North on South Central Avenue, the jazz and dance musical took their audience in a time machine and harkened it back to 1940s/50s Los Angeles . Back to the days of a thriving economy spurred on by lot of wartime jobs and plenty of vice to loosen up some of that money.. the scene was a stretch of town that took you from Downtown-north all the way south to Watts/Compton on a street named Central Avenue. This wonderful musical was completely the total package in every respect. Oh you had your great Musical numbers , sung by professional singers cast as not only singers but actors as well. The multi-award winning play was directed by multiple award winning Director ,Carla Dupree Clark, in which up to now has amassed 14 nominations and 7 awards, as director,co-writer or co-producer. This includes this 2017 project’s previous run in the mid-2000s which garnered 14 nominations and four awards. Clark is quite the able-bodied director that Hollywood should be calling soon. Supported by the partnership of TPC(Theater Perception Consortium) Mr. Larry Robinson Producer/actor/writer & set designer. as well as Tu’Nook( Barbara Alexander) Producer/Writer and casting director for the company. This crew has consistently nailed hit plays or musicals for the last decade or more.(ARE YOU LISTENING HOLLYWOOD!) First, Clark created a brilliant approach to opening the play by having a truth-teller or “Griot in a Tux” (Robby Royale aka Robert J. Carmack) comes out and tell you what you’re going to see, and how it was done, then, where.. after getting a few “Amen” on relating to the Black Hollywood moniker that was given the “L.A. Jazz scene” going back as far as the 1920s and 30s.
Blacks had their own way of “livin” and swingin” and going to Church… With a rich cast of characters, NOSC, opens in today’s time with an old man sitting at a bus stop, when a young man rolls up in a wheel chair .The story centers around the most famous and “notorious” club in LA history, The Club Alabam.. the West coast equal to New York’s Cotton Club. Glamorous patrons and famous black celebrity entertainers appeared night in and night out.
Clark’s piece offers a glimpse into what it must have been like as a person living during the days of gangsters; Mickey Cohen, or a Bumpy Johnson like figure in a character known as “Black Dot” , a man who owned lots of businesses and kept the small time hoods in line to keep the Cops away from the real gravy. Carla Clark’s production juxtapositioned the great music of the times with strong vocals and acting like lead actress,Windy Barnes . Barnes portrayed owner of the Alabam along with Larry Robinson as husband and wife team, Eloise and L.C. Lomax. A stand out scene from the play ..the Lomaxs are in a pickle, when gangsters are blackmailing them to gain control of their very popular and profitable club. She absolutely nails a song penned by her & co-writer, Andre Washington entitled, “Hold On”.
Barnes, a veteran actress from the musical stage beginning with her California debut in the national touring company’s The Wiz. Eloise character provided glue to the story of the Alabam’s plight and the overall story of the Jazz scene in Black Hollywood. All the greats were present in this magnificent showcase of glamour and Soul. Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, (brilliantly portrayed by jazz vocalist Pat Sligh), along with special guest cameo performance by jazz and pop singer/actress Ms. Eloise Laws… performing a blistering rendition of “Dinah Washington’s What a Difference a Day Makes.
Also appearing on stage was a electrifying performance by Larry Robinson’s portrayal of Little Walter and Dr. Richard Sanders as Muddy Waters on guitar and Robinson “trading fours” back and forth on Harmonica(They Jammed hard). Its rare to get all of the feel of a real life club and the soul and panache to boot. But Clark’s production North on South Central is in my opinion, Fully Copacetic!
Hopefully this play is Broadway bound or at least national tour.. I also must mention the great music playing band, Conducted by pianist Duane Laskey.
Danny “Big Black” Rey got its nickname “Big Black” from an older brother because of his interest in drums. During his high school years on the radio, the Conga in the Cuban music had heard he was interested in the instrument and traveled to Florida and the Bahamas , where he spent five years. There he played with Lord Fleas Calypso band met at Fish Ray and Johnny “Slick” Engraham and looked at Calypso Eddy Trio with Sam and Role . In Miami, he worked at Jack Contanzo, Moe Koffman and the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, before he formed a band with trumpeter Billy Cook and found private access to the fusion of Caribbean and Jazz rhythms.
In the early 1960s, he moved to New York City, where he worked in the bands of Freddie Hubbard (Night of the Cookers) and Randy Weston and also played with the likes of musicians Ray Bryant, Johnny Barracuda, Junior Cook and Eric Dolphy was heard. In 1965 he was in the Caribbean Pavilion of World Expo. Also, in that same year, he performed with Dizzy Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival. He got a record deal and produced four of his own albums prior to 1972, where he partially pushed the envelope in the area of African rhythms in music. He had a short stint as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band . Big Black even spent sometime as an actor of supporting roles in TV shows and films. A tremendous musician and sideman,eclectic icon in Jazz, performed many times outside the mainstream as Sun Ra, B.B. King, Charles Tolliver , and even played music during the World Cup campaign with Muhammad Ali. Big Black worked as musical director on several projects by Randy Weston african themed recordings. But my favorite of all Big Black collaborations was his work with Hugh Masakela starting in the mid 1960s(1966) Masakela, Big Black ,Henry the Skipper” Franklin, Larry Willis and all appeared in a historic Concert in WATTS(LA california) as part of the very First WATTS Festival in August of 1966, coming just one year later after one of the worst Race riots in LA history.
This writer was there to witness that concert as a young 15-year-old budding jazz musician. Masakela was making his West Coast debut in Los Angeles with tremendous success to follow after that first concert at a local high school. It was good to talk over old days with one of the all-time greats on percussions. He still enjoys the passion & skills to elevate the room with precision-like rhythms and cadences.
more info on Big Black: http://www.bigblackmusic.com/
Recently at the jazz club Catalina’s in Hollywood California, a crowd of fans, former schoolmates, neighbors, teachers all came together for a reunion concert by The Harold Johnson Sextet. Johnson is an accomplished producer,writer and arranger whose Jazz group kicked off their early music careers with a “hit album” right out the gate in House on Elm Street released in 1967..the album was not only popular in Los Angeles which is Harold’s native city,but it enjoyed heavy rotation on Jazz and soul radio stations all over California and beyond.
The Reunion concert was an idea spawned from the latest CD released by Harold Johnson Sextet entitled, “Back on Elm Street” Reunion, featuring some of the original members of the band . David Crawford on Flute, and hit-songwriter,producer and highly sought after drummer, Leon Ndugu Chanceler.
Rounding out the Reunion band’s personnel ; Munyungo Jackson Percussionist, Welton Gite Bass, Gemi Taylor Guitar, The Vincent Sisters vocals and Olivia Reese vocals.
There was a particular buzz in the room as the swelling audience began to feel the electricity of the evening that was building as the show’s Master of Ceremonies, Robert J. Carmack , founder and editor of Hipster Sanctuary.Com began to warm up the audience with a little welcome cheer.
After the introduction of Harold Johnson ,the bandleader appeared alone on stage at the piano and began the evening’s festivities with a gospel-tinged solo composition, Pass It On. Johnson then started into another fanfare piece as he brought on-stage each member of the band and vocalists. Upon the first few notes the audience recognized the popular and finger-poppin’ melody of House on ElmStreet title-track with original member David Crawford lit into swirling trills,grace-notes and sweet arpeggios on Flute. Crawford’s solo was followed up by the leader Harold Johnson on Electric piano. Over 40 of Harold Johnson’s songs have been recorded by major hit-makers over the years like LTD, Diana Ross, Stephanie Mills, Dennis Edwards,Thelma Houston,Jeffrey Osbourne, OJays,Temptations and many more.
We were entertained with a trip down memory lane of jazz and R&B songs from the many hits he wrote for other artists. He also introduced us to cuts from the new CD, BACK ON ELM STREET REUNION, “Main Squeeze” and “Til’ We Meet Again”. In addition to a reunion of band mates were local school alumni who attended school with Harold Johnson or his band personnel.
I spoke with Johnson about future projects plans and actions, he mentioned that He’s already in motion for a “Back On Elm Street Reunion Volume 2. we can hardly wait.