A LEISURELY STROLL THROUGH HEAVEN AND HELL

BACK TO THE USSR

Do you get it yet, my fellow Americans?  Do you get it yet?  First, the FBI Chief is fired in the middle of an investigation of the White House, then the so-called President meets with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, and American press is barred from coverage!!! That is, only the Russian Press is allowed to cover the press conference of the so-called President and the Russian Foreign Minister IN THE WHITE HOUSE, and still life goes on mostly as usual here.  Can you even imagine the outcry if President Obama had done anything like this?  There would be mobs in the street, and militias would be forming.

So here it is, those who still can't read the writing on the wall - written in such huuuge letters, they can be read all the way from Russia:  He is just a USEFUL IDIOT for them.  While being just an IDIOT for us.  And those who persist in believing in that this so-called President is on their side - when he so obviously only cares about #1 - what can we call them?

(And yes, these photos are from the infamous "pee tape," because the Twisted Hipster has that kind of access.)

So, that said, let's try to find the peace of mind in Art that can't currently be found in life.  Toward that end I took refuge yesterday in the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in the Ahmanson Building, in search of transcendent Beauty.

THE BEAUTY THAT IS ALWAYS WITH US

Fantasy Bust by Carrier-Belleuse. Photo Credit for all the photos in this column: S. L. Fife

Between Two Loves

Aaaaaaaah.

Escaped!

I find myself on the third floor of Ahmanson Hall, in front of two statues by a sculptor I've never heard of: Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse.  French, lived 1824-1887.  I love these two pieces, they are so supple and sinuous. And emotional, yes.  Why don't I know this guy?  He reminds me a bit of Rodin (you know, the "thinker" guy?), but more straightforward, less stylized.  And, looking him up on google - oh, wow, so Rodin apprenticed with him. So thanks for this, Monsieur Carrier-Belleuse.

Rodin's Minotaur and Nymph

Rodin's Eternal Spring

Now that I've brought up Rodin, I feel like I have to see his many sculptures nearby.  They're all very tactile and dynamic, but two really jump out: Eternal Spring and Minotaur and Nymph. Wow, pretty sexy.  I mean, Eternal Spring will either make you feel good about your own sex life, or the very opposite.  Hard to believe the man doesn't have a boner. If you don't get one with a kiss like that, then something is not firing on all cylinders. On the other hand, Minotaur and Nymph is creepy.  From the Nympth's look, it seems that the Minotaur is not having any problems with his tumescence. Is she happy about it or not?  Your call.

I have to admit, there are some crazy gems in this LACMA Permanent Collection, much better than I gave it credit for.  I mean, yes, I was spoiled by the museums in NYC - the Met Museum and MoMA both go on forever and have so many famous works of art, and they're almost always swamped with visitors (except in the Greek vase section, always lots of room there!).  But what's great here is the unexpectedness of what you find, and how empty it is on a weekday.

Woman Drying Her Hair by Degas

Four or five feet away from the Rodins are a few Degas sculptures. It is late afternoon, and one of the sculptures - A Woman Drying Her Hair - catches the golden light in a truly magical way.  The woman's body glows with dappled light, which catches every indentation on her fleshy form.  The curtains are open on the museum window, and the Los Angeles Mid-Wilshire landscape shines outside.  Somehow this un-idealized woman and this workaday cityscape belong together, or maybe she just seems at home here in her timeless busy-ness, squeezing the water out of her long thick tresses while taking in the golden view of a golden city.  There is nowhere to rush to, nowhere else to be, nothing to worry about, no rent due (or overdue), no collusion between super-powers to douse the small flame of individuality that still burns in the hearts of people. Nothing else besides a sculptured woman drying her long hair in the late afternoon tranquility, and the golden light glowing over everything.

Satan by Jean-Jacques Feuchere

But of course the world isn't that simple, much as we might like it to be. Something draws me back to that first gallery toom, with the lovely Fantasy bust, and there I find the 1836 sculpture of Satan by Frenchman Jean-Jacque Feuchere.  Wonder what prompted this?  I guess it was that Romantic impulse of rebellion, as Satan the fallen angel was also an archetype for the artist, who dared to defy God by taking on the role of Creator.  Then again, this is just very disturbing.  This Satan isn't so much evil as he is gnawing on his own liver, consumed with anger and envy and jealousy and vows of Revenge... and we're back in the modern world.

Back in the world where FBI Chiefs get fired for all the wrong reasons, and there are so many conspiracies going on at any one moment that how can anybody go about his or her business without worrying about what's going to happen next, and how can I really protect my daughter from all the serial killers masquerading as Uber drivers, and damn, I forgot to pay off my credit card last week and now they're going to hit me with another late fee, and why hasn't that screenplay sold yet when my manager told me that there was so much "interest," and--

But then I remember that Degas woman bathed in the golden light - and even this "Satan" is so beautifully made, so lovingly conceived and carved and polished - and the fear begins melting away.

Good things will happen, they have to.

This world is simply too beautiful a place to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by despair.

Right?

 


A Modern Musical Shines Light on a West Coast Landmark

How “La La Land” is saving jazz in Los Angeles

In a recent interview, Damien Chazelle (Director of “La La Land”), said that his initial impression of Los Angeles being a cultural vacuum changed after he moved here from the East Coast.  He found that LA is a fascinating city, rich in history and beautiful.  Thanks to the methodically creative compositions of Justin Hurwitz, the original soundtrack of “La La Land” is a splendid mix of memorable award-winning music. The film “La La Land” is a musical love letter to Los Angeles and is shining a beacon on jazz music.

In “La La Land,” the character Keith (John Legend) critically lectures Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in a scene at a recording studio; “How are you gonna save jazz if no one is listening? … You're playing to 90-year-olds at The Lighthouse. Where are the kids… the young people? ... You're holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Jazz is a true American art form that began in New Orleans during the 1800's and is an evolutionary music genre, from which many of the popular genres we listen to today have developed. Even in “La La Land” John Legend's character Keith combines jazz with modern electronic pop music to appeal to a younger and bigger music buying audience.

Henry Franklin

Henry "The Skipper" Franklin, The Lighthouse, Photo by Mark Sonners © 2015

Once upon a time, Los Angeles was all about West Coast jazz and there were many clubs all over the city and adjacent neighborhoods.  The Sunset Strip had so many jazz clubs back in the early 1950's that you could park your car in one spot and walk to a choice of several clubs to hear live jazz within a four block radius.  Hermosa Beach (20 miles southwest of Downtown LA) has been home to The Lighthouse Café jazz club since 1949 and was featured in “La La Land” as a location and important character of its own as part of the story.  The ninety-year-old that Keith refers to in the scene I noted is Gloria Cadena (91) who is the jazz booker for The Lighthouse Café.  In the past, jazz was played there seven nights a week, but in recent years Gloria books jazz bands only on Wednesday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  To attract more customers to the club on the other nights, local bands and artists that play music from rock to reggae are booked through another manager at The Lighthouse Café.  Gloria's late husband, Ozzie Cadena, was a jazz record producer and promoter in Los Angeles. He promoted The Lighthouse and is credited with helping to popularize jazz in Los Angeles.

Since “La La Land” was released in early December 2016, The Lighthouse Café has become a popular destination for tourists, fans and locals alike.  Just about a month before this phenomenon occurred, Mark Sonners opened his art gallery, Gallery Exposure, in the front portion of his fine art printing company, Print and Show.  His gallery and shop are located in the quaint Old Town Village in Torrance, California about four miles southeast of Hermosa Beach where The Lighthouse Cafe sits.  Mark Sonners has been very successful in the commercial printing business for many years, but after the Northridge earthquake destroyed his shop and the rise of digital image formats and  decline in the traditional printing, he moved from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay region of LA and settled in Hermosa Beach, just a few blocks from The Lighthouse Café and was delighted to have a club where he could enjoy live jazz.  When he lived in the SFV, he used to be a regular at jazz clubs like Charlie O's, Dante's (both closed) and occasionally The Baked Potato which is still there.

Gallery Exposure

Gallery Exposure, Torrance CA, Photo by Nish © 2017

Being an ardent jazz fan and photographer, Mark began taking pictures of the brilliant jazz players who perform at The Lighthouse and got to know Gloria Cadena and saw the legendary Howard Rumsey (bassist) who started playing jazz with his band at The Lighthouse in 1949. Mark's knowledge of jazz from its roots through its evolution into many new music styles is only exceeded by his passion for jazz music itself.   His photography exhibit reflects his love for jazz played at The Lighthouse Café.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas, The Lighthouse, Photo by Mark Sonners © 2016

The Lighthouse – café was added to the name of the club many years later – was a very important establishment in West Coast jazz with famous players like Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Mose Allison, Stan Getz, The Jazz Crusaders, Cal Tjder, and more. These artists I listed all recorded live albums there.  Mark Sonners has been snapping the current players at The Lighthouse and his show is a reflection of the club today. Also showing at Gallery Exposure are some select prints from photographer Chuck Koton who has dedicated the last fifteen years to documenting jazz musicians with his photography.

Mark Sonners, jazz musicians, fans and I would love to see a resurgence of the popularity of jazz, particularly West Coast jazz.  When Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) declared to Mia (Emma Stone) that jazz was dying he wasn't kidding.  In America, the land of its birth, jazz clubs are closing and becoming other types of venues; jazz radio stations are switching their format to other genres, and even at the

Grammys, the jazz categories of awards are not televised.  Gregory Porter won his second Grammy Award for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year in 2017 for “Take Me To The Alley” and he happens to be a Californian.  His first Grammy Award was in 2014 for “Liquid Spirit.” Yet Gregory Porter was not part of the live performances during the televised Grammy Awards. None of the jazz nominees performed for the “main” show.  Al Jarreau passed away on the day of the Grammy Awards and he was barely mentioned during the live show. Music fans in other countries like Japan, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands seem to revere jazz more than we do and they keep it alive. Young jazz musicians from those countries make their way to the USA thinking that jazz still thrives here, but find themselves among a minority of young people who appreciate and know the rich history of jazz in America.

Mark Sonners

Mark Sonners, Photo Nish © 2017

If “La La Land” has sparked a renewed interest in jazz and a curiosity among Millennials to listen and learn about it then let the spark burst into a flame that will help save jazz in the USA.  So far, the multi-award winning film has shined a beacon on The Lighthouse Café and people are following the beam of light to the club to hear jazz in numbers they haven't seen there in years.  If the crowds continue Gloria might be able to book jazz artists there more than three days a week and attract the big names in jazz to play there again. The Lighthouse can also help guide music fans from all over America to have an interest in West Coast jazz and recognize it for the revolutionary and evolutionary cultural art form that it is.  That is the La La Land dream for this LA native and many other dedicated jazz lovers.