[JPL] Jazz Genesis: Benjamin Franklin "Reb" Spikes and the Central
Avenue Jazz Scene
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Sun Feb 5 07:55:20 EST 2006
Sunday, 05 February 2006
Jazz Genesis: Benjamin Franklin "Reb" Spikes and the Central Avenue Jazz
Written by Administrator
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.
William Grant Still Arts Center recognizes first black record producer and
musical pacesetter. The exhibition begins Jan. 29, 2005 with a panel of
recording industry executives discussing the future of blacks in the
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
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
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.
Visit http://www.californiablackhistory.com for the latest in curriculum
resources. Jazz Genesis: Birth of Jazz on the West Coast begins with tours
to the birthplace of "fillin' and fakin" in October and November and an
exhibition in February.
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