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Central Ave Jazz Kickoff Recognizes Little Tokyo's Place in History

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2008, at 08:56AM
shepps-ad-1-31-46 Ed Fuentes

This ad from 1946 advertises Shepp's Playhouse, at 1st and Los Angeles.

This weekend, jazz aficionados pay homage to the days when Central Avenue was a mandatory stop on the national jazz circuit. From 1900 to 1950, the Dunbar Hotel housed A-list musicians playing local spots like Club Alabam, the DownBeat, Ivie’s Chicken Shack, the Last Word, and the Memo Club.

Only the more zealous historian will know Little Tokyo's place in jazz, back when it was briefly renamed "Bronzeville." This Thursday evening, history and music come together as the Japanese American National Museum plays host to the opening of the 2008 Central Ave Jazz Festival.

African-American businessman Leonard Christmas co-founded the Bronzeville Chamber of Commerce in August of 1943 to represent businesses that settled in Little Tokyo's buildings after Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate to interment camps at the start of World War II.

From 1941 to 1945, jazz and after hours clubs like Shepp's Playhouse (1st and Los Angeles) The Cobra Room (300 E. First), The Bamboo Room (1st and San Pedro), The Copper Room (117 N. San Pedro), Cherry Land Cafe (725 E. 5th), and the Palms Breakfast Club (131 N. San Pedro) thrived. Like their counterparts 42 blocks south, today all are long gone.

After World War II, Bronzeville's transition to becoming J-Town again was not always smooth. Yet, there was enough outreach between the two communities that Little Tokyo returned to its original identity.

That adds significance to Thursday’s 1st & Central Summer Concert Series jazz concert with Dave Iwataki, LA Jazz Collective, Gary Fukushima Ensemble, and Dwight Trible.

“Composer Dave Iwataki helps us remember this history,” says curator Sabrina Lynn Motley, as African American jazz instrumentalists and traditional Japanese musicians team up to perform portions of Iwataki’s “J-Town to Bronzeville Suite."

For a summer night, the 'J' in J-Town will also mean jazz.

1st & Central Summer Series: Prelude to the 2008 Central Avenue Jazz Festival / Presented by The National Museum, in collaboration with Councilmember Jan Perry / Japanese American National Museum / Thursday, July 24, 6:30pm / 369 E. 1st

Central Ave Jazz Festival / Presented by Councilwoman Jan Perry / Saturday, July 26, 11am to 7pm and Sunday, July 27, 11am to 7pm / Central and 42nd


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