On October 1st, the 41st Annual Watts Towers Jazz Festival took place at the Watts Towers Art Center. It was free to the public. The lineup of musicians that day was simply superb: Darrell Crooks & Heaven, Dee Dee McNeil Jazz Band, Roy Gaines & His Orchestra Tuxedo Blues, Danny Cortez & Tony Harris Big Band, The Bennie Maupin Ensemble, and JMP All-Stars (Patrice Rushen, Ndgu Chancler, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, Munyungo Jackson, Reggie Hamilton, and Justo Almario). Masters of Ceremonies were: Kamau Daaood, James Janisse, and Ed De Shae.
A large tent was set up that covered the stage and around 100 seats for the audience’s viewing comfort. The rest of the community set up their blankets and chairs in the surrounding area to enjoy the music. Vendors and food booths decorated the outskirts of the vicinity. In the background, the iconic Watts Towers stood providing the historical significance that embraced the community on this day.
Darrell Crooks & Heaven began the music with a touch of soul and gospel. Dee Dee McNeil strutted her swag across the stage with a bluesy hollering of “Trying Times.” She showed off her singing chops with an original song that she had written for Bob Marley’s wife, Rita Marley, “The Beauty of God’s Plan.” Her hot band swayed with the reggae beat. Turning up the wattage, Roy Gaines & His Orchestra Tuxedo Blues detonated the airwaves with lusty, robust blues that twanged and caused foot-stomping rhythms.
A shift then took place to uptown swing when Danny Cortez & Tony Harris Big Band presented their succulent horns. Patrice Rushen sat in with the band as well, delivering a powerful performance on the acoustic piano. The Bennie Maupin Ensemble ran through some jazz classics like “Filthy McNasty” by Horace Silver and “Butterfly” by Bennie Maupin and Herbie Hancock. However, when the snap popping, funky frolicking familiar rhythm of “Chameleon” rolled out, the crowd erupted into applause and rode the roller coaster ride of The Bennie Maupin Ensemble’s skillful rendition of one of the most widely recognized jazz standard tunes. Bennie Maupin was the original sax player with the Headhunters and collaborated with Herbie Hancock on writing “Chameleon.” Ending the day was the JMP All-Stars that hugged the crowd’s love of jazz by presenting a masterful set of straight-ahead standards.
During the day, the community of jazz listeners also heard from Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Commissioner of LAPD, Matthew Johnson. Rosie Lee Hooks, Director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, presented awards to various VIP people that have contributed their time and efforts to the Watts Arts Center.
Topping off a superb day of music was a very special Happy Birthday celebration honoring the great Patrice Rushen. She has spent many birthdays devoting her time to the Watts Towers Jazz Festival. The entire day resonated with love and support for the Arts that made the motto of the Watts Towers Arts Center hold true, “Where Truth & Art Connect.”
For more information regarding the Watts Towers Arts Center:
1727 East 107th St
Los Angeles, CA 90002
Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson / The Hollywood 360