Los Angeles lore thru music & photography @ Central Library

Music · Visual arts
Josh Nelson: The Sky Remains, May 4, 2019, singer Kathleen Grace out front
Central Library downtown Los Angeles
photo courtesy of Mark Christian Mille
r, Corniche Entertainment

A wonderful Saturday afternoon: a chance to unplug, be with people, and simply simmer in a stew of creativity, while taking in a jazz concert in the cozy confines of the Taper Auditorium at Central Library downtown — at the core of our city.

A ruminating, but highly polished, jazz program led by pianist/composer Josh Nelson, “The Sky Remains,” gave a multi-chapter tour of past, present and future Los Angeles. The 90-minute multi-media exploration, primarily comprising original compositions by Nelson and carefully curated music by others, including co-producer/guitarist, Anthony Wilson, opened with the by-ways of Los Angeles: bridges, tunnels and even staircases. The performance, which is a complete package, features narration by “Hidden History of Los Angeles” podcaster Robert Petersen and footage assembled by video artist Travis Flournoy. Vocalist Kathleen Grace, erupting in an Yma Sumac shriek as an homage to L.A.’s inimitable Tiki bar-and-restaurant culture, roused the audience. She is a lovely singer, and every all-guy band needs one. An unexpectedly soulful ballad composed by Wilson had the unlikely title and theme of “Arcadia.” Nelson even managed to use the words, “Los Angeles” as a lyric — and it got over. The wonderfully sensitive musicanship across the board was, for this listener, punctuated by the golden piercing tone of trumpeter Chris Lawrence.

A perfect capper to “The Sky Remains” was a visit to the library’s upstairs Annenberg Gallery for the recently opened “On Assignment: Ansel Adams” featuring yet another visual tour of Los Angeles, only this time by the great photographer Ansel Adams — he of Yosemite landscape fame. In 1940, Adams, on a commission from Fortune  magazine, shot a series of photos in pre-WWII Los Angeles, where men faced the daily slog of the assembly line, with their fellow men — not isolated, nose in a computer.

Workers are shown during a lunch break at the Lockheed Corporation aircraft plant in Burbank, part of ‘On Assignment: Ansel Adams’

Adams focused his camera’s eye on the munitions and aerospace factories of McDonnell Douglas in Santa Monica and Lockheed in Burbank. The March 1941 issue included twelve of the photos in a piece called “City of Angeles.”

Residents of space 23 at the Olympic Trailer Court in Santa Monica relax outside of their trailer , part of “On Assignment: Ansel Adams at Central Library

What’s on view is a fascinating photo-documentation of a nearly transient life of a high degree of impermanence — for many of these men would soon be called to military duty. Trailer parks, open-ended railroad tracks all evoke the alienation of life lived literally in the grip of machinery, tools and equipment. Then, the human contact: the waiting wife, the sex, the penned-off cloistering of factory workers who, working under these conditions, were primed for the military. The daily queuing at lunch trucks, life on the time clock. The boredom and emptiness of wide, wide expanses of real estate. All vanquished into the crammed maelstrom of activity and agenda that is today’s Los Angeles.

After viewing the Adams photos, I repaired to the library stacks to write. There I had the pleasure of sharing my table with this gentleman who accompanied by his camera sat in deep study of four photography manuals. All this on offer at Central Library. Good stuff.

On Assignment: Ansel Adams | Central Library Annenberg Gallery | thru Oct 19

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