CENTRAL AVENUE--ITS RISE AND FALL
    
BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Treasure has just been discovered in Los Angeles. This treasure is worth more than all the gold, emeralds or rubies that some scoundrel might have buried in the earth. It's a book called Central Avenue--Its Rise and Fall (1890-1955) and it was written by Bette Yarbrough Cox, a wellknown Los Angeles performer, music teacher and former Cultural Affairs commisioner under Mayor Tom Bradley. Cox spent twenty years putting together what is not just a study of Central Avenue in its jazz & blues heyday but a rare, much-needed history of Afro-Americans in Los Angeles, one that overflows with information, insight and enlightenment.

The 380-page book was published by the BEEM Foundation (Black Experience Expressed through Music) and also contains dozens of illustrations of a bygone period in L.A. history that might have been forgotten had it not been for Cox's efforts. Among the priceless photographs collected here are those of such luminaries as Fats Waller, Dinah Washington, Herb Jeffries, Billie Holiday and Nellie Lutcher, to name but a few.

"This is the story of a musical renaissance which occurred in the 1920's and 1930's in Southern California," writes Cox. "More specifically, it involves the history of a community of African American musicians in a segregated area on the east side of Los Angeles. The rich history which preceded and followed the renaissance is an important part of telling the story of Central Avenue and its surrounding community from its early beginnings to the 1940's and into the mid-20th century."

Part One delves into the development of the Central Avenue community, which was built by such pioneer musicians of color as the Beck family and Benjamin "Reb" Spikes. The rise of racism and forced segregation gets a separate chapter, followed by a description of The Renaissance, the early jazz and blues explosion which led to the amalgamation of the two musician's unions (one black, one white). The historical survey culminates in the tragic demise of Central Avenue, a victim of changing demographics.

Part Two offers two dozen oral histories set down by a cross-section of the amazingly gifted people living and working in south-central L.A.: pop and classical composers, opera singers, jazz players, actors, directors and dancers, choirmasters, music and voice teachers. Cox, aided by a few friends, conducted all of the interviews herself, transcribing testimony from the likes of Basie saxophonist Marshall Royal, the early dixieland bandleader Teddy Buckner and the classical/ jazz violinist Ginger Smock Shipp. The latter has some fascinating and little-known things to say about other female musicians such as Lady Wil Carr, Vivian and Dorothy Dandridge, Mata Roy and Nina Russell (of the "Sepia Tones").

Some of those interviewed give a street-by-street description of what Central Avenue looked, sounded, felt and even smelled like in those days. The reader is thus able to revisit such fabulous nightspots as the Plantation Club, the Club Alabam (adjoining the luxurious Dunbar Hotel), and sit in at such after-hours joints as Jack's Basket, where musicians jammed till dawn.

As Horace Boyer, professor of Music at the University of Mass., said, "This is one of the most important books on American culture and African American life in Los Angeles in the last fifty years. In fact this book is like no other in chronicling the musicial activities-- from the blues to jazz, from the piano studies to opera and symphony, from the Negro spiritual to

gospel, and evey other musical sound that African Americans have championed--of the New York of the West Coast. No home, school, library or city should be without this valuable book."

For information contact BEEM Publications, 3864 Grayburn Ave, L.A., CA. 90008-1941 or call (213) 29l-7252.