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Gonzo Report: Dodging the storms at La Jolla Community Center

A blaringly obvious different world

Melissa Morgan and Sam Hirsh made beautiful music together.
Melissa Morgan and Sam Hirsh made beautiful music together.

As much as I was looking forward to the 2023 debut of the Fourth Friday Jazz Series at the La Jolla Community Center, I have to admit that, due to the relentless deluge of doomsday weather predictions — which threatened five feet of snow in the mountains, several inches of rain hereabouts, and generally cataclysmic wind conditions all over — I had serious doubts about whether or not I would actually get to the venue in one piece. Fortunately, I was able to secure transportation from veteran concert promotor Brian Ross, who ran a terrific ship at UC San Diego’s The Loft for many years. The musical landscape since he left that position has been demonstrably less intriguing. The weather wasn’t an obstacle, but we must have gotten lost in an animated conversation, because we missed our exit several times before eventually plotting the correct course.

Place

La Jolla Community Center

6811 La Jolla Boulevard, San Diego

La Jolla is a different world for a guy like me who grew up in National City. For all of my adult life, that upscale community has been a virtual lifeline to the jazz community. Just how different a world became glaringly obvious when we turned onto La Jolla Boulevard and passed the Rolls Royce showroom, a place where a person could drop more than 300 grand on a single vehicle.

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We were running late, and I would have been having a panic attack were it not for my knowledge of one of the venue’s most salient perks: free valet parking. Consequently, we were able to make a whipsaw U-turn, pull up right in front of the entrance with five minutes to spare, hand the keys over to a friendly cat named Tony from West Coast Valet, and head inside. No rain hit us on the way in, but the temperature had dipped into the 40s, and I was pretty sure my lips were about to turn blue.

The Fourth Friday Jazz Series was originally organized by local musician Lori Bell; several years ago, that torch was passed to social media wizard Arlene Damasco, who acts as the Artistic Curator. Damasco is a fierce jazz advocate, and that night, she was featuring two heavyweight players from Los Angeles: vocalist Melissa Morgan and pianist Sam Hirsh. Due to our late arrival and a successful pre-show promotion that sold out the room, we had to steal a few chairs from the outdoor courtyard. The only space available was directly in front of the large open doors, and I immediately regretted not bundling up. Happily, there was a heater placed nearby.

The room was a cozy rectangle with a white gable ceiling that seated at least 100 people. The walls were lined with artwork on loan from the La Jolla Art Association. In the center stood a six-foot Yamaha grand piano. Morgan had brought her own sound gear: a Bose speaker with a Shure SM-58. The audience was composed primarily of seniors, with a sprinkling of folks in their 30s and 40s (mostly musicians, by the look of them). There was a room off to the side where volunteers were serving everything from coffee to wine, water, and chocolate chip cookies, but they closed shop just before the music began.

Morgan had a sensitive but powerful voice that had a lot of Billie Holiday in it. When she got loud, she often needed to drop the microphone away from her face to avoid blowing out any eardrums in the audience. Hirsh was a superb accompanist. On the opening Gershwin tune, “Our Love is Here To Stay,” he proved a model of support, and when his turn to solo emerged, he took the crowd into his own wildly creative personal vision.

The entire evening, the audience sat riveted to what was happening on stage. I was in the very back row, so I could see everything: there were zero conversations happening. I noticed about 20 to 30 patrons wearing masks (and I think I might do so as well the next time I find myself sharing a space with someone who might be carrying a virus.)

I got the chance to hang out with the players and Ms. Damasco afterwards, and to ask a few clarifying questions of Nancy Walters, the executive director of the La Jolla Community Center, who kindly invited me back. The series continues on March 24 with Marshall Hawkins and Joshua White, and April 28 with the Peter Sprague Trio & Danny Green.

On the way back home, we ran into some light sprinkles, but the “storm of the century,” such as it was, was still hours away from hitting. Which was fine by me.

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Melissa Morgan and Sam Hirsh made beautiful music together.
Melissa Morgan and Sam Hirsh made beautiful music together.

As much as I was looking forward to the 2023 debut of the Fourth Friday Jazz Series at the La Jolla Community Center, I have to admit that, due to the relentless deluge of doomsday weather predictions — which threatened five feet of snow in the mountains, several inches of rain hereabouts, and generally cataclysmic wind conditions all over — I had serious doubts about whether or not I would actually get to the venue in one piece. Fortunately, I was able to secure transportation from veteran concert promotor Brian Ross, who ran a terrific ship at UC San Diego’s The Loft for many years. The musical landscape since he left that position has been demonstrably less intriguing. The weather wasn’t an obstacle, but we must have gotten lost in an animated conversation, because we missed our exit several times before eventually plotting the correct course.

Place

La Jolla Community Center

6811 La Jolla Boulevard, San Diego

La Jolla is a different world for a guy like me who grew up in National City. For all of my adult life, that upscale community has been a virtual lifeline to the jazz community. Just how different a world became glaringly obvious when we turned onto La Jolla Boulevard and passed the Rolls Royce showroom, a place where a person could drop more than 300 grand on a single vehicle.

Sponsored
Sponsored

We were running late, and I would have been having a panic attack were it not for my knowledge of one of the venue’s most salient perks: free valet parking. Consequently, we were able to make a whipsaw U-turn, pull up right in front of the entrance with five minutes to spare, hand the keys over to a friendly cat named Tony from West Coast Valet, and head inside. No rain hit us on the way in, but the temperature had dipped into the 40s, and I was pretty sure my lips were about to turn blue.

The Fourth Friday Jazz Series was originally organized by local musician Lori Bell; several years ago, that torch was passed to social media wizard Arlene Damasco, who acts as the Artistic Curator. Damasco is a fierce jazz advocate, and that night, she was featuring two heavyweight players from Los Angeles: vocalist Melissa Morgan and pianist Sam Hirsh. Due to our late arrival and a successful pre-show promotion that sold out the room, we had to steal a few chairs from the outdoor courtyard. The only space available was directly in front of the large open doors, and I immediately regretted not bundling up. Happily, there was a heater placed nearby.

The room was a cozy rectangle with a white gable ceiling that seated at least 100 people. The walls were lined with artwork on loan from the La Jolla Art Association. In the center stood a six-foot Yamaha grand piano. Morgan had brought her own sound gear: a Bose speaker with a Shure SM-58. The audience was composed primarily of seniors, with a sprinkling of folks in their 30s and 40s (mostly musicians, by the look of them). There was a room off to the side where volunteers were serving everything from coffee to wine, water, and chocolate chip cookies, but they closed shop just before the music began.

Morgan had a sensitive but powerful voice that had a lot of Billie Holiday in it. When she got loud, she often needed to drop the microphone away from her face to avoid blowing out any eardrums in the audience. Hirsh was a superb accompanist. On the opening Gershwin tune, “Our Love is Here To Stay,” he proved a model of support, and when his turn to solo emerged, he took the crowd into his own wildly creative personal vision.

The entire evening, the audience sat riveted to what was happening on stage. I was in the very back row, so I could see everything: there were zero conversations happening. I noticed about 20 to 30 patrons wearing masks (and I think I might do so as well the next time I find myself sharing a space with someone who might be carrying a virus.)

I got the chance to hang out with the players and Ms. Damasco afterwards, and to ask a few clarifying questions of Nancy Walters, the executive director of the La Jolla Community Center, who kindly invited me back. The series continues on March 24 with Marshall Hawkins and Joshua White, and April 28 with the Peter Sprague Trio & Danny Green.

On the way back home, we ran into some light sprinkles, but the “storm of the century,” such as it was, was still hours away from hitting. Which was fine by me.

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