Blog

The Century City Playhouse Birthed a Golden Age of Jazz

The Century City Playhouse Birthed a Golden Age of Jazz

Admin

January 20th, 2018

No comments

The Century City Playhouse wasn’t much to look at on the outside. The exterior at 10508 Pico Blvd. in Rancho Park was a plain storefront with a marquee. In the late 1970s it hosted a long-running production called Bleacher Bums the way that The Drunkard had been installed for decades at a theater on La Cienega. Inside it wasn’t any flashier — a one-story box with a few rows of old theater chairs. But to the small but vehement army that comprised the SoCal new-music community, the CCPH was the place to be on Sunday nights.

Beginning in 1976, a little golden age blossomed in that matte-black space. UCLA music student Lee Kaplan presented nationally known jazz stars and improvisers, including violinist Billy Bang; trumpeters Leo Smith, Butch Morris, Baikida Carroll, Barbara Donald and Toshinori Kondo; trombonists George Lewis and Benny Powell; woodwind virtuoso Doug Ewart; saxophonists Frank Lowe, David Murray, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Hamiet Bluiett, John Zorn, Henry Threadgill, Marty Ehrlich, Tim Berne, Evan Parker and Sonny Simmons; pianist Burton Greene; guitarists Michael Gregory Jackson, Eugene Chadbourne, Derek Bailey and Henry Kaiser; bassists Fred Hopkins, Charlie Haden and John Lindberg; drummers Oliver Johnson and Steve McCall; and vocalists Doug Carn, Diamanda Galas and Joan LaBarbara.

He also booked local players — both established and emerging — like cornetist Bobby Bradford; trombonists Glenn Ferris, Bruce Fowler and John Rapson; clarinetist John Carter; flutist James Newton; saxophonists Sam Phipps and Marty Krystall, Frank Morgan and Peter Kuhn; pianist Horace Tapscott; keyboardists Don Preston and Wayne Peet; guitarists Nels Cline, Dave Pritchard and Steve Bartek; bassists Buell Neidlinger, Noah Young, Roberto Miranda, Mark Dresser and Eric von Essen; drummers Alex Cline, Bert Karl and Michael Preussner; dancer Margaret Schuette; and Kaplan himself on electronics.

The larger world kept tabs on the CCPH through Mark Weber’s columns and extended interviews in Coda magazine. An unsigned, quarter-page “Downbeat” feature in the spring of ’79 was accompanied by a Ron Pelletier photo. A KCRW broadcaster, he and Weber assiduously documented jazz and new music around the Southland with their cameras. Under Kaplan’s untiring aegis, Los Angeles became a destination for touring outfits that pursued a left-of-center muse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *