THE LOS ANGELES JAZZ COLLECTIVE – BUILDING A STRONGER WORLD FOR JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES
by Scott Yanow
Founded within the past year, the Los Angeles Jazz Collective is a growing organization that is dedicated towards building a stronger jazz community in the Los Angeles area. Co-founded by pianist Gary Fukushima and saxophonist Matt Otto, the LAJC has 13 core members including guitarists Jamie Rosenn, Steve Cotter and Mike Scott, pianist-organist Joe Bagg, saxophonists Matt Zebley, Robby Marshall and Damon Zick, trumpeters Brian Swartz and Josh Welchez, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and drummer Jason Harnell, plus a growing number of associate members.
The Los Angeles Jazz Collective has sponsored some concerts (including a collective performance last April that served as the official birth of the organization), has put out a sampler CD, and has some ambitious if realistic plans for the future. Recently I chatted with Gary Fukushima, Matt Otto and Jamie Rosenn, asking the three musicians how an organization of this sort can function given the economic difficulties of being a jazz musician in Los Angeles, along with the democratic and rather spontaneous nature of the music.
SCOTT YANOW: What exactly is the Los Angeles Jazz Collective?
MATT OTTO: The LAJC is a group of creative jazz musicians in Los Angeles working together to create a better musical environment for themselves and the Los Angeles jazz community.
JAMIE ROSENN; Essentially we are a group of like minded bandleaders and musicians
looking to promote our music, create playing opportunities and draw attention to our brand of modern jazz and the fact that it is happening in Los Angeles. We host concerts, events and jam sessions, put out sampler CDs, maintain a website and blog (a podcast is on the way) and have a monthly newsletter.
L.A. JAZZ SCENE: Why was it formed?
MATT OTTO: We formed the LAJC to help strengthen the jazz community in Los Angeles. We're hoping that the LAJC can help give creative, modern jazz improvisers both support and an audience here so that Los Angeles becomes a place to move to for players, not a place to move from.
JAMIE ROSENN: I always felt the modern jazz scene was somewhat underrepresented in the LA media. The traditional jazz scene has many outlets and a large audience in Los Angeles. Many local bookers and clubs cater very specifically to this audience. But it seemed to me there was a modern experimental jazz scene that was happening in Los Angeles that was not getting the attention it deserved. This scene emphasized harmonic and rhythmic sophistication and has its roots in the 60's jazz of Miles and Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, but also allowed influences of pop, folk and world music as well as the influences of current jazz artists like Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel.
GARY FUKUSHIMA: I guess in the bigger picture, there is a concern out there by many jazz musicians that we are by and large only living out a fraction of the life we hope to have as creative jazz artists and composers. This concern isn't necessarily economics based, although that's always a serious consideration of most jazz musicians. The main concern is that we see very few opportunities in Los Angeles to play jazz as we would like to, which is to have a forum by which we could display our compositions and improvisation for an appreciative audience. We have a very large and growing number of extremely talented jazz artists whose ranks are swelling by the year with younger musicians coming out of very good schools, who all find themselves with very few or no gigs of their own. That is not to say that there are no gigs, but it is the quality of those gigs that is lacking. Usually it is one of two scenarios. You can make a decent and sometimes significant amount of money playing background music, vocal jazz standards, dance music, pop music or smooth jazz at restaurants, weddings, or corporate functions, or you can play your own stuff at a place that doesn't mind what you play as long as they don't have to invest a dime towards the musicians, who come away with next to nothing for their efforts and artistry. Either way, it's a little demoralizing for the serious jazz musician trying to perfect his/her craft and having little incentive to do so. I guess the LAJC was created to see if we can create a third option.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: When and how did the Los Angeles Jazz Collective come into existence?
JAMIE ROSENN: In late 2006 trombonist Alan Ferber, who used to be a bandmate of mine and had moved to New York, formed the Brooklyn Jazz Underground which
very successfully drew attention to a scene that was developing in Brooklyn. After seeing their success, I talked with Joe Bagg, Jason Harnell and some other musicians about starting a similar organization. At the same time Matt Otto and Gary Fukushima had been
talking about the same type of project and invited a number of us to join them. It seemed like the timing was right and we were thinking along the same lines. Around November 2007 we started holding meetings at a local coffee shop in Eagle Rock, figuring out
the details of what our organization was going to be about and how it could run effectively.
GARY FUKUSHIMA; Matt Otto called and asked me if I would be interested in helping him with an idea to start a collective of jazz musicians, so we started meeting to discuss what and how we were going to do it. Originally there weren't too many of us, just myself and Matt and a few others who we had called. More people started finding out about what we were trying to do, the meetings got a little larger, and we discussed a wide range of topics. We met regularly every few weeks, always at the Coffee Table in Eagle Rock. We did this for a number of months before we realized that we'd probably talk ourselves into oblivion if we didn't actually do something, so we managed to book two gigs on a weekend this past April, which forced us to get it together enough to become an organization. I guess the “birthday” of the LAJC was the date of our first collective performance, April 4, 2008.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: What are the Los Angeles Jazz Collective’s main goals?
GARY FUKUSHIMA; I can recite our mission statement: “The Los Angeles Jazz Collective is a group of musicians working together to build a stronger jazz community within Los Angeles. Through cooperative effort and education, we seek to promote our work and generate greater public appreciation for improvised music.” I think that by building a recognizable name and doing festivals and compilation recordings we can create performance and publicity opportunities that probably would not happen to any of us operating as an individual artist. In a broader sense, I'd like to see the collective be an advocate for all of the hidden talent in this city and an explicit representation of the “underground” jazz community that exists beneath the massive music industry that defines this town.
JAMIE ROSENN: I've learned through this collective that everyone has different ideas
of what the goals are. For me, it is to bring our music to a larger audience and demonstrate that there is high quality original creative jazz being made in Los Angeles. There is a conception of LA Jazz being “cool” or “smooth,” not aggressive, intellectual,
soulful or artistically worthy. I would like to show jazz listeners that that stereotype is not the case with the music our collective produces and supports.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: How often does the group meet and what are the general issues that are discussed?
JAMIE ROSENN: We try to meet every two weeks or so. We strive to be democratic so decision making can be a difficult and time consuming procedure. At first we had to figure out the structure of the organization and how we would function together politically. We devised a system where there are 13 core members who decide most of the policy and an open amount of other regular members who receive certain benefits. Generally we discuss event planning, various projects, promotional ideas, directions for
the group, and policy and procedure.
GARY FUKUSHIMA: We still meet every few weeks, still at the Coffee Table. I think everyone likes the oatmeal there. We have pretty animated discussions about what we should be focusing on. Much of the discussion recently has centered around hiring a publicist to promote our first sampler CD on a national scale. We definitely have two competing philosophies about the operations of the collective. There are those who think we should just pool our funds and hire people to take care of promotion and publicity, the website, etc, and that sentiment is balanced out by those who view our membership as a ready made labor force, where we can distribute tasks and create work teams from our membership to achieve those goals. I think that we are still trying to find out how much we can do and how much help we need to hire.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: What are the requirements for joining the Los Angeles Jazz Collective and is there is a membership fee?
MATT OTTO: The collective is comprised of 13 core or founding members and an ever expanding general membership which the core members vote upon accepting. Basically any serious original composer or performer can join.
JAMIE ROSENN: There are certain artistic qualities that we look for when we invite a
musician to be in the LAJC. We are looking for artists who write and play original music, have a high level of creativity and individuality, and generally fit into our aesthetic. Our procedure for inviting a potential member is that three core members must independently nominate an artist and then a majority of the core members must approve before they are contacted with an invitation. There are annual dues with the core members paying three times as much as regular members.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: Can you tell me about the LAJC concerts and festivals that have taken place so far?
GARY FUKUSHIMA: Our first two gigs happened in April, which we dubbed “The LAJC Inaugural Festival.” We had five groups perform on the first night at the Pasadena Jazz Institute and four groups on the second night at Cafe Metropol. On both nights, we had standing room-only crowds, which was problematic at Metropol because we had to turn people away. But what an exhilarating problem to have! I think for us it confirmed that there was indeed an audience for interesting original creative jazz music, and if we could do our part it would be a remarkable thing for us and for the jazz community in LA. We followed that up by a one night event at Pasadena Jazz Institute which we called the “LAJC Summer Mini-Fest.” We had four of our groups perform and that evening was also very well attended. Almost as soon as our inaugural festival was over, we were invited to perform at a number of summer festivals and concerts, including the Idyllwild Spring Aroma Festival, the 1st and Central Summer Concert Series in Little Tokyo, the Angel City Jazz Festival, the Lotus Festival in Echo Park, and a live DVD recording event up at Wave Street Studios in Monterey, CA. Our presence at the last two events were initiated by Leroy Downs, who has a Saturday show on KJZZ and has been very supportive of us since he agreed to be our Master of Ceremonies for our first show. He is a true believer in the hope that jazz will one day get the attention and respect it deserves, and we're glad that he's willing to help us out.
MATT OTTO: One thing that has been really inspiring about the festivals we've put on is that many non LAJC members have performed at them as both sidemen and leaders. We're hoping that over time, the LAJC will be a catalyst for creative original music in Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: What do you as an individual musician and bandleader hope to gain out of an association with the Los Angeles Jazz Collective?
GARY FUKUSHIMA; To be honest, I view my role as a musician in this context secondary to my role to try to keep this organization focused and running smoothly enough for us to accomplish our goals as a collective. I guess I would want like most musicians to have my band and my music on display for a large group of people who might appreciate and enjoy it. Do I expect to become wealthy because of this organization? No, not at all, but I feel like my mission here is greater than my own personal artistic goals, and I hope that the other members share that sentiment.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: What do you hope will happen with the Los Angeles Jazz Collective during the next few years?
MATT OTTO: We hope the collective will have a positive impact on the jazz scene in Los Angeles both by supporting and unifying creative artists, and by helping to cultivate a community of people who enjoy modern jazz composition and performance.
JAMIE ROSENN: We are hoping to continue to put on events locally and possibly do
some tours as well. We plan to expand our web presence with a podcast and have recordings of some of our events available for download. We have talked about including an educational component to the Collective where we could give workshops or possibly have a camp open to aspiring musicians.
GARY FUKUSHIMA; The first goal of any entity is self-preservation, and I hope we can survive past this first year. Thankfully it looks like we're actually accomplishing that goal. We would like to have three or four major events per year, as well as a number of monthly or even weekly smaller events. We would also like to expand our web presence, which is already growing with our blog on our website, but we'd really love to have podcasts and videos of all the things we'll be doing available online. I really hope that the LAJC will become a catalyst for transforming the attitudes of musicians everywhere towards LA, from thinking of this city as a town of commercial and studio musicians and celebrities to thinking of this city as a vibrant, creative society of unique jazz artists. In some ways, we see that happening within our collective, where our members, having been given an opportunity to perform, have had a chance to get inspired to write and practice their own music. If the entire jazz community started thinking that Los Angeles was a city that supports creative jazz, perhaps that would encourage more artists to move here and stay here rather than flee to New York and other parts of the country and the world.
LOS ANGELES JAZZ SCENE: Are there specific upcoming events scheduled at the moment for the organization?
GARY FUKUSHIMA; Our biggest festival to date is happening at the end of November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, with two dates at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on November 21 and 22 and another at the Jazz Bakery on the 24th. Currently we have 12 bands scheduled to play over those three days. I think it's going to be a great weekend.
For more information about
this worthy organization and its upcoming events, check out
its website at www.lajazzcollective.com.
from Brick Wahl’s LA Weekly
picks this week:
The biggest jazz event of the
week has to be the L.A. Jazz Collective’s Fall Festival, a
three-night, four-venue bash that begins Friday at the
Pasadena Jazz Institute with the Josh Aguilar Group, Damon
Zick and Friends, the Joe Bagg Quintet (with trumpeter Ron
Stout) and the Steve Cotter Group; then Saturday at PJI
again with the Scott Cummings Group, the Mike Scott Quartet
(with pianist Josh Nelson), the Josh Welchez Quartet and
the Ryan McGillicuddy Quartet. Matt Otto — such a tone — is
scattered throughout. Bagg, too. On Sunday, catch your
breath, nap, watch football, then head over to the Jazz
Bakery on Monday for the Gary Fukushima Quartet (with Otto
again), a kinda Getz-meets-Bird vibe from the David
Sills/Gary Foster Quintet, and drummer Jason Harnell’s
trio. Solid. Finally everyone piles into their jalopies for
the quick run to the whiskey bar at Seven Grand downtown
(7th between Grand and Olive) for SLanG — that’s trumpeter
Brian Swartz, keyboardist Andy Langham and incredible
drummer Gerry Gibbs. All four events might be a stretch,
but you can easily make one of those gigs and see L.A.’s
new jazz on display, with some fine veteran company in the
mix. The young cats can be hard to find, playing little
joints on underpublicized nights around downtown, but this
time, the LAJC has flipped on the lights. Check it out.