by William D. Wolff, L.A. Jazz blogger
Sometimes derided as a sprawling metropolis lacking a distinct cultural identity, Los Angeles is nevertheless home to a vibrant and eclectic jazz and blues scene. While New York is unsurpassed in its vast profusion of jazz venues, and New Orleans drips with its roots-oriented second-line jazz, Los Angeles boasts some of the world’s finest musicians and remains an essential destination for internationally acclaimed touring artists.
The rich history of jazz in Los Angeles goes back decades and is noteworthy for the advent of the West Coast sound, developed by artists such as Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck and incorporated into the stylings of, among others, Miles Davis. On any given weekend, one could catch Charles Mingus at Shelley’s Manne Hole in Hollywood, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach and Horace Silver at Dante’s in North Hollywood.
As the hub of the movie and television industries, Los Angeles is home to an exclusive group of virtuoso studio musicians such as Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford and Russell Ferrante, who may be caught at such informal rooms as the Baked Potato in Studio City or the Viper Room in West Hollywood. More upscale venues such as Catalina Jazz Club and Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club regularly feature touring luminaries such as Pat Martino, Brad Mehldau and Christian McBride. And throughout the summer months, the Hollywood Bowl features a variety of top-flight artists in their Jazz at the Bowl program, including Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
Ray Charles once proclaimed, “Everybody digs the blues,” and the blues are well-represented in L.A. at such clubs as the House of Blues, Harvelle’s, McCabe’s, Babe and Ricky’s and the Mint. Among the artists who have performed at these venues are Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Thackery, and the late John Lee Hooker.
Bottom line, you’d be unlikely to find a city in the world with a greater variety of top-quality jazz and blues than Los Angeles.