In January of 2007 I received notice that my dear friend and saxophonist Herman Riley had died. As I arrived at his memorial I saw Frankie Capp arriving and Donald Dean walking towards the service. I entered the service area and saw many, maybe one hundred of the Los Angeles Jazz elite and Jazz community. The service was wonderful, highlighted by a 40 minute power point presentation that gave us all a beautiful insight into Herman’s life and family.
When the service concluded and as is customary, I was shaking hands, hugging friends and telling Herman stories to one another a thought came to mind “wouldn’t it be great to take or have a picture of this incredible Jazz community of musicians?” I looked around and saw my good friend Washington Rucker taking posed and candied pictures. The next day I called Washington and we talked about Herman and the service, about the pictures he was taking and then I told him about my idea to take an organized Jazz picture, where our Los Angeles Jazz community could be docuemented. We continued to speak of different scenarios as to how exactly it could happen. The biggest question was, who would own the picture? We both believed that this ownership issue would influence lots of musicians in supporting the project. I suggested to Washington that maybe the Los Angeles Jazz Society should be the owner because of their status as the leading Jazz organization in Los Angeles. We continuted for over an hour discussing other alternatives.
Realizing that I had to create momentum for my idea I took it to my wife, Yvonne, and as always she was completely supportive and was ready to help in any way. We started by trying to answer the questions that would come up, give a reason and importance of a Jazz picture. We began by putting on paper all Jazz entities that should be interested and came up with the idea of a Jazz Consortium.
We created a one page flier that answered how, when, where, who, and why. I also thought that if we were to gather 200, 300 or 400 musicians why not add the components of video documentation and the eventual creation of a coffee table book. But before any of that we had to answer the one big question, “Who would own this Jazz picture?” What could or would be the catalyst to bring it all together?
Upon thinking more about the “Jazz Picture” idea, I decided to take my idea to Kenny Burrell, my boss at UCLA. Over the years I’ve learned it’s not that
important to have all the answers but it’s very important to be able to go to people who can lead you to an answer. When I informed him of my idea he basically said “ya, that would be great but a lot of work.” I knew that this project needed to be a complete labor of love…no one should get paid.
On the evening of January 14th, 2008, armed only with my flier and a great desire to make this picture happen, I organized two meetings, on the same night to spread my idea with the premier Jazz organizations in Los Angeles. I met with the Boards of the California Jazz Foundation a two-year-old organization and the Los Angeles Jazz Society an eighteen-year-old organization. Both groups were very receptive to the idea of a “Jazz Picture” but they both quickly asked, “Who would own the picture?”
After some time had passed, I received a call from Kenny Dennis, a friend and be bop drummer. He told me that Kenny Burrell had advised him to contact me. You see Kenny Dennis had a similar idea about a Jazz picture. We talked on the phone and we agreed to work together to try and make this Jazz picture come to fruition. A few weeks later my energy was beginning to wane and Kenny Dennis called me again and said that he had a meeting with Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, UCLA Vice Chancellor of Graduate Studies and a great Jazz supporter, and he informed me that she was very excited about the idea and would love to help to make it happen.
As I continued to wrestle with who would own this Jazz picture I remembered that Kenny Burrell had told me that Darnell Hunt, Director of the Ralph J. Bunch African-American Studies had created a Kenny Burrell archive. It became obvious to me that I had come up with the answer of ownership of the Jazz picture…it would be part of the Kenny Burrell archive at UCLA. It was a perfect catalyst because everyone knows, loves and respects Kenny Burrell.
A meeting was set up on May 27th, 2008 in Claudia’s office at UCLA. Present were Kenny Burrell, Kenny Dennis, Claudia Mitchll-Kernan, Lisa Itagaki (Claudia’s assistant), and me. I brought in a new basic flier with a large picture of Kenny Burrell, an invitation statement by Kenny, a release statement, the explanation of who, why, where, when, goal, ownership of the picture, and a list of Sponsors and organization that should be included. Kenny Burrell added a “Celebration of Jazz” subtitle that enhanced the flier and we were off and running.
On our second meeting Kenny Dennis arrived with Kelesy Edwards a photographer friend of his. Edythe Bronson (President of the California Jazz Foundation) was also invited and along with Susan Townsley and Brain Duffield (Claudia’s assistants) we had our complete steering committee. At first we thought big…how about a three tier event…VIP Champagne Reception, Photo Session and a Great Day In L. A. Concert? But as reality set in we settled on a photo session with an after reception/jam session and through our collective publicity outlets, word of mouth, and hundreds of emails, we all hoped for the best.
I remember at one meeting Kenny Burrell and I were the only early one’s that day and I asked him, “well Kenny do you think we can pull it off?” and he said “your guess is as good as mine.”
It is now October 6, 2008 and after months of planning, with a dozen meetings and after meetings, “A Great Day In L. A.” approached.
Today is October 13th, 2008 (the morning after) and “A Great Day In L. A.” has come and gone. The event met and exceeded everyone’s expectations. This steering committee was a perfect balance of artists, fundraisers, and organizers, with the common purpose and love of Jazz music. Everyone performed their tasks brilliantly by doing exactly what they said they were going to do. Susan Townsley directed traffic from the check in tables; Kelesy organized over 250 but probably more like 300 people in this historic picture; and Kenny Burrell and I took care of the interviews and musical issues. The main photograph captured an inclusive group of Jazz artists and Jazz supporters.
Some of the many comments included “This is a celebration.” “This is a great gathering of friends and the best thing is that were not at someone’s funeral.” and “I haven’t seen some of these people in decades. Amazing what can happen when good people work together!
It truly was “A Great Day In L. A.”