Even if it only lasted a weekend, Angelenos from the southside and beyond still appreciated that one of Los Angeles' most storied thoroughfares came to life in the form of the 17th annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival.
The yearly event, which organizers say draws about 35,000 people each year, works to keep L.A. jazz alive and to highlight the fact that Central Avenue used to be the happenin' heart of the city's musical scene.
"It's important to keep the history alive," said attendee James Seaward, who's been to nearly every festival since it began. "This is where it all started from."
Seaward, a South Carolina-born jazz fan, called the genre "America's roots music."
"Jazz came from communities like the one I grew up in," he said. "This is one of those communities."
This year, the festival, held near the legendary Dunbar Hotel at Central and 42nd Street, featured acts such as Sons of Etta, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, The Ray Goren Band and Poncho Sanchez. Empty seats under the performance area's canopy weren't easy to come by, and folks who were milling about lined up alongside the food booths (and bacon-wrapped hot dogs, pork tortas, shaved ice and watermelon juice), merchandise stands or the Central Avenue community album photo cube.
The latter was a new addition to the event and a spin-off from the Central Avenue: A Community Album project. It was an installation of several 12-foot-square banners displaying around 200 of the 800-plus photos the project had amassed, all of which served to tell a pictorial history of the communities along the avenue. Photographer Sam Comen, who co-organized the project, said festival-goers were "absolutely loving it."
"They love seeing themselves," Comen said. "What I'm hoping is that with this display, we can use it as an opportunity for outreach to get to more people and and to make this archive more historically significant."
He added that he'd "never been to a focus of community pride" like the jazz festival.
"Just sitting here and letting it wash over me – it's really impressive," said Comen. "People from Central Avenue are so proud to be here. People here have a really good grasp of the history, which you can't say about every neighborhood – but not every neighborhood is like this."
In talking to festival attendees, that certainly seemed to hold true.
"Central Avenue is probably one of the richest places in Los Angeles," said Charyn Harris, who runs the music department at A Place Called Home. "This was Harlem West. This is where music came, where Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and everybody was. And it's really important that we keep that legacy alive and they keep the jazz going on here for the younger generation to know and also to instill a sense of community pride."
Peaches Smith, who's been to 16 of the 17 festivals held since its inception, echoed that, calling it a "beautiful gathering of people for a common cause" – namely jazz.
"I think we all go back to the days that are always mentioned, when all the jazz greats used to travel up and down these streets," Smith said. "So it's like a way of being able to be a part of something I missed."
Smith said attending the festival upholds a legacy.
"Such great jazz musicians once performed and partied in this area, so I'm trying to do the same," she laughed. "Keep the tradition going."
The avenue's history aside, one self-described "jazz nut" said the music itself "sets a nice tone for the city."
"Jazz has that kind of function that other kinds of music, I think, can't quite match," said Bob Bowen, who's been to "at least" 10 of the festivals over the years.
"The festival is like a revisitation of the important history of this area," he added. "It's like it all started here and here's where it still reigns. There's a straight line between the music that was played here in the '30s and the '40s and what's happening right now.
"It makes this place just groove," Bowen said. "it really does."
Photos by Kylie Reynolds and José Martinez.