South Bay Premiere of ‘J-Town/Bronzeville Suite’

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The Civic Hotel in Bronzeville, formerly the Miyako Hotel in Little Tokyo, at First and San Pedro streets.

GARDENA — “J-Town/Bronzeville Suite,” an innovative musical history of a little known era of Little Tokyo, is filled with stunning music performed by stellar traditional Japanese and jazz musicians.

The three-part suite will be presented Saturday, Nov. 4, at a special concert from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena.

“‘J-Town/Bronzeville Suite’ is a living homage to a place and time that was an important chapter in the life and legacy of Little Tokyo, Los Angeles,” says composer David Iwataki, who also writes, composes for films and documentaries, and plays keyboard.

A panel discussion will follow the musical presentation.

While Japanese Americans were uprooted and imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, African Americans migrated from the Deep South to seek employment in the Southland. Thousands moved into the vacant Little Tokyo buildings, where they remained until the war’s end. Most of Los Angeles had restrictive housing covenants that barred people of color from living in white neighborhoods. In this period between 1942 and 1945, Little Tokyo came to be known as Bronzeville.

Iwataki’s suite explores this fascinating and seldom told chapter of Los Angeles history in three movements representing three distinct time periods:

The First Movement personifies pre-war Little Tokyo. Traditional Japanese music such as shigin or minyo folk singing and shakuhachi (bamboo flute) music were brought to America by the Japanese and were performed in homes and at community gatherings. These musical elements serve as the foundation of the movement and symbolize the life force and cultural identity of Little Tokyo up to 1942. This venerable part of the Japanese culture has been passed down through generations and remains a vital part of many Japanese American families even today.

Shigin, traditional Japanese poetry, will be sung by Patrick Seki, president of Kokusouryu Shiginkai (Shigin Federation), accompanied by Greg Matsuura on shakuhachi. Original music for koto and flute will be performed by Yuki Yasuda, master of Ikuta-style Sawai Koto Academy, Yuki Yasuda Koto School; and Rumi Patterson on flute. A taiko performance will be given by Shiwei Wu of Satori Taiko.

In the Second Movement, Japanese Americans have been sent to camp. A large migration of African Americans from the Deep South has settled in Little Tokyo. The area became known as Bronzeville, and the music they brought was jazz. The active night life that nearby Central Avenue was known for spilled into Bronzeville, and soon Bronzeville began attracting top name jazz artists (Charlie Parker, Billy Strayhorn, Gerald Wilson) to its all-night clubs; among the best known was Shepp’s Playhouse.

The movement represents life in Little Tokyo after the Japanese Americans were evicted and will feature all-star African American jazz musicians representing the music that was active in L.A. during the Bronzeville period (and is still relevant today). Featured artists are Theo Saunders, piano (who has played with Freddie Hubbard, James Moody, Pharoah Sanders); Henry Franklin, upright bass (Roy Ayers, Sonny Rollins, Stevie Wonder); Don Littleton, drums (Cannonball Adderly, Kenny Burrell, Ernie Andrews); Louis Van Taylor, saxes and flute (Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Kool and the Gang).

The Third Movement will combine all the musical elements to symbolically show how the two communities interacted, sometimes with complete harmony, other times with muted dissonance.

The concert is free with RSVP to GVJCI at (310) 324-6611 or [email protected] This program is part of GVJCI’s yearlong commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.

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