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Review: ‘Jazz is Dead’ Brings Much-Needed Life to L.A.’s Music Scene in Highland Park

7:08 PM PST on February 28, 2019

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f you’ve only ever seen live jazz in small, dingy dives, then you’ve never experienced a jazz show like Jazz is DeadFor the month of February, Art Don’t Sleep brought some of jazz’s greatest living musicians to Highland Park’s Lodge Room for Jazz is Dead. The series serves as a reminder that there’s a dire need for more black-programmed events and that Black History is 365 days a year, 24/7.

The month-long event was curated by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, of A Tribe Called Quest, and L.A. based producer/composer Adrian Younge. Jazz is Dead’s special Black History Month schedule, featured performances by Gil-Scott Heron collaborator Brian Jackson, Miles Davis student Gary Bartz, as well as a host of DJs and opening acts.

Roy Ayers courtesy of Artform Studio.
Roy Ayers courtesy of Artform Studio.

For the final week, legendary funk/soul/jazz composer Roy Ayers, closed out the series with four sold out performances.

The Lodge Room is a former Masonic temple built in 1922 in Highland Park. The building has been updated and preserved but it’s old world charm feels like it's lurking somewhere in the rafters. Acoustically, the large, wood paneled, open room where performances happen on the 2nd floor is an ideal space for jazz music. “Standing room only” means you can walk up to the feet of  the performers and watch the spit from the trumpeter shower onto the floor of the stage or hang in the back, closer to the bar and of course, dance.

“A big part of why we choose the Lodge Room is because we are helping create a very special musical moment here in Highland Park, in North East L.A,” Andrew Lojero, and one of the curators of Jazz is Dead, told L.A. Taco. “The Lodge Room itself is also a beautiful room and feels like it’s been a part of L.A. forever (cause it has).”

Photo by Ella Hovespian.
Photo by Ella Hovespian.

Lojero, who is also the founder of Art Don’t Sleep, grew up not far from the Lodge Room in Boyle Heights. Lorejo tells me via email that he got his start “in a tiny gallery, on Melrose, in Hollywood” organizing opening receptions, which lead to programming music.

In the 15 years that they’ve been around, the production company has organized and promoted shows featuring the likes of George Clinton and Flying Lotus, and next month they're working with Black Thought and Estelle as part of another series.

The goal of Art Don’t Sleep has always been to leverage underused spaces and highlight both undiscovered and established acts on one stage. That translates into having a young trumpeter and composer like Theo Crocker, open for his former teacher, Mr. Gary Bartz.

Gary Bartz performing in Highland Park. Photo by Ella Hovespian.
Gary Bartz. Photo by Ella Hovespian.

The combination of being in a structure that was built in the early 20’s and listening to jazz, transported me to a different realm when I saw Gary play for over 2 hours earlier in the month.

Bartz is best known in jazz circles as one of the contributors to Miles Davis’ Live Evil, a jazz-rock inspired acid trip of an LP, and one of my personal favorites. But it’s not something I would expect to hear on a Sunday night in modern day Los Angeles. This Jazz is Dead series is intentionally unconventional, thanks to curation by Younge and Muhammad.

“Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad inspired me to organize and program a special series for Black History Month,” Lorejo explained. “I wanted to help them program something, pretty out there. This is what we collectively came up with. Can’t wait for you to hear about our next series.”

RELATED: San Cha Brings Her Telenovela to Life at Vibiana With La Luz de la Esperanza

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