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A Night Out Full of Booze and Jazz In Highland Park, As Told By a 35mm Film Camera 

After a long day at the office, I was almost home when I remembered I purchased a ticket to see bassist Christian McBride at the Lodge Room in Highland Park later in the evening. Earlier my editor, Javier Cabral, asked if I’d be down to publish a photo essay the next day. I agreed, thinking I would get up early, dig into my archives and put something together. 

But now getting up early to come up with a story, presumably after a long night out sounded like an unlikely scenario. So instead, without asking for permission, I decided I would turn my evening into a photo essay.

Historic Filipinotown

I rushed back home to Filipinotown from MacArthur Park, popped open a Pacifico, and jumped in the shower. About an hour before the doors opened I reached out to the promoter, Andrew Lorejo, to see if they could hook up a last-minute photo pass. It was a hail mary but the venue doesn’t allow attendees to bring in cameras with detachable lenses, but Andrew is the homie so I figured I would try.

“I’ll let the venue know,” Andrew wrote back a few minutes after I hit him up.

Normally I would take the gold line to Highland Park but this time I was in a rush so I called an Uber. We arrived at HLP just as the sun was setting, so as we approached the venue on Figueroa, I asked the driver to let me out early, so I could shoot some photos.

I walked up Fig towards Tam’s Burgers, shooting photos, thinking I would grab a quick cheeseburger before the show. But when I got to Tam’s I remembered they had closed. All up and down Fig there were empty storefronts with “for rent” signs on their doors. It was a painful reminder of how much HLP has changed in just a couple of pandemic years.

I grabbed a very expensive but tasty deep-dish slice of pizza from Dough Boy instead. The guy who rang me up was kind enough to give me a free drink. I inhaled my slice of pizza and watched the sky turn colors until it went dark, before entering the venue. 

Wolfgang digs in a bin searching for XL size Jazz is Dead t-shirts.
Wolfgang digs in a bin searching for XL t-shirts

Upon entering the venue, I immediately went to the merch table to see if they had any XL T-shirts (which they often run out of). “Lexis!?” The person behind the merch table asked. They happened to be big fans of my photography and writing. I purchased two shirts and a button, Wolfgang, the guy behind the merch table, agreed to hold onto everything until the show was over. Then I headed over to the bar to grab a whiskey and Miller High Life special. 

A DJ warmed up the crowd with an all-vinyl set before Christian McBride took the stage. While waiting for the show to start, I ran into Powers Pleasants, a producer who’s worked with artists like Denzel Curry and Joey Badass. Years ago, Powers invited me onto his music video set to take photos. He recently moved to LA from NYC, where he grew up. We talked briefly about how as east coasters, we loved living in LA.

Outside during a smoke break, I watched as a group of young white kids that looked like the Jonas Brothers entered the venue followed by a group of older Black folks. When I got back inside, I ordered another drink, this time an Old-Fashioned. Moments later, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad took the stage to introduce Christian McBride. I downed my Old-Fashioned in a few big gulps and fought my way to the front of the stage to access the photo pit.

Ely Perlman on guitar. Perlman stood out among an insanely talented group of musicians that have only been playing together for a couple of weeks. He's McBrides former student and a current student at Berklee College of Music.

In the photo pit, I crouched down in uncomfortable positions to shoot video and photos of Christian and his newly formed band. I crossed paths with legendary skate photographer Atiba Jefferson, who was also sacrificing his knees to stay out of the way of the people in the front row.

After a couple of songs, I left the photo pit and found an area to the left of the stage to enjoy the show. The performance was incredible. The band had only been playing for a couple of weeks but they sounded like they had been together for years. They were energetic and perfectly in sync. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone play bass live as well as Christian.

McBride's performance was easily one of the best Jazz is Dead concerts that I've been to and I've been to dozens. But I feel like I say that after every show. In just a few years the team behind the concert series and record label have brought legends like Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Brian Jackson and Digable Planets to the stage.

When it felt like the show was about to end, I decided to head out early to look for some food, before the rush of people hit the streets. I mistakenly left my merch with Wolfgang and exited the venue, searching for tacos. 

Find a real cheesesteak just outside the Cookbook on Fig.
Find a real cheesesteak just outside the Cookbook on Fig.

I didn’t find tacos but earlier I noticed there was a guy selling cheesesteaks outside of one of the many popular bars on Fig. “You can get tacos anywhere,” the cheesesteak guy said. “But this is the only place you can get a real Philly cheesesteak,” I ordered a regular cheese steak and asked the guy to go light on the cheese wiz. Then I quickly devoured it. It was tasty and the perfect meal for my booze-filled soul. 

Later, I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, shooting photos of neon signs. “Lexis!?” someone said outside of Greyhound Bar & Grill. It was Ricci Sergienko, an organizer with the People’s City Council. He was with a large group of people who all participated in the People’s Summit, an alternative to the Summit of Americas. “I always run into you in weird situations,” Ricci said. The last time we saw each other, I was filming a police stop in my neighborhood. Ricci happened to pass by and pulled over to make sure everything was cool. We talked for a bit outside the Greyhound and he asked me to take a picture of him and someone else.

Not long after, I called another Uber and headed back to Filipinotown. Again, I asked the driver to let me out early so I could take photos on my walk back home. I stopped off at the liquor store to grab something before heading back to the nest and almost immediately falling asleep.

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