#TBT: A Great Day in L.A.

In this #TBT Throwback Thursday post, we take a look back to A Great Day in L.A.!


Hundreds of Los Angeles jazz musicians create a contemporary version of the historic 1958 photo “A Great Day in Harlem”

It was “A Great Day in L.A.” indeed Oct. 12, 2008, when over 250 musicians gathered together to take part in a historic photo shoot for the world of jazz.

Inspired by the iconic photograph “A Great Day in Harlem” (also known as “Harlem 1958”) taken by photographer Art Kane in 1958 for which 57 of the most luminous stars in jazz (including Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Gene Krupa, Charles Mingus, Count Basie and Thelonius Monk) assembled on a stoop in the Manhattan borough, A Great Day in L.A. aimed to document a new generation of jazz legends and capture in a photograph the connections, growth and universal appeal of jazz music and jazz musicians of all generations and styles.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Kane’s legendary photo, A Great Day in L.A. was organized by a steering committee which included noted Local 47 jazz musicians Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, Kenny Burrell and Kenny Dennis.

Among the hundreds of performers,vocalists, composers and arrangers representing a diversity of age, race, cultures, gender and nationality were such modern-day jazz giants as Buddy Collette, Herb and Lani Hall Alpert, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Wilson, Les McCann, Frankie Capp and Quincy Jones, who was noted saying, “I missed the Harlem photograph in 1958, and didn’t want to miss this one.”

K-JAZZ on-air personalities Bubba Jackson, LeRoy Downs, Brad Williams and Jose Rizo conducted interviews at the event with artists for live and future broadcasting. Both Kelsey Edwards and William Claxton Photography had been scheduled to shoot the A Great Day in L.A. photograph, however, shortly before the event, Bill had fallen ill and sadly passed away the day before. The day of the shoot, Oct. 12, 2008, was Bill Clax – ton’s birthday; he would have been 81 years of age. Kelsey Edwards Photography shot the group photograph and a series of smaller groups assembled according to percussion, horns, strings, vocalists and composers.

The seeds of A Great Day in L.A. were sewn in 2007 when Rodriguez attended the funeral of noted jazz musician Herman Riley. “There were about 70 musicians standing around talking, and I thought we should do something to doc – ument everyone who was still alive and still existed,” Rodriguez said. “Young, old, inexperienced, veterans – everyone.” He pitched the idea to Friends of Jazz at UCLA, the L.A. Jazz Society and the California Jazz Foundation, and though everyone liked the idea, at that time everyone felt that there was just too much work involved.

At the beginning of 2008, musician Kenny Dennis had a similar idea which he mentioned to his friend Kenny Burrell, who told him, “Go see Bobby; he already had this idea.” They spoke, and Dennis went to his friend Claudia Mitchell Kernan at Friends of Jazz, who turned out to be the missing component needed to make this dream a reality. “With her involvement we really started to move forward and make things happen,” Rodriguez said.

The day of the event was one that will be remembered. “It was a tremendous feeling,” Rodriguez said. “The overall feeling was that it was a very good thing for us to do, the musical jazz community; it was very good to get together in a celebratory environment, not at a funeral. This was a great party atmosphere, and it was well received by everyone.” Jazz pianist Les McCann commented, “This is the greatest day in my life as an adult.”

“The whole purpose of the photo was to document the living art of jazz through living musicians of jazz and to show its growth,” Rodriguez said. “In 1958, of those 57 musicians, maybe 50 have become world-famous, but many at the time were not. That’s what we’re trying to document. Whether it be a Kenny Burrell, who already is, or a 20-year-old who someday will be someone very important – there’s the picture, the day, and the documentation of that person’s existence. Through all of this, the whole purpose is to give a visual to a young musician somewhere in some high school or grammar school, to have them see a picture of jazz musicians. That helps their dream come true. That’s really what it’s about right there.”

The event culminated with an open jam session that brought together different generations and spontaneous configurations of musicians on the stage. The event’s steering committee kicked off the music of the night along with artists Justo Almario, Ann Patterson, Barbara Morrison, and Alexandra Isley, making it a great night in L.A. as well. “We’re all very happy that we’ve come out with something we hope will be very important, not only now but in the years to come,” Rodriguez said.

All photographs taken that day will be preserved at the Kenny Burrell Archive of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. Photographs are currently available for purchase,and Rodriguez looks forward to soon publishing a coffee table book of this historic event. For more information visit the UCLA Friends of Jazz website at www.friendsofjazz.ucla.edu.

Originally published in the AFM Local 47 Overture, January 2009.