By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

July 20, 2019

On Saturday and Sunday, July 27 -28, you can experience two days of extraordinary jazz music that is absolutely FREE! The second day of the Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival will kick off Sunday morning, July 28th, at 11:30am, on the Ella Fitzgerald stage, featuring the popular JazzAmerica ensemble. This non-profit organization of exceptional junior high school and high school students will be celebrating their Silver Anniversary this year. This is a highly notable event. Our Los Angeles-based, jazz icon and historic reed player and composer, William Marcel “Buddy” Collette, left us a legacy of amazing music. Just as importantly, he co-founded this non-profit organization called JazzAmerica in 1994, with press person, Michael O’Daniel and school board member, Valerie Field. Their mission statement was to perpetuate the jazz tradition by introducing jazz to young people from all socioeconomic and racial origins. Collette’s legacy lives on through this amazing and well-attended JazzAmerica program, propelled by the hard work and dedication of bassist, Richard Simon. The program has already touched the lives of many students who are blazing their own musical trails onto the jazz scene. One of those students is jazz vocalist, Darynn Dean.

Two popular pianists who have emerged from JazzAmerica are Mahesh Balasooriya and Jamael Dean, along with bassist and vocalist, Katie Thiroux. Another noteworthy vocalist to accelerate from the JazzAmerica program is Katelyn Hunter. She recently won the Spotlight Award given by the Music Center of Los Angeles. She was chosen from among five hundred competitors in the non-classical category.

Jazz buffs and music historians know that jazz music is America’s unique classical music and it is, as dedicated by the Congress of the United States, our country’s national treasure. 2019 marks JazzAmerica’s Silver Anniversary; that’s twenty-five years as a working non-profit organization. Richard Simon has been hands-on in keeping this program alive for the past nine years, since the passing of Buddy Collette. I got to speak with their Program Director, Richard Simon, this month in a personal interview. Richard recalls his own infatuation with music at an early age.

RICHARD: “I was nine and I attended a school event where they were offering instruments for students to start learning on. I first chose the trombone, but my arms were too short. So, I picked the violin. As it turns out, my maternal grandfather and my parents were survivors of World War II and the Holocaust. My grandfather had salvaged his violin and brought it over to this country. When he heard that I had chosen the violin to play, he ceremoniously handed over that violin he had rescued. So, that is how I started learning music.

“There was always an emphasis on education and art in our household. Every child was expected to play an instrument. I have three older sisters and a younger brother. So, most of us obliged my parents. My oldest sister was bribed to learn to play a waltz on the piano. I think, once she learned it, she collected the five-dollar bribe and never returned to the piano again. Another sister studied the accordion. The accordion sister passed that down to her kids. The third sister, I don’t remember her playing anything but the radio and my little brother played guitar and piano.

“But playing the violin, back in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, I made it to the Kansas City Youth Symphony. I was in the second violin section, almost as far back as the ropes that opened and closed the curtains. That was fine with me. By then, I think I had been playing three years, so I might have been twelve. Shortly there-after, my parents said if I wanted to continue my private lessons, I had to pay for them myself. So, I made some money doing odd jobs around the neighborhood and paid for the lessons for a while. But I wanted to play Little League Baseball. So, I quit violin for sports.

“In High School, I played guitar very poorly. I learned the basic chords, but the guitar strings were not tuned at the same intervals. There’s a B-string right in the middle and I could never figure out what to do with that. In college I picked up the guitar and played in some psychedelic band. It wasn’t that you had to know what you were playing, as long as you did it with conviction. So, I couldn’t really say that I was a guitar player. It was just a pastime. I had no desire to play professionally. Years later, I finally heard Joe Pass on the radio, and he played all the guitar I could ever hope to play. I thought, this has been done. Why should I even bother.

“So, after the exposure to classical violin, I knew that I was, at some level, interested in music. But I gravitated to literature. I found I was fascinated by the great works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and all the great writers and my interest peaked in literature during Jr. High and High school. I found I had a flair for writing. That was encouraged and I was given my own High School newspaper column to write. I don’t know how it came about. There were things that I heard that became expressed in unintended ways and people gave that self-expression the term ‘pun.’ Webster says it’s a joke exploiting the different meanings of a word. I could express things and give meaning in ways that were unconventional. Oddly enough, years later, when I started to play music, I could hear musical puns inside of songs. One melody reminded me of another and in my bass solo I could sort of incorporate many melodies into the tune. So, that was kind of a strange habit and it helped to bridge the world of literature and music in my brain,” Richard Simon explained in his own, inimitable way.

Because Richard loved reading and writing, in college, he concentrated on an education in Literature and Journalism. He obtained his B.A. Degree at Ohio State University and his Masters Degree at the University of New York, Stony Brook. For a while, music was placed on the back-burner. Not having a clear career direction, once Richard Simon graduated someone told him his Masters Degree would be sufficient, without a teacher’s training certificate, to land a professor position in California’s community colleges. That inspired his move to Los Angeles.

RICHARD: “I was hired by Los Angeles Southwest College located at Western and Imperial. My first assignment was a composition class off-campus, at Rakestraw Community Center. The students were primarily recovering substance abusers, taking college courses to satisfy licensing requirements for becoming counselors. They were not very experienced in an academic setting, because they had been chasing demons earlier in life. But we came together in a magical way. Years later, I got a letter from one of those students who was in my first English class, a guy named George Thorne. He wanted me to know that he had continued with his education. He graduated from UCLA and wrote that he just wanted to reach out and thank me; to let me know that he appreciated spending his first class as a college student with me. Anytime that I got cynical or bored with my teaching job, I could get some solace reading that letter from George. His letter was gratifying. At least somebody’s life was touched, I thought. Meanwhile, I ended up teaching at six of the nine campuses in the L.A. community college district and I was offered tenure. But one day, while grading papers in my office, somebody turned on the jazz radio station. Now mind you, I didn’t know anything about jazz, but there was a recording playing of Stéphane Grappelli. I only discovered his name when the announcer told me. Turns out, he was a master, French Violinist. He performed with Django Rhinehart in Paris during the thirties. I looked up the song I heard that afternoon. It was titled, “Undecided.” I was really carried away by the way that man could play the violin. Nobody ever told me that you could have that much fun with the violin. That very moment, he rekindled my love for music.

“I didn’t necessarily want to return to the violin, but I was so moved by the flair and swing of that music I heard, that I literally dropped everything and made it my business to find out about jazz. I wanted to participate in it. I was living in Hermosa Beach at the time. That’s when I discovered El Camino College, near my home. They had an exceptional music department at El Camino College and offered Instructors with academic and professional credentials that rivaled any university program. They taught jazz, principles of Harmony, Counterpoint, and Music Theory. Right away, I enrolled in the jazz band. Again, I didn’t have enough violin chops or guitar knowledge to make a meaningful contribution. But I noticed, leaning against the back wall, four lonely basses. So, I went and picked one up on a whim and I started to play it. Well, it was love at first ‘bite.’ I say that because the strings were so fat, compared to the violin, that my fingertips hurt after a few seconds of playing the instrument. Even so, there was something about the sound of the notes and the fact that the band couldn’t really swing without a solid bass line underneath that spoke to me. I asked the teacher if I could borrow one of those bases and take it home. He said, yes. There were some other adult learners like myself. Mind you, I discovered Stéphane Grappelli on jazz radio when I was thirty years old. So, there were only a few others my age taking the music courses at El Camino College. At that time, I didn’t know any professional jazz musicians and was just becoming aware of the music. I wasn’t thinking about making music a career. I was just having the time of my life playing it.

“I was driven, really, almost irrationally, to do as much as I could in discovery. I taught myself a fair amount. I got books and I found friends who would put up with my playing. I went to endless jam sessions. I mean there was blood. Pieces of fingertips lying here and there. And then, somebody in the college jazz band suggested I should look up Abe Luboff. I tracked down Abe for private lessons. He had been with the L.A. Philharmonic, so he was coming at it from a classical standpoint; you know, having the correct left-hand position and having the proper technique with the bow. I studied with him for maybe a year. At one point, he said, Richard, I know you really want to play jazz. That’s not what I do. He suggested I contact Red Callender. Abe was the second person to mention I should study with Red Callender. I thought, OK, I understand now who I should hook-up with. I had heard that Red was performing at the Money Tree in the city of Toluca Lake. Sure enough, I discovered Red Callender one Monday night performing with the Gerald Wiggins trio. Wig was on piano, Kenny Dennis was on the drums and they had this sax man, Boots Robinson. I was pretty intimidated, because they were playing at such a high level. Sitting there listening, I thought, oh boy, what am I getting myself into here? But Red was very charming and down to earth. He had that impish smile and those sparkling eyes. He said, you need to go to the Clef Club. I found out they were meeting at the Quiet Cannon one Sunday a month.”

NOTE: The original Clef Club was made up of African-American musicians in Harlem and became (both avenue and society), somewhat of a hangout or fraternity-type club. They featured musical entertainment and camaraderie, a Clef Club Orchestra, and over a hundred members. It was incorporated in 1910 and adopted in various cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It perpetuated jazz and the performing arts.

“Well, when I arrived at the Clef Club event, this very dignified, handsome gentleman came over to me and said, I understand you’re a bass player. I said well, at this point I’m a bass owner. He said, but you’re Richard, right? I said yes. He said well why don’t you get ready to play the next set with us? And that’s how I met Buddy Collette. I wish I could remember who all was out there that afternoon, but I’m pretty sure the Clef Club included people like Bill Douglass, the drummer and pianist, Art Hillary. All the crème de la crème of jazz musicians.

“I was living in Hermosa Beach and I had heard about the Lighthouse. At the same time, I had been turned on by that Stephane Grappelli record, I made sure that all the radios at home and in my car were locked into 105.1, KBCA back then. I was just hungry for jazz back then. It didn’t matter what era, vocal or instrumental, I was on a jazz diet. So, everything I heard, I digested ravenously. There was no satisfying me, because I was making up for lost time. Everybody was already swimming across the ocean and I felt like I was dog-paddling my way behind them. Somebody suggested I go to The Lighthouse. So, I found that jazz club on Pier Avenue and the first time I went, Milt Jackson was the featured artist and, in his rhythm-section were local guys. Jimmie Smith was the drummer. Larry Gales was on bass and Marty Harris was the piano player. I was sitting in the front row, taking in every note. Before their break, Milt Jackson got on the mic and said, we’re going to take a break, but before I go one of my good friends, Mr. Joe Pass is in the house. Maybe we can talk him into sitting in with us. Oh, and behind him is Oscar Peterson and behind him is Ray Brown. I know these fellows are in town to record. Let’s see if we can get them to come up here next set and play a tune. Well, of course, everybody in the club just erupted. Sure enough, next set they got up on that bandstand and they played a blues. I swear, the bandstand levitated. There was just so much energy and there was no stopping them. I think I levitated too!

“It was just beyond anything I could have imagined. I think they might have played just one tune, but it was the Hallelujah Chorus. If there was any doubt in my mind that this was the atmosphere I craved, it was erased that night by these guys. I can still feel that intensity when I think about it. After that experience, I used to lurk outside the door to hear whoever it was that was playing. Finally, there was an old guy who ran it, Rudy Onderwyzer. He had that long straggly beard, that fit the profile or the stereo type of a jazz cat or maybe of the Beatnik era.

NOTE: Although Rudy Onderwyzer appeared to be the manager of the Lighthouse, with his hands-on attitude and casual appearance, John Levine and his family actually sold the club to Rudy in 1970. Rudy formerly managed and was part-owner of the Shelly’s Manne-Hole jazz club. Onderwyzer sold The Lighthouse in 1981 and the new owners remodeled it and discontinued the all-jazz-music policy.


“Well, Rudy got tired of me lurking around the front door. So, one night he said, why don’t you come in here and make yourself useful. He would let me take people’s money at the door. Consequently, I could be there to hear whoever was playing like Ray Brown, or Stan Getz, JoAnn Brackeen, Phineas Newborn, Mark Murphy, Etta James, Willy Dixon, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. There was just like a record collection from heaven, hearing these people in person. Every week, there’d be another visit from the anointed masters like Phineas Newborn. I can’t think of them all at the moment. But that was my master class.

I expressed my concern that today, in the Los Angeles area, there are very few places where young musicians or jazz lovers can go and experience ‘live’ and affordable jazz concerts.

RICHARD: “No, and they’re the worse for it. Even though the resources on the Internet are plentiful, without experiencing the music ‘live’, to inhale the elixir from these iconic jazz musicians, they miss an indispensable way of being mentored. JazzAmerica occasionally has visiting artists. Some of our teachers, if somebody’s in town for a performance, they’d bring them in. The guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, for example, would show up and any number of players from around town or visiting Los Angeles have dropped in. We had Chuck Redd, Terry Gibbs, Dan Barrett and Gerald Wilson. Those were master classes. So, it’s not that you have a policy of visiting artists, but as you point out, it’s so important for developing musicians to experience the players, in their presence, so that they can see the concentration and any little nuance that they pick-up on is valuable.

“Cause when I got in the Clef Club, I was just praying for a few good notes. I don’t remember what tunes were called. I’m sure Buddy sensed that I didn’t have much in the way of harmonic intelligence, but he could tell that I was motivated and determined. I guess we played a set together and exchanged numbers. Shortly thereafter, me and Red Callender would meet for lessons. He was such a great person; a great teacher. It wasn’t a lesson in the whole European sense of the word. It wasn’t Madame Petrouchka slapping your hands with a ruler, per se. He was just sharing his experiences. For example, he had been in the movie, New Orleans with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong and Louie’s entire band. Red lamented that they had cast Billie Holiday as a maid. But just being in her presence was magical for him. There was some music that they were rehearsing for the soundtrack and at a critical moment, the conductor looked over and said, hey Red, we want a four-bar transition here. We’re going from the instrumental key into the key for the vocalist. Why don’t you play one of your bebop licks there and bring us into the tune?

“Of course, Red had been gigging and recording with Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, everybody including Sons of the Pioneers, you name it. But at that moment, he felt that pressure from the conductor and he froze. Just then, one of the members from the Union said, fellows, that’s going to have to do it for today, unless you want to go overtime. Of course, the studio didn’t pay overtime if they could avoid it. So, they had to call it a night. Red said he exhaled and went home and figured out a little passage he could drop in when they got to that same cue the next day. Sure enough, it was just the right thing for that moment. So, things like that, he’d bring up and show me how he solved that riddle. Then he’d say, so suppose you got to that point. What might be played to get E flat or G flat or whatever to the key change? It was an incredible way of teaching. And he had some books of horn duets. They weren’t bass instrument songs, but they were kind of classical pieces. He’d even play his tuba for the bass and I would play the harmony part on my bass. There was this incredible level of trust and belief that he had in me. He built my self-esteem along with giving me some of his wisdom and, thanks in large part to Red, my phone started to ring. Miraculously, I was getting bass gigs.

“One day I got a call from out of the blue from Teddy Edwards. Another time, from Johnny Kirkwood, the drummer. Johnny Kirkwood, at that time, was playing with Plas Johnson and Ernie Andrews. Johnny simply installed me in the rhythm section with vocalist, Ernie Andrews as the leader of one group, and with the iconic Plas Johnson. Plas is the one playing that horn line on the Pink Panther record from that Peter Sellers movie. Teddy Edwards was gigging around town and he hired me with his group, including Art Hillary and Lawrence Marable. I was suddenly in the mix and on the jazz scene. In our audience, some of the great jazz players who were off that night or just passing through sat in judgement. That was really scary. I felt like I was on trial and the jury was not letting me know how they felt, one way or another. I kept on looking for a few good notes and that was the beginning of decades of coasting on the brilliance of what I call, the elder elite.

“Buddy had been in the studio, as well as working on Central Avenue, and one of his favorite people and musicians was Al Viola, a guitarist who had been with Frank Sinatra for thirty years. Buddy created a trio, that included me, and we played for everybody. Political rallies, the ACLU, Mayor Tom Bradley functions, and the Lincoln Center in New York. Buddy was commissioned by the Library of Congress to write a suite of music, and he dedicated it to people whom he loved and who helped him along his way; people like Brit Woodman, the trombonist and Chico Hamilton and Jackie Kelso, a virtuoso.

“So, our group played in Washington, D.C., and the live recording of this commissioned music and concert was nominated for a Grammy. Gerald Wilson’s band was also featured and Joe Williams was the singer. Sometime after, I was called to play a reunion of the Chico Hamilton Band. I just was treated like royalty, because wherever Buddy went, people sat up and paid attention; paid respect. He had a long association with Mayor Tom Bradley,” the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993. We would play for the City, for Mayor Bradley, the City Council people, business leaders, etc. To tell you the truth, during that time I was feeling like a sort of valet. I felt like I should be carrying everybody’s instrument. It was just a magical, mystical time. I believe, on the strength of my association with that group of musicians, I got calls from other people: Maxine Weldon, Morgana King, Sue Raney, Howlett Smith, Keely Smith, Llew Matthews, Gerald Wilson, Barbara Morrison and Houston Person. You talk about guilt by association. Well, I was gilt, painted with a golden brush, because people saw me playing with Teddy Edwards, Buddy Colette, Wig (Gerald Wiggins) and Plas (Johnson), and they thought, well, he must know something because these people are hiring him.

“I am somehow known to seek out the players of that vintage. They specifically bring so much gravitas and wisdom. The stories they tell with their instruments are just inexpressible in any other media. I still think of it as a miracle to be able to stand astride this majestic instrument and walk where so many great players have walked before me. One of them is a vocalist/songwriter and pianist from my hometown of Kansas City. I’m proud to work with Betty Bryant. She recently put out a new CD, not at all shy that her age has reached the number of keys on her fabulous piano.”

Richard Simon brings a plethora of knowledge to the steps of JazzAmerica and to students who hunger for knowledge and wisdom. Simon is a sought-after studio session recording artist. He has a vast knowledge of touring, having performed all over Europe, in Thailand, Japan and throughout the entire continental United States. He’s a quick reader, a polished educator and he remembers and empathizes with being a young musician struggling to learn and hone his craft. That’s a plus factor for any participant in the JazzAmerica Program.

RICHARD: “There’s two levels of secrecy in JazzAmerica. One is that we’re teaching values. That’s something I learned from Buddy. A lot of the players are told you need to learn your scales and your arpeggios in all keys and you need to spend time practicing those. Well, that hasn’t changed, but 10 years ago, JazzAmerica started offering traditional jazz in the January months, reaching back into the era of Louis Armstrong, ‘kid’ Ory and Jelly Roll Morton. It turns out that a lot of the songs that were played and composed back then are built around scales and chords. They’re simpler melodies than what came after. For example, one tune associated with Louis Armstrong is called “Struttin With Some Bar-B-Que.” The melody spells out an ascending Major Seventh chord. So, for the kids who are reluctant to sit at home and spend hours practicing arpeggios, it turns out that the traditional jazz repertoire has melodies that are built on those very tech-flavored patterns.

“Then it goes an octave above the major seventh and then it comes back down. What we learned from that is we can tell the kids they need to learn scales and arpeggios. Some in the group will agree and go practice their exercises that way. Others will recognize, hey, this song is that same pattern; that same arpeggio. If You can play this pattern in all keys, then you will have satisfied this practice requirement for the major seventh. They’ll choose the song as a means of study.

“They all do pretty fantastically. They teach me that a well-played individual note is a nugget of gold. I teach them to slow down and let that one note float out there and give them satisfaction. Hey, that beautiful long note, shoot for that. Every time you play, and we rehearse everything slow and I guess there’s an old jazz expression, tempo-de-learno. Not, Metronome 250 right out of the gate. So, whereas your favorite player can get that great sound, when you slow it down, you seek that identifiable tone. Once you master that, then you have put your signature on everything you play. Put that kernel of a tone forward and that’s what good players build their entire sound around. Cause there’s no point in going fast and giving a fast-assed rendition of a tune, because, in the long run, you have to make it sing before you can make it swing.

“One thing that impressed me about Buddy Collette, who co-founded this program, is his commitment to mankind. Career wise, he was at the top of his world, having already brought together the two segregated musician unions and having already broken the color barrier on national television. He was of course a child of Watts (California) and he grew up with people like Dexter Gordon and Eric Dolphy. Those guys chose to go off to New York and make a name for themselves. Buddy would tell me he was getting calls from those people and they would say, Buddy, you’ve got to come back here. They all know about you on the East Coast and this is where it’s at. And Buddy would say, yes, I appreciate that. But I’m doing quite well in the studio. I have a family to raise. Afterall, he could have put that responsibility aside and made himself a bigger name, but he chose to stay in Southern California.

“Remember, he was one of the soloists on a number of Frank Sinatra’s recordings and he conducted sessions for Ella Fitzgerald. He was just a first call woodwind player. But the jazz guys wanted him to move East. Instead, he played an active role in raising his family and raising the bar for musicians in town. He was my role model. Never did I see his character crumble. There was never a time where I saw him lose his cool. Let me share a story Buddy Collette told me before this interview ends.

“Charlie Mingus got a commission for an original piece to play at Town Hall in New York. About two days before the event, Mingus realized the music was a disaster. He had a budget that enabled him to call Clark Terry, and all the giants of jazz at that time. They were all ready to hit at the rehearsal, but the music was just a shamble. So, Mingus called Buddy and asked him to fly out to New York. Buddy, being the loyal friend that he was, dropped everything and flew out to New York City. He said there was music all over the Mingus hotel room. It was stuck to the walls, hanging from the lampshades; propped up against the toilet seat. So, he got to work and put the Mingus music in some semblance of order. At the concert rehearsal, they start to play it and the promoter was apoplectic. He thought it was going to be a live recording. and Mingus is saying, no, no, no. We’ve got to get this right. The night of the show arrived. The all-star band got through one terrifying set and the audience doesn’t know whether to leave or stay. The promoter was tripping out. Suring set one, Mingus kept going over the music; stopping and starting. Finally, Mingus was beside himself! The band took a break. After the break, I think it was Clark Terry, who went out on stage and he started playing, “In A Mellow Tone.” All the musicians come out, one by one, and they just turned it into a jam session. They realized this music was never going to come together, so they just started playing a familiar jazz standard. And the crowd relaxed and loved the show.

“After that stressful performance, they all went down to the Village to unwind. Buddy said to Mingus, there’s a friend of mine I want to see. I’m going to meet them, in their apartment, and have a glass of wine. Why don’t you go on to the bar across the street and I’ll be down in a few minutes? So, Mingus goes to the bar and Buddy meets his friend. Then, there’s a knock on the door. Mingus tells Buddy there’s some people at the bar who are insulting him. Buddy tells him he’ll be down in a moment. A little while later Mingus comes back and bangs on the door. He says Buddy, you got to come downstairs. I got mad at this guy and I cut off his tie.

“Concerned, Buddy excuses himself and goes downstairs. He’s wearing a suit and a trench coat and looking like the Buddy that we all knew and loved; a gentleman and a scholar. Sure enough, there’s a circle of people that have formed around this man who is now wearing only one third of his necktie. Buddy surveys the scene and it’s getting pretty ugly. He confronts the man and tells him; you’ve got to understand. I am this man’s psychiatrist. This man is under a lot of stress. He did a concert tonight and his wife is pregnant back in Los Angeles. I believe if we all just relax, we can come to some mutual understanding and enjoy the rest of our evening. In that moment, Buddy took all the heat and tension out of that room. For the rest of the evening, they all drank, laughed and joked with each other until they closed that bar down. That was Buddy in his element. To me, everything about him is kind of embodied in that story.”

There are so many people to thank for keeping this amazing non-profit After-school program alive. Of course, bassist Richard Simon is one of the main characters, but many local music masters have contributed time and talent to inspire the next generation of musicians. Richard recalls that City Councilwoman, Jackie Goldberg had called Buddy Collette one day in a panic.

RICHARD: “Councilwoman Goldberg said, Buddy, in my Hollywood district we’ve got some middle school kids who are hanging around after school, nowhere to go before their parents get home from work, and they’re fighting. The Spanish kids are rumbling with the Armenians. What can we do? So, Buddy said, well why don’t we start an After-school program? Coincidentally, Jackie had just been working on finalizing a group with a similar project called L.A.C.E.R.”

NOTE: L.A.C.E.R. AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM was founded in 1984, focused on literacy, art, culture, music, education and recreation. They provide under-served middle and high school youth with after-school programs in a safe and caring environment. Their core belief is that underserved or at-risk boys and girls in the Los Angeles public school system should have access to quality education, free homework assistance, art programming, athletics and graduation preparation on par with more privileged students
RICHARD: “It Was a perfect marriage between L.A.C.E.R and JazzAmerica. We were just getting off the ground with Saturday classes for high school kids. Middle schools became the week-day component and Fritz Wise, Jackie Kelso, John Stephens, about seven of us and other music masters like George Bohannon, we were volunteers at several middle schools and then finally, with this L.A.C.E.R. financial backing, we were able to pay the instructors. That went on for about twelve years. Meanwhile, the original Saturday program continued with folks like The Wig (Gerald Wiggins), Ndugu, Bobby Bryant, Anthony White, and John Stephens. The first couple of years we had 90 kids from all over the city. What made that possible was that a number of the instructors had jazz bands or were band teachers at their high schools. Twenty-five years ago, they had a jazz band at Washington Prep and at Jefferson high. A lot of those city high schools had a jazz band. So, the teachers would encourage their kids to come down on Saturdays. it was incredible to look across a room of just trumpet and trombone players and there was the great Bobby Bryant, who had the charm of a drill instructor. He would be saying to the kids, if the man wanted it played that way, he would have written it that way. He brought some charts by Oliver Nelson, that he had played in studios for TV shows or some movie scores and he made sure the kids would learn them. He took sections and they’d work on sections of the charts. At the second half of the rehearsal, all the kids would come together, sort of a big band on steroids. It was magnificent.”

There are numerous success stories like these that beg to be told and that inspire Richard Simon to continue this under-promoted program for young people. If you would like to contribute to this 501C non-profit, tax deductible music program or need more information, send queries to: JazzAmerica: P.O. Box 661777; Los Angeles, CA 90066.

Meantime, join JazzAmerica Sunday, July 28, 2019 at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, 11:30am in the morning. Be there!

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