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LOS ANGELES -- JazzGenesis: Benjamin Franklin "Reb" Spikes and the Central Avenue Jazz Scene, 1919 to 1945 unveils the obscured legacy of a musician who helped open the doors to the entertainment industry for blacks in Los Angeles.
The exhibition begins Jan. 29, 2005 with a panel of recording industry executives discussing the future of blacks in the recording industry.
The William Grant Still Arts Center is a facility of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Benjamin "Reb" Spikes and his brother John were Oklahoma natives who began in the minstrel tradition in Muskogee with a troupe that included a young Hattie McDaniel. They then toured with McCabe's Troubadours with a pianist named Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. Spikes arrived in San Francisco where he was billed as the "Worlds Greatest Saxophonist" in Sid leProtti's So Diff'rent Jazz Orchestra, the first band to use jazz in its name, performing at Purcell's So Diff'rent Club, opened in 1901 by two Pullman car porters, Lew Purcell and Sam King.
After a booking in Watts in 1917 where one of the house dancers was Rudolph Valentino, Spikes moved to Los Angeles where he and John opened the first jazz record store at 12th and Central Avenue.
Spikes told an interviewer in 1951, "The richest folks in Hollywood would pull up in their limousines and send their chauffeurs in to buy the "dirty" music." In 1921, the Spikes brothers recorded trombonist Edward "Kid" Ory on their Sunshine Records label, the first instance of a black record company producing a jazz record.
Spikes also operated the Watts Country Club at Leak's Lake and the Dreamland Cafe at 4th and Central Avenue. During the 1930s, they operated the Club Alabam for a time.
Because musicians "hung out" at their record store, Spikes would book bands for those who called in. "We might have as many as seven or eight bands out at a time," he told an interviewer.
Spikes conducted the Majors and Minors Orchestra which was the first black band to perform at a white theatre in Los Angeles. The group also starred in a film and a hit for Columbia.
With Morton, Spikes was credited as a writer of the early 1920s hit Froggy Moore. Among the other musicians who got their start with Spikes were Lionel Hampton and Nat King Cole.
Yet, Spikes is almost completely excluded from most reference books on jazz music, as is the seminal role of West Coast musicians on the development of the genre.
Curator John William Templeton, author of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4 and editor of the web site http://www.californiablackhistory.com, says, "Excluding Reb Spikes from jazz history is like starting the book of Genesis on the eighth day." Last February, Templeton presented Queen Calafia: California Black Heritage Confirmed Through Public Art at the William Grant Still, a display that confirmed the allegorical account of an island populated by black women that gave the state its name.
Templeton noted, "When the formative role of black entrepreneurs such as Spikes and Lew Purcell and Sam King is omitted, we miss the conscious role of black producers and club owners to intentionally position jazz music as a contrast to the minstrel music they had been locked into for a century. The role of these early jazz producers is analogous to the way that the abolition movement fought slavery."
Prior to the opening on Jan. 29, Templeton will lead a workshop for teachers on the use of primary sources of California's black heritage in the classroom. He was recently commissioned by the Oxford University Press to write the history of blacks in the West in the 19th century for an upcoming reference series.
On Sunday, Jan. 30, jazz journalist Floyd Levin, the former American editor of the British magazine Jazz Journal, who interviewed Reb Spikes in 1951, will lead a discussion of Spikes historic importance.