for the Advancement of Music, a Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Los Angeles, and a longtime friend of former Mayor Tom Bradley.


Music of African Americans in California, lecture by Clora Bryant (1999).  Legendary trumpet player Bryant is the co-editor of "Central Avenue Sounds" (University of California Press, 1999). Bryant is also one of the featured musicians in the award-winning documentary film, "The Girls in the Band."


Music of African Americans in California, lecture by Gerald Wilson (2000).  Wilson (1918-2014) was a jazz trumpeter, conductor, composer/arranger, and educator. He arranged for Duke Ellington, Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz artists. He received a Jazz Masters Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990. In 2012, he received the 4th Annual L.A. Jazz Treasure Award. Wilson taught jazz history at UCLA from 1991 - 2008.

And, again, stay tuned for more Central Avenue and Los Angeles music coming to the Ethnomusicology Archive channel on California Light and Sound.

Image at top of page:  Gerald Wilson in Los Angeles, November 1996. James Arkatov Collection (Collection 340). Performing Arts Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles.




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