By MIYA IWATAKI
For a brief moment in time, an important piece of jazz history took place in Bronzeville/Little Tokyo when two jazz greats — Miles Davis and Charlie Parker — performed together at the Finale Club. It was March 1946.
The Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) is “virtually celebrating” Bronzeville’s Finale Club and our installation of the L.A. City historical plaque marking the club’s last home at 230½ E. First St. where the SK Uyeda Building now stands.
“Charlie Parker & Miles Davis at The Finale Club in Bronzeville/Little Tokyo” will take place on Sunday, Oct. 11, at 2 p.m. LTHS invites you to experience the rich artistic and musical history of Little Tokyo during the Bronzeville Era in a celebration of music, historical photos and videos, and Bronzeville and jazz scholars.
Special guests include Hillary Jenks, Kirk Silsbee, and the Ron Kobayashi Band, with brief words by Miles’ Davis son Erin Davis. The program will be emceed by television actor Alimi Ballard, best known for his role as FBI agent David Sinclair on the CBS police procedural “Numb3rs” and recurring roles on “NCIS” and “NCIS-LA.” Ballard recently starred in the ABC legal thriller “The Catch.”
This event is a partnership between LTHS and the Japanese American National Museum. Originally scheduled to be a live program at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, in an abundance of caution, it will instead air live on JANM’s YouTube channel.
When Little Tokyo Became Bronzeville
In 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, imprisoning Americans of Japanese ancestry and Japanese immigrants into concentration camps. This forced removal turned the thriving Little Tokyo community into a shuttered ghost town. During this time, large numbers of African Americans were migrating to the West Coast to work in the defense industry. They found jobs, but faced restrictive housing covenants preventing them from living in many parts of Los Angeles.
However, Little Tokyo did not have such discriminatory housing covenants, and thousands of African Americans moved into the newly vacant buildings, and began operating businesses in the empty storefronts. Through the WWII years, Little Tokyo became known as “Bronzeville.”
Dozens of all-night “breakfast clubs” sprang up in Bronzeville, patronized by jazz musicians from the Central Avenue jazz scene eager to continue making music after hours, along with late-night jazz aficionados from all across L.A. The Finale Club opened in the fall of 1944 at 230½ E. First St.
Noted Bronzeville scholar Dr. Hillary Jenks will paint a verbal portrait of Bronzeville/Little Tokyo. Her dissertation, “Bronzeville, Little Tokyo and the Unstable Geography of Race in Post-WWII Los Angeles,” was published in the Southern California Quarterly in 2011. Dr. Jenks is the director of GradSuccess, a suite of academic, social, and professional development programs for graduate/professional students and postdocs, in the Graduate Division at UC Riverside. She received her Ph.D. in American studies and ethnicity from the University of Southern California in 2008.
Jazz History in Bronzeville
One of the most influential figures in jazz history is Charlie Parker (aka”Yardbird,” “The Bird”), a sax virtuoso and composer who introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas into jazz. He and Dizzy Gillespie were developing an improvisational new style of jazz called bebop as early as 1939. The music was fast, intellectual, complicated, abstract, and at times dissonant.
Miles Davis was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and innovator who led major stylistic developments in jazz. He later began to feel that the complex and rapid chord changes of bebop didn’t allow the improviser to develop an interesting, lyrical melody. He began revising the harmonic approach to allow for the development of coherent and lyrical melodic lines.
Parker and Davis played at the Finale Club in March 1946 with Joe Albany, Addison Farmer and Chuck Thompson. A number of bootleg recordings of the Bird and Miles session at the Finale Club were made.
Journalist Kirk Silsbee has written about jazz and culture for over 40 years. There is a strong historical component to his work, specializing in Los Angeles jazz — specifically Central Avenue and Bronzeville — which he will bring to the program. His work has appeared in Mojo, Variety, Downbeat, Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications and sites. He’s written scores of essays for jazz and blues releases, including comprehensive albums on Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass and Clifford Brown.
His documentary and TV appearances include “The Legend of Teddy Edwards,” “Jazz on The West Coast: The Lighthouse,” KCET’s “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore 3,” “Frank Morgan: Sound of Redemption,” and Robert Shoji’s “The Finale Club.”
The music of Bronzeville, Davis and Parker will be a running theme throughout the program, tying together all of the segments of the Finale Club celebration. Pianist Ron Kobayashi and his band will perform Charlie Parker and Miles Davis-inspired pieces he is composing specially for the Finale Club program. Kobayashi has performed with Mel Torme, Kenny Burrell, Peter Frampton, Tom Scott and Peter White. For five years Ron served as musical director for the Hollywood Diversity Awards, where such stars as Chris Rock and George Lopez were honored.
In 1992 Ron performed for President Bill Clinton. The Ron Kobayashi Trio has recorded six CDs and one DVD, receiving airplay around the world. The trio was voted “Best Jazz” in Orange County by readers of the OC Weekly in 1996. In 2005 Ron was awarded “Role Model and Inspiration for Asian Americans in the Field of Music” by the Orange County Asian Business Association.
Significance of Bronzeville
LTHS recognizes the important historic circumstances of exclusion and discrimination shared by the Japanese American and African American communities, which led to the unique creation of Little Tokyo/Bronzeville. An L.A. City plaque has been installed at the Finale Club site to memorialize and educate music lovers about the extraordinary and rare performance of jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis at club; and to honor the continued relationship between our communities, which is demonstrated in the supportive murals and support for anti-racist and social justice efforts in Little Tokyo today.
This live public program is free and open to all. Go to JANM’s YouTube channel at 2 p.m. (PDT) on Oct. 11 to watch it live: youtube.com/janmdotorg.
JANM encourages “attendees” to subscribe to their YouTube channel in order to be notified when the video is streaming live. You can also follow this on social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram). JANM will share the direct link to the livestream video.