Here There & Everywhere: Herbie Hancock, The Hollywood Bowl and the Jazz Bakery

By Don Heckman

Herbie Hancock

There’s been some good news, bad news and in-between news this week out here on the Left Coast.  The good news is that the Los Angeles Philharmonic has appointed Herbie Hancock for a two year term as the new Creative Chair for Jazz, starting in 2010.  He replaces Christian McBride, who has held the job since 2006.  If anything, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Herbie to get the job.  But better late than never.

One of the position’s most significant tasks is recommending jazz programming for the summer season at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as the Fall through Spring season at Walt Disney Hall.  The difficulties of creating that programming in a venue that seats over 18,000, became crystal clear in the Philharmonic announcement of the jazz schedule for the 2009 Bowl season – still under the guidance of McBride.

The list of names will surely draw, at the very least, questioning glances from anyone who expects jazz programs to actually include jazz artists.  The three scheduled jazz performances for July, for example, consist of appearances by Sergio Mendes, Eddie Palmieri and Poncho Sanchez (7/8), Natalie Cole (7/15), and Boney James and Fourplay (7/22).  The August programs consist of a recreation of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans’ “Porgy and Bess,” “Sketches of Spain” and “Miles Ahead,” with trumpet playing from Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton (8/5), a concert featuring Buddy Guy, Dr. John and James Cotton (8/12), an evening with Patti Labelle (8/19), and a performance by the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, James Moody and the Roy Hargrove Big Band and the Big Phat Band (8/26).  The final date, on September 2, showcases the almost-Return-To-Forever Trio of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.

That’s a total of three, maybe four or four and a half, authentic jazz dates out of a total of eight scheduled “jazz” events.  So let’s call that the in-between news.

Ruth Price at the Jazz Bakery

The bad news is that the Jazz Bakery‘s lease will expire on May 31.  Ruth Price, the diva-in-charge of the fabled venue says she’s hoping to reopen at a new site on the Westside in the Fall.  A few events, using the Jazz Bakery brand, will be held over the summer, obviously in the hope of keeping the name alive.

This is, in fact, a sword that’s been threatening to drop for a while.  And the Bakery’s unsteady situation was undoubtedly exacerbated when the opening of the trendy Father’s Office restaurant — a few doors away from the Bakery in the old Helms Bakery building – brought crowds into the area who were not necessarily jazz aficionados and reducing parking to a minimum.

One can only hope that Price is right (no pun intended), that she will find a new, appropriate venue that can duplicate the concert style setting that made the Jazz Bakery a favorite among both musicians and their listeners.  If not, then yet another important era in Southland jazz history will have ended.

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