Grateful Crane’s “J-Town Jazz Club” Coming to Little Tokyo on July 25

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The cast and musicians of the "J-Town Jazz Club" include (from left) Kenny Elliott, Scott Nagatani, Keiko Kawashima, Loryce Hashimoto, Leslie A. Jones, Kurt Kuniyoshi, Darrell Kunitomi and (back row) Gordon Bash.

The cast and musicians of the “J-Town Jazz Club” include (from left) Kenny Elliott, Scott Nagatani, Keiko Kawashima, Loryce Hashimoto, Leslie A. Jones, Kurt Kuniyoshi, Darrell Kunitomi and (back row) Gordon Bash.

“The J-Town Jazz Club,” the Grateful Crane Ensemble’s musical look back at Little Tokyo when it became an African American enclave known as Bronzeville during World War II, will be presented on Saturday, July 25, at 2 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.

Presented by Union Church of Los Angeles and Presbytery of the Pacific, the afternoon will kick off with a 40-minute performance by the Dan Taguchi Big Band setting the tone with nostalgic hits from the 1940s Big Band Era.

After a brief intermission, “The J-Town Jazz Club” will be performed, featuring the singing of famous blues tunes and the telling of a little-known history of when jazz music could be heard nightly from clubs throughout Little Tokyo.

“As Japanese Americans returned home after the war,” said Soji Kashiwagi, who wrote the play, “some tensions developed as Nisei attempted to move back in and African Americans were told they had to move out. Through our Nisei and African American characters, we see these tensions play out, and how they are resolved as they realize that the racism, oppression and suffering they share can bring them closer together rather than split them apart.”

The blues, said Kashiwagi, were created by African Americans, but the songs and music transcend race and culture. “If you look at our history, it’s safe to say that Japanese Americans can sing the blues as well.”

Directed by Darrell Kunitomi, with musical direction by Scott Nagatani, the show features Loryce Hashimoto, Leslie A. Jones, Keiko Kawashima, Darrell Kunitomi and Kurt Kuniyoshi. Musicians are Scott Nagatani on piano, Gordon Bash on bass and Kenny Elliott on drums.

Additional event sponsors include the East West Eye Institute, LA Urban Farms, GIVE and Café Dulce.

The Aratani Theatre is located at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St. in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 for orchestra (reserved seats) and $20 for balcony (general admission). To charge by phone, call Grateful Crane’s ticket line at (310) 995-5841. For more info, call Union Church of Los Angeles at (213) 629-3876.

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