An evening full of booze and jazz in Highland Park, as told by a 35mm camera

After a long day at the office, I was almost home when I remembered that I had bought a ticket to see bassist Christian McBride at the Lodge Room in Highland Park later that evening. Earlier, my editor, Javier Cabral, asked me if I would be willing to publish a photo report the next day. I agreed, thinking I would get up early, rummage through my archives, and put something together.

But now, getting up early to make up a story, probably after a long night, seemed like an unlikely scenario. So instead, without asking permission, I decided to turn my evening into a photo report.

Historic Philippine Town

I rushed home to Filipinotown from MacArthur Park, opened a Pacifico, and hopped in the shower. About an hour before the doors opened, I contacted the promoter, Andrew Lorejo, to see if they could get a last-minute photo pass. It was a hail marie, but the venue doesn’t allow attendees to bring cameras with removable lenses, but Andrew is the mate, so I thought I’d give it a try.

“I’ll let the room know,” Andrew replied a few minutes after I contacted him.

Normally I would take the gold line to Highland Park, but this time I was in a hurry so I called an Uber. We arrived at HLP just as the sun was setting, so as we approached the Figueroa site, I asked the driver to let me out early, so I could take pictures.

I walked Fig up to Tam’s Burgers, taking pictures, thinking I’d grab a quick cheeseburger before the show. But when I arrived at Tam’s I remembered that they had closed. From top to bottom, Fig, there were empty storefronts with “for rent” signs on their doors. It was a painful reminder of how much HLP has changed in just a few years of the pandemic.

Instead, I grabbed a very expensive but tasty slice of pizza from Dough Boy. The guy who phoned me was kind enough to give me a free drink. I inhaled my slice of pizza and watched the sky color until it turned dark, before entering the room.

Wolfgang digs through a trash can looking for some XL-size Jazz is Dead t-shirts.

Upon entering the venue, I immediately went to the merchandising table to see if they had any XL t-shirts (which they often run out of). “Lexis!? The person behind the merchandising table asked. They happened to be big fans of my photography and writing. I bought two shirts and a button, Wolfgang, the guy behind the merchandising table, agreed to keep everything until the end of the show. Then I headed to the bar for a whiskey and a Miller High Life special.

A DJ warmed up the crowd with an all-vinyl set before Christian McBride took the stage. While waiting for the show to start, I ran into Powers Pleasants, a producer who has worked with artists like Denzel Curry and Joey Badass. Years ago, Powers invited me to his music video set to take pictures. He recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, where he grew up. We both agreed that LA is a better city to live than NYC

Outside, during a smoke break, I saw a group of young white children who looked like the Jonas Brothers enter the room, followed by a group of older blacks. When I returned I ordered another drink, this time an Old-Fashioned. Moments later, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad took the stage to introduce Christian McBride. I swallowed my Old-Fashioned in a few big gulps and made my way to the front of the stage to access the photo pit.

Ely Perlman on guitar. Perlman stood out among an incredibly talented group of musicians who have only been playing together for a few weeks. He is a former student of McBrides and a current student at the Berkley School of Music.

In the photo pit, I crouched in awkward positions to shoot videos and photos of Christian and his newly formed group. I ran into legendary skate photographer Atiba Jefferson, who also sacrificed his knees to stay clear of people in the front row.

After a few songs, I left the photo pit and found an area to the left of the stage to enjoy the show. The performance was incredible. The band had only been playing for a few weeks, but it sounded like they had been together for years. They were energetic and perfectly in sync. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone play bass as well as Christian.

McBride’s performance was easily one of the best Jazz is Dead concerts I’ve attended and I’ve attended dozens. But I feel like I say that after every concert. In just a few years, the team behind the concert series and the label have brought legends like Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Brian Jackson and Digable Planets to the stage.

When I felt like the show was about to end, I decided to leave early to get some food, before the rush of people hit the streets. I mistakenly left my product with Wolfgang and walked out of the room looking for tacos.

Find a real cheesesteak just outside the cookbook in Fig.

I couldn’t find any tacos, but earlier I noticed there was a guy selling cheesesteaks outside one of Fig’s many popular bars. “You can get tacos anywhere,” the cheesesteak guy said. “But it’s the only place you can get a real Philly cheesesteak”, I ordered a plain cheesesteak and asked the guy to go light on the cheese. Then I quickly devoured it. It was delicious and the perfect meal for my booze filled soul.

Later, I walked around the neighborhood a bit, taking pictures of neon signs. “Lexis!? someone said outside Greyhound Bar & Grill. It was Ricci Sergienko, an organizer from the People’s City Council. He was with a large group of people who all attended the People’s Summit, an alternative to the Summit of the Americas. “I always meet you in strange situations,” Ricci said. The last time we saw each other, I was filming a police check in my neighborhood. Ricci passed by and stopped to make sure everything was okay. We talked for a bit outside the Greyhound and he asked me to take a picture of him and someone else.

Shortly after, I called another Uber and drove back to Filipinotown. Again I asked the driver to let me out early so I could take pictures on my way home. I stopped at the liquor store to grab something before heading back to the nest and falling asleep almost immediately.

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