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English: Wynton Marsalis at the Oskar Schindle...

English: Wynton Marsalis at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center (OSPAC) Seventh Annual Jazz Festival in West Orange, NJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Jazz is not just ‘Well, man, this is what I feel like playing.’  It’s a very structured thing that comes down from a tradition and requires a lot of thought and study.” ― Wynton Marsalis


Bix Beiderbecke



“One thing I like about jazz, kid, is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?” ― Bix Beiderbecke


Los Angeles and San Francisco are both blessed with a significant population of musical talent, from outstanding internationals who’ve made the unicoast their home to tots striving to tame a bow or reach high C. Ellay and Essef boast world-class music schools and performance venues, as well as top clubs that draw headliners in all kinds of music.

But you don’t have to wait for a big act to come to town, budget tickets, and brave the urban challenges of traffic and parking. Nor do you have to dude up and hit the clubs if that’s not your scene. You might just need to stroll out into your neighborhood.

Neighborhoods have things that make them neighborhoods: a place to get a haircut, buy shoelaces, chat over coffee, let the children play. Churches. Restaurants. Bookstores.

And jazz spots?

On the unicoast, you betcha.

$2 bills cropped

$2 Bill’s, Los Angeles, CA, circa 1980 (photo credit: vgs)

The first time I heard live jazz was at $2 Bill’s, a restaurant on the cusp of Los Feliz and Hollywood in Los Angeles. The restaurant anchored a block or two of shops and eateries in an otherwise residential area. (Later, when I worked ten minutes away off Sunset Blvd., I often drove over for lunch.) There were colorful bits of pseudo-stained glass in the dining area, the different sections of which were demarcated by a couple of steps up or down from the main floor. Wherever you sat, you had a good view of the tiny triangular platform where emerging jazz talent performed on weekends.

bird & beckett comp 1$2 Bill’s is long gone now, but I remembered it fondly on a recent trip to Bird & Beckett Books and Records in San Francisco. Across the street is a fromage boutique, cafes and restaurants abound nearby, and the Glen Park BART station is just around the corner. Like the rest of the city, Bird & Beckett is compact and stuffed with stuff. Yet there’s room for a little raised square, ringed with bookshelves, where jazz musicians play on Friday evenings. Looking for a book on humor, sports, or cooking? You can browse from your seat during the set.

Take five for some neighborhood jazz.