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Angel City Jazz Festival: a chat with Rocco Somazzi

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In a few days, the Angel City Jazz Festival returns to LA for its third year. Festival founder and co-director, longtime LA jazz promoter Rocco Somazzi shared some thoughts on the Festival's growth and changes.

Rocco Somazzi: A lot of things have changed. It’s been evolving constantly. It went from me doing the Festival by myself the first year, to signing on Jeff Gauthier as a co-producer last year. This year we reached out to so many different organizations. So we have LACMA, CalArts, Jazz Bakery, Film Forum, all collaborating and working with us on this festival, so big change. Hopefully, it will help us reach a whole new set of people, and raise awareness for that.

RB: How do you like the Ford Amphitheater?

RS: We enjoyed working there, they had a great sound system. Everything was like clockwork, real professional production. The only downside is that it’s 1200 seats, and I’d never worked with a venue that big. It’s tough to fill it.

RB: Did you turn a profit?

RS: No, we were at less than half capacity. Definitely not close, especially last year, we had two days, which in retrospect was maybe a bit ambitious to do. I really felt like I wanted it to be more than one day, but maybe I should have chosen another location for the second day. Two days at such a large venue was a big jump from where we were before. That’s why this year we decided to do one day at the Ford and then use a bunch of other venues that are smaller. The Ford is the only venue we’re not sure we’re going to fill. The other venues should sell out for sure.

RB: Henry Grimes with Wadada Leo Smith, Vinny Golia, and Alex Cline? What a band.

RS: Yes, I’m very excited about that. That was just a big coincidence. Henry happened to call me and said he’d be here in September. I really wanted to work with Cal Arts, and while talking to them I found out they had been trying to get Henry to play REDCAT for a long time. We thought that was a great venue for him.

RB: Did you put the band together for him?

RS: Yes, we worked together, back and forth, checked the availability of musicians. A lot of them are musicians who played with him when he first reemerged here. Vinny, Alex, Ben Rosenbloom are people he played with regularly for six months here in LA. He invited John Beasely and Dwight Trible to open for him, and Dwight is also going to be a special guest with Henry.

Everybody knows who Henry is, but not too many musicians had a chance to play with Henry. He disappeared pretty quickly. He ust performed here for about six months and moved. Wadada has invited Henry to do a workshop at Cal Arts. It’s on Friday, the day before the performance. That’ll be at Cal Arts with students.

RB: And then, you’re bringing Ravi Coltrane home.

RS: Yeah, I was really hoping for it and it worked out. I forget how long it’s been since he’s played LA. I know he was here for the Flying Lotus concert at the Echo. One of the reasons we wanted to get Ravi, since we were working with Cal Arts, we were thinking since Cal Arts has been the amazing school of so many musicians we like, we started making of list of people we’d want to present who are CalArts alumni or associates. Ravi and Ralph Alessi are both CalArts graduates, so that’s why we called them.

Maybe it won’t be obvious to the general population, but almost everyone playing at the Ford are associated with CalArts: Vinny Golia and Wadada are on the faculty, Ravi and Ralph, half of the members of Kneebody went to CalArts. So, there’s a very strong CalArts focus. We identify with Cal Arts so much, we wanted to do a more official collaboration with them. REDCAT is such a great venue. They do a lot of outreach. We believe it’s going to have a strong influence on the festival in general.

RB: I’m glad Wadada’s keeping the Golden Quartet together. I love the records.

RS: Have you heard Spiritual Dimensions? It’s two cd’s. One is the Golden Quartet, and the second cd is his electric band. Originally, I was going to have the electric band for the Festival, but there’s like nine people in the band and they’re scattered everywhere. The Ford works well for a large ensemble. It’ll be great with Vijay Iyer. He’s an amazing pianist.

RB: And speaking of homecomings, it’ll be good to see Kneebody.

RS: They’ve all moved to NY except Kaveh Rastegar, the bass player, he still lives here. Except he’s touring Italy with Italy’s biggest rock star. It’s been two months. He speaks Italian now. He’s like a rock star in Italy. Since everybody moved to NY or is in Italy, they haven’t been performing much in LA.

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