Sam Ribakoff listens to more jazz.
Jazz is soaked into the bones of Los Angeles. From the echoes of Central Avenue and Watts all the way to Little Tokyo, black-owned restaurants, hotels, businesses and nightclubs not only showcased the jazz greats from elsewhere, but incubated a generation of jazz immortals like Charles Mingus, Buddy Collette, and Dexter Gordon. In the late 50’s and 60’s, L.A. jazz musicians led the country in experiments and innovations in jazz music, from the improvisational free jazz of Ornette Coleman, to the innovative big band arrangements of Gerald Wilson, to the spiritual jazz of Horace Tapscott. Later, L.A. jazz poured out into the streets and into the revolutionary poetry and performances of the Watts Prophets, the poetry of Wanda Coleman and Kamau Daáood, and out into the hip-hop poetics of artists like the Freestyle Fellowship, Ice Cube, Busdriver, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle.
In the pre-pandemic world, after the success of jazz musicians like Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Thundercat, some venues across the county were slowly beginning to recognize this history by putting on local jazz acts every now and again — or in the case of the Lodge Room in Highland Park, putting on semi-regular shows from jazz greats with their Jazz is Dead series. Stalwarts like Little Tokyo’s The Blue Whale in Little Tokyo were still regularly putting on jazz acts playing with knotty, angular rhythms and experimentation, and the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood was still regularly putting on old and new straight ahead and soft jazz acts, with the occasional surprise show by people like soul jazz legend Pharoah Sanders. But there’s no venue in the county that exemplifies the entire history of jazz music in Los Angeles, and the history and spirit of the community that created it, like The World Stage in Leimert Park.
A small, 100-person capacity venue on Degnan Boulevard in the heart of Leimert Park, next to Eso Won Books and the California Jazz and Blues Museum, the venue was created in 1989 by poet Kamau Daáood and jazz drummer Billy Higgins not just as a venue for local jazz musicians to perform, but as a community space for writing and music workshops for adults and children, and as a space to preserve the history and art of Black Los Angeles.
“It’s here for the community. It’s here for writing and communication, creativity, and so many things. It’s here for healing,” Rene Fisher Mims, who described her title at The World Stage as “I just do what needs to be done,” said about the space.
But like venues across the world, without any revenue since the start of the COVID-19 caused shutdowns in mid-March, The World Stage is finding it harder and harder to keep up with rent, and the possibility of having to invest in more cleaning equipment and safety measure when music venues are allowed to open again.
“Just keeping open is going to be costly.” Fisher Mims said, “It’s a business. I don’t want to say we need money because we’re desperate. But we do need money.”
To help cover costs The World Stage is offering a series of free concerts via Zoom, and asking people to donate to the venue through their Paypal account if they can.
“After awhile it’s about paying the bills. I’m volunteering now. We’re doing the work, but what we need is the money,” Fisher Mims said, “We have the tools, we just need people to support. Support black businesses. We’re working our tails off. We need the community to be proactive. Support black owned businesses. Right now it’s about money. We still need those donations to pay our rent. If anybody is being paid here, they’re getting minimum salaries. Trust me.”
On Sunday, June 14 The World Stage will broadcast a live concert from jazz vocalist Dwight Trible, who also serves as the Executive Director of The World Stage.
“I’ll be doing whatever I can to make sure it survives. I hope we can put some value on what’s valuable. That’s a very valuable element in this society,” said Amde Hamilton, a poet and co-founder of the legendary revolutionary poetry group the Watts Prophets.
Hamilton ties the mission of The World Stage back to the Watts Writer’s Workshop, a creative writing group started by On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg for young people in Watts after the Watts Rebellion in 1965, a rebellion sparked by decades of militarization of the LAPD and racist police violence and surveillance in Watts and other Black communities in Los Angeles.
“You know Bobby Kennedy, before he was assassinated, had a visit with Budd Schulberg. Kennedy had visited the Watts Writers Workshop, and he told Schulberg a few minutes before he was assassinated that if he was president, that he was so impacted by his visit to the Workshop, that he would see to it that Workshops like it would be built all around this country. That’s how valuable it was at that time, and it’s even more valuable today,” Hamilton said, “It’s opened an area of expression for those with no area of expression. These workshops gave an avenue for people to scream when they didn’t have any other avenue to scream in and say whatever they wanted to say.”
Donations to The World Stage can be made here: https://www.theworldstage.org/support.html