By Adrianna Gardner
The outdoor drumming that wafted through the air last Friday night around Leimert Park Village took me back to the days when I lived in Ghana: those familiar sounds calling me back to that West African country that I still consider home.
Those sounds in the park made me want to live there – literally pitch a tent and live there, in the park across from the African-themed stores where old men chewing licorice root sit on their stools and banter about black life in America and “the good ‘ol days” when “kids had manners.”
Women with their babies sauntering from shop to shop, their little ones gazing up from their strollers at the brightly colored painting outside an array of arts’ studios, while in the park dreadlocked sisters danced to the beat of the drums near the cascading fountain; the water smacks in rhythm with the beat and the spirit of camaraderie and interconnectedness of the people who come there from all around the Southland.
It’s the pulse that drew journalist and broadcaster, Peter J. Harris, to the Village’s storefront performance gallery, The World Stage. “It just gets a hold of you,” says Harris, producer of the Friday and Saturday night concert events there, which includes this weekend’s Women in Jazz event hosted by …but can she play?
The Stage was founded in 1989 by the late jazz drummer, Billy Higgins, and poet/community arts activist, Kamau Daáood, hosting weekly creative writing workshops, music and vocal training programs, and live weekend concert performances, including its popular Sunday night jam, Sisters of Jazz.
This grassroots community-supported non-profit organization has birthed the renowned Anansi Writers Workshop (notable alumni include Michael Datcher (Raising Fences), Ruth Forman, Derrick I.M. Gilbert, Jenoyne Adams (Selah’s Bed) and Harris, also a published poet, essayist and fiction writer.
“What makes this place work is the love of art – and the people who are affiliated with it really dig the culture and the writing and the music,” says Harris.
He discovered The Stage in the summer o 1991, shortly after moving to California from Chocolate City. He was in Leimert Park interviewing Daáood for a magazine article.
“In the middle of the interview, I asked him, ‘What about this place, The World Stage,’ ‘cause I’d heard about it from some friends, and he said, ‘All you need to do is look up,’” Harris said with a laugh.
They were standing in front of The Stage. But Harris says he didn’t even realize he was there. “It really is a place that you’ll miss if you don’t look up.”
Sandwiched between a row of arts and culture shops along Degnan – with food and wares of the African American and African Disapora — The World Stage is a humble, unassuming landmark. Inside, it’s nothing fancy: a small performance stage for the artists; plastic chairs for the audience. There is no food; no bar service; just a gathering place for artists and those who appreciate their work.
Harris appreciates the unpretentiousness of the venue. “People don’t come here to become famous,” he says, “you come to blow.”
The women featured in this weekend’s concert, will definitely be blowing the roof off the joint, with straight-ahead and Latin jazz sets concert, spotlighting The Caitlin Moss Quintet. The band features emerging female jazz artists from around Los Angeles, including: Caitlin Moss, drums; Iliana Rose, piano; Keiko Okamoto, flute; Aneesa Al-Musawwr, bass; Lindsay McMurray, trombone; Ashley Jemison and Angela Cross, saxophones.
Harris says The Stage continues to draw musicians “seeking light through sound.” And it’s those sounds that will draw me back.