From the early 1900s to the 1950s, Central Avenue in Los Angeles became the epicenter for music, especially with the sounds of large, active rhythm and blues and the lively, upbeat tones of jazz. With music as its binder, Central Avenue quickly became the heart and soul of the African American community in Los Angeles.
Now in its 23rd year, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival is a homage to the musical and cultural history of the avenue. The free two-day community festival presents a diverse selection of food, art, culture and vibrant music. Taking place on Saturday and Sunday, July 28-29, the festival spans several blocks of the Vernon-Central neighborhood with food vendor booths, exhibiting pavilions, and an eclectic range of live music performances on three stages. This year's lineup includes the Myron McKinley Trio, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Pete Escovedo Orchestra, Mark de Clive-Lowe, BOOGALOO ASSASSINS, Kátia Moraes and Brazilian Hearts, Betty Bryant, TC CARSON, Tierney Sutton Band, Andrae Alexander, Connie Han Trio, Francisco Torres Latin Jazz Band, Gretchen Parlato, Ernie Andrews, Roy Gaines and his Orchestra Tuxedo Blues, and more.
The first Central Avenue Jazz Festival took place in 1996 and drew an estimated crowd of 5,000 people. Today, with the help of the latest Jazz, Latin, R&B and Rock musicians, the festival welcomes more than 30,000 guests of all ages on the last weekend of July. Presented by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD) in conjunction with Councilman Curren D. Price Jr., the festival continues to feature prominent L.A.-based jazz musicians alongside younger, early-career musicians, as well as local talent from high school bands and choirs.
The most famous Central Avenue landmark is the Dunbar Hotel, which was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1974. Once the focal point of L.A.’s African American community in the 1930s and '40s, the hotel served as a temporary home to many visiting African American celebrities during the era of segregation. The Dunbar hosted legendary jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, who performed in the hotel’s Club Alabam. Jazz artists from all over the country would play at the Dunbar’s after-hours and at other notable venues along Central Avenue.
In 2008, the property was converted to senior citizen housing for members of the local community. In fact, many of the current residents used to frequent the establishment in their youth. In 2012, the hotel underwent a multi-million dollar renovation spearheaded by Thomas Safran & Associates and the CRCD. The Dunbar Hotel is the centerpiece of Dunbar Village, an 83-unit affordable housing community. The award-winning renovation preserved the best historic features of the Dunbar, while offering a comfortable space for senior citizen housing. The Dunbar Hotel remains as an iconic landmark for the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, which works hard to revive the memory of the early vibrant musical community.
For more information about the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, visit centralavejazzfest.com. Parking in the neighborhood is limited; rideshare or public transportation is highly recommended. The closest Metro Blue Line stop is the Vernon Station.