Nate Morgan, the great jazz pianist from South Los Angeles, remains in the hospital ill, with no ambiguities about ill meaning good. The usual suspects gather to lend spiritual and earthly support.
It's a notable venue. You drive down a trashed strip of Western at 78th, and among the closed storefronts and semiclosed restaurants you grok a couple of 12-foot statues: black 19th-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses II and black Queen Tiye (stepping out on her 18th-dynasty old man, Amenhotep III), in full Egyptian garb and traditional pose. They guard the KRST (pronounced Ka-RAST) Unity Center, a cozy mini-complex jammed with scarabs, anks and Thoths. A dreadlocked gentleman in a white tunic tells me that people come here to connect with ancient culture and knowledge. Singer Dwight Trible mentions he's performed here a few times.
In the cooling overcast afternoon, the atmosphere is most relaxed and congenial, as always when jazz birds flock, and the Egypt thing accents the vibe along with lots of eye-boggling African and Jamaican robes -- one dude, telling everybody the Lakers came back to win from 22 down, wears gold-soled shoes with Obama painted on 'em. Ancient Rastas get sacramental on the avenue. Vets of Horace Tapscott's Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra hug it up. There's Chet Hanley, the "Jazz in the Modern Era" TV host. There's DJ/promoter Carlos Niño, wide of smile but no longer wide of girth. Writers Steven Isoardi and Matt Duersten, never absent from this kind of thing, bump around the crowded crowd in the smallish patio/sidestreet area stocked with art vendors and donated Shabazz food stands frying high. All for Nate.
Talented Maia plucks the harp and tells us to visualize "genius giant." Trible wails as John Beasley grooves the Rhodes and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson terrorizes the viola. Kamau Da'aood chants something like "Joy split open, splashed against the night." Trombonist Phil Ranelin rolls out the Afro-Latin good times; Azar Lawrence, a man who saxified with Miles, stoops to hold sheet music on the stand so it doesn't blow away while tenor man Randall Fischer, about a third his age, tries to read it and succeeds. Azar is up next, hurricaning some Coltrane. Wish I could stay for Michael Session and Jesse Sharps and the gang, but sometimes a man must abandon heaven to avoid heck.
What I learned about Nate Morgan: That as kid he used to do homework at Eric Dolphy's grave. That he learned some licks from Hampton Hawes. That he has passed on knowledge to many here. That he is loved.
PHOTOS BY FUZZY BLAK.
Check out Matt Duersten's somewhat more viewable pix here.