The Jazzcat

The Theme is Love and Unity: Santa Monica High Jazz Ensemble, Purple Gums and Dianne Reeves

by on Feb.27, 2017, under News

A day with music in my life is always a blessed day. There is so much to learn, so many people to meet and see how music affects their life and what jewels that you share in common. Saturday was a day with a timeline full of extraordinary sounds pulling on many different emotions. “Parks Day, Come Play!” was a special campaign lead by the City of Santa Monica Parks and Recreation to get friends and family to come out and enjoy the parks! At 10am in Stewart Park in Santa Monica, now know as Gandara park re-named after a World War II Vet, they provided music by the Santa Monica High School Jazz Ensemble as well as other local bands to play outdoors on a crisp clear afternoon. Watching young student musicians celebrate the music of the forefathers of jazz and then turn it up with a twist of contemporary emphasizes the linage one must go through to find themselves in the music. The Fire Department, frozen yogurt and food vendors as well a project taking pictures of random groups of people celebrating diversity, community and togetherness. Love and togetherness was the theme that blended throughout the entire day.

I took the train to Little Tokyo for my next adventure at the Far East Lounge Community Center for the Purple Gums Ensemble. All I knew is that tuba player William Roper, the legendary cornet player Bobby Bradford and, down from the Bay Area, Asian Improv label owner and saxophone recording master Francis Wong would be in the house. Say no more, I’m all up in there! But, little did I know that I was in for much more than just music. Another lesson of love and community that brought the house to tears.

A man and a life. I say this with such simplicity because there is nothing simple about a human life. Each as you know, has a story that is mostly overlooked by the speed in which we live our lives. I myself am no saint to this endeavor. I showed up and saw Brother Roper at the door and of course was happy to see him, anticipating some super eclectic sounds to add to my sonic vernacular. I looked on the door and saw a sign that said, “Celebrating the life of Glenn Horiuchi”. I ask Roper, “Hey man, who is Glenn, I don’t know him”. He proceeded to tell me that he was the piano player that played on many of his records. Now, I have played many of the records on the radio, and have read the players names on the air; I am sure I read Glenn’s too. But in my excitement of the music, I never slowed down to think about this musician or who he was, or his life outside of his sound, only digging his contributions to the music.

The Far East Lounge is a small place that shared its space for the music that afternoon. I was able to grab one of the last seats for the performance but the people kept coming in. I could not maintain my seat as women and others were left standing behind me so I moved up closer and sat on the floor, long legs, big feet and everything. My busting excitement slowly changed tempo when I looked upon these musicians that I adore and saw eyelids with pools of quivering water, brave wounded men holding heavy hearts and facing their audience with the love and the pain of sadness from the loss of another warrior for truth, spirit, light and life in the music.

The audience was mostly Asian and full of people who knew and loved Glenn. I felt almost like somewhat of an imposter coming just to experience the music. Glenn’s wife read a story written by their son who was not able to be in attendance. As I recall the details, their son is now in his twenties, was 4 years old when his father passed and wrote this story when he was 14 in the 8th grade for a class assignment. He only had faint memories of his father and mostly remembers him from pictures and video. He mentions his dad’s best friends, Roper and Francis and recalls a time not being able to sleep because of his fear of the dark. His dad stayed next to his bed chanting peaceful Zen vibrations and when he awoke, his dad was right there by his side.

Francis and Roper told stories of Glenn and how the bonding of their brotherhood through the music continues to be a vital part their life and music today. Francis remembers when Glenn went to UC Riverside and told one of his professors that his dream was to be a concert pianist and the reply was “Well, that’s not going to happen”. Just the right motivation to put Glenn on a path towards his own truth and musical righteousness, taking many as willful prisoners along the journey. Roper told us he bought this particular tuba specifically for Glenn because he needed a gentler sound for their music and his other tubas amassed too much power. The sound had to be right in compositions that were in and of themselves powerful. They performed “Dew Drop”, a piece about precipitation and the morning dew. Roper tells us of a story about pine needles and how Glenn got a message from higher spiritual beings saying that he needed to go out and collect some pine needles and then eat them as an herbal remedy. Roper thought this was craziness but, without totally understanding, proceeded to help his friend with this task and now imagines “Dew Drops” on pine needles.

Joined by Melody Takata on the taiko drum and dancer Lenora Lee, I watched as these guys cried and played, I am now the one with streaming dew drops. I looked across the audience and studied their faces. As many had their eyes closed and listened intently to the music, I know they were being healed somewhat by the togetherness, the memory of brother, husband, friend; remembering and celebrating the joyful moments that helped impact their lives. This made me think about each one of them, their lives, how they have lived and what impact this one man has made that shaped a part of their personal happiness. This all may sound like someone who just recently passed; No. Glenn Horiuchi passed seventeen years ago, so to see and experience these flowing emotions many years later is even the more an attribute to the legacy of a man and a life. Afterwards I introduced myself to Lenora and Melody and thanked them for their performance and gave big hugs to the guys. They made me stop, hear, feel and now know some of the origins of improvisation and recognize a great master and friend partly responsible.

Lastly but certainly not least, I pick up the girl and head for UCLA Center for the Performing Arts at Royce Hall! A place where many extraordinary concerts have been held before. Tonight, back again is a beautiful friend, storyteller and one of the worlds most natural song deliverers and singers Dianne Reeves. It’s been way to long since we have connected and I have felt the power of her voice take over the space! Her band is like family to me and always so happy to lose myself in the presence of their vibration. Upon entrance to Royce, I immediately see my good friend Rashid Duke and his girl Stephanie. Rashid, again another close family member in this big world of music, one hug and three decades flash in an instant. Holly Wallace with Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA take us back to the lounge to enjoy a few bites before the show.

Now I have seen Dianne perform many many times in my life and one thing always holds true and that is how she commands the space with integrity, spirt and the down home truth! Listen as she describes scenarios her life, which is your life and then proceed to sing your life to you. I am always amazed at how these familiar frequencies remain after many decades to be so comforting and filled with the pinnacle of joy! Her band is not merely a group of musicians, there is eternal love running through what you see onstage, backstage, on the tour bus, on the plane at home, it’s all the same. And what may sound like a far off notion of someone visiting her home and her cooking for you, no truer words have been spoken!

Of course these are troubling times and the vibration of love and togetherness win over fear. Dianne knows all to well about sharing the music, and letting our stories be the fabric of our lives with the needle and thread that makes us one. “All shades, All hues, all yous”! I know that art and music are the powerful tools that will keep us mentally strong as we physically stand together for all humanity. Dianne is, has been and continues to be one of the powerful torch bearing voices delivering messages of solidarity caressed with peace, love, truth and blessings. It’s gonna be alright!

LeRoy Downs


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