L.A. Stories: Redux

IT’S BEEN a long stretch of silence around here. That’s mostly due to big deadline juggling and such but there is light at the end of the tunnel. (Stay tuned).

In the meantime, on top of a book deadline, I have been writing a bit about the city through the lens of a few books.

A few months I did a group essay/review of Gary Krist’s “Mirage Factory” and  Shawn Levy’s history of the Chateau Marmot,  “The Castle on Sunset” with a little side chat with Janet Fitch to round it out.

Both books take a deep look at the city’s history while also examining boosterism and grand promises that L.A. didn’t always keep.

Krist’s book looks at  the origin stories of some of these myths,  Levy’s  the extension of them, and helps us understand why, to this day, we are still untangling truth from fable.

You can click here to read the piece up at LA Times books.

 

“So Complete…So Right”

AS A JOURNALIST, I was  lucky enough to spend lots of time with Buddy Collette, the jazz composer, bandleader and woodwind player who was also a native to this shapeshifting place, Los Angeles. I learned so much from Buddy about L.A. and its music scene. He was instrumental in helping to integrate the Local 47 Musicians’ Union. As well, he spent decades  performing in clubs and classrooms, educating new generations about jazz and the role of Central Avenue in that story.

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Jack’s Basket Room

Buddy was the first person to introduce me to Jack’s Basket Room. He referred to it “Jack’s Basket.” It was an after-hours club on South Central Avenue. Low key, large room with a simple stage where local musicians as well as those who were traveling through town, would stop by for a gig. One of the first stories Buddy told me over lunch at Nibbler’s (“Where every table is a booth”) was about Charlie Parker’s famous post-Camarillo gig at Jack’s.  He was in attendance. Sitting down in front.  If you were in town and were a musician, you needed to be there to bear witness.

Up until a few years ago, the shell of Jack’s still stood.  You could drive by it and imagine what it was like to see a cluster of musicians lingering outside hoping to hear the great Bird let loose.

My new piece about the club and what happened with the building is now up at Alta.  Click here to see what the old spot looked like and read Buddy’s words about what it was like to sit there and be transported by the music.

The Story in a Snapshot

A LITTLE over a week ago, I received word that a collaborator, confidant and friend Carolyn Kozo Cole had passed away. Carolyn was the head of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection for nearly 20 years and through her creativity, focus and imagination she was able to help us all see Los Angeles in a more complete and inclusive way.

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from LAPL’S Shades of L.A. Collection

I met Carolyn in the early 90s when I arrived at one of the branch libraries in South Los Angeles  do a story for L.A. Style magazine on the then-nascent photo collection project, “Shades of L.A.”  “Shades” was Carolyn’s brainchild: Her plan set-in-motion was to collect snapshots from diverse family albums from across the Southland to fill in the library’s holdings. This she knew would mean an active search for images that would tell us a deeper and more complex story about the region — photos beyond ribbon cuttings, and landmark buildings and new parkways.

The photo below, of a garden wedding in Watts has stayed with me for decades now. It is from the book, Shades of L.A. a brief compendium that samples some of the project’s key finds. This photo is meaningful because in certain ways it was the very absence of quotidian images like this that sent Carolyn on her journey.  “What did Watts look like before the uprisings of 1965? The houses, the streets, the businesses?” “How and where did people celebrate milestone moments in their lives?” she wondered.  The library didn’t have anything beyond a photo of the old railroad depot. Surely there was more.  Those, she realized, would be part of family collections. They would be the photographs that chronicled the everyday.

I wrote an appreciation about Carolyn that will appear in  Sunday’s Los Angeles Times  you can read it here online.

I miss her emailed anecdotes and her phone calls and her little stack of special finds just for me. But every time I happen upon a photo like the one above from the online Shades archive, I know that she has truly given us so much that we will be using to understand Los Angeles and tell better stories about it for generations to come.

California Souls

A FEW months back, I had the pleasure to sit down for a few hours with San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck for a wide-ranging conversation facilitated by Denise Sullivan for Boom: A Journal of California. You can find it here.

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Wandering North Beach: My Home Away From Home

For two cities that are so very different on the surface, we found we had similar experiences  growing up  in our respective home towns. I have lived both places and have watched both cities shift around me.  Each one has left its mark in ways that are measurable and indelible.

Honk!: Drive-Time Stories

I HAD one of my first birthday parties at the Bob Baker Marrionette Theater, oh so many years ago. Puppets and sugar, who wouldn’t be happy?  So it will be a thrill to be part of this event next Wednesday evening, November 14.  Join me and these fine folks for a new episode of “Tom Explores Los Angeles” for an evening of  puppetry and storytelling, “told through the windshield.”

This will be one of the final performances at the treasure of an old space that miraculously still sits at that busy crossing where Glendale Boulevard meets Second Street at the edges of downtown Los Angeles.

To purchase tickets, follow this link. 

We will have a reception afterwards and books will be available for purchase.

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After/Image is Here

It’s here…My new book, ”After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame,” on Angel City Press, is making its way out into the world. It’s a collection of essays and photographs examining sense-of-place and the ever-evolving identity of the City of Angels.

I’ll be doing readings next month at Skylight Books (3/18), Eso Won Bookstore (3/19) and Vroman’s Bookstore (3/22). I will also be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 21 & 22. Please stay tuned for details.

And if you are away from L.A., here’ where you can purchase directly from Angel City Press.

Grammy Love for Otis

IMG_3916THIS WAS incredible news!  The in-depth essay I researched and wrote for this beautiful box set,  won  the Best Album Notes  Grammy yesterday.  I am still over the moon, especially because it was a project that set its larger goal as getting all three nights — and all sets — of Redding’s run at the Whisky A Go Go  that April 1966 in pristine listening shape for the world to hear.

Redding was poised to take the next big step in his career and looked at L.A. as not a stepping stone but a launching pad.  These recordings reveal his enthusiasm, prowess and charm.

Here’s a little more here about the set.

And this from the LAT about the Grammy win.