When The Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach started a regular jazz night in May 1949, Howard Rumsey and his Lighthouse All-Stars created a hub for what became known as West Coast jazz.
The likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and many more, were drawn to the Lighthouse. Soon, Rumsey's jam sessions would became legend.
On Wednesday, June 26, the Lighthouse and the city of Hermosa Beach will celebrate 70 years of jazz at the iconic venue, from its early days as a groundbreaking club to its role in the Oscar-winning film “La La Land.”
Grammy-nominated pianist David Benoit, a Mira Costa High alumn who grew up in Hermosa Beach, will perform a free concert beginning at 7 p.m., in front of the Lighthouse on Pier Plaza.
The city will honor Gloria Cadena and her late husband Ozzie by installing a plaque in their honor on Pier Plaza. Gloria Cadena continues to foster the jazz tradition at the Lighthouse by booking acts three days a week.
Councilmember Jeff Duclos, who spearheaded a “La La Land” Day to highlight the importance of jazz to the history of Hermosa Beach, said it is important to recognize things “engrained in the culture of our community and celebrate them whenever we can.”
“I think we’re so into the present and looking at the future that we don’t always… look at the importance of the past as we should,” Duclos said.
Verpilate's restaurant opened at 30 Pier Avenue, just steps from the sand. In 1940, it was converted to the Lighthouse. Thanks to owner, Jack Levine, who bought the restaurant in 1948, and Rumsey, Jazz started as a fixture at the venue on May 29, 1949, when it catered to merchant seamen and longshoremen from San Pedro.
Ken Poston, founder and director of the L.A. Jazz Institute, in an article for The Beach Reporter in 2015, said Poston was working on Rumsey's autobiography when he died.
“Howard always had this great vision of things and so he was able to see what could be done there” Poston said “Over the course of the first year or so, he transformed things and moved it away from the rougher crowd that hung out there to a younger crowd that was coming off the beach to hear the music.”
In a Los Angeles Times story in 1989, Rumsey was quoted as saying, “The next week we propped open the two front doors and blasted music out onto the street, and in a couple of hours there were more people in there than he'd seen in six weeks.”
Sunday jazz became popular, at one point running from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., and attracting dozens of accomplished jazz musicians along the way. Rumsey's All-Stars continued to play through the early 1960s. During that time they made numerous albums, including recordings in 1953 with Chet Baker and Miles Davis.
Rumsey, who became manager at the Lighthouse in 1950, left in 1972 to start Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach. He ran that club until he retired in 1985.
By the time Ozzie and Gloria Cadena moved from New Jersey to Hermosa Beach in 1974, Ozzie had already been a record producer, promoter, record label owner, artist rep and A&R scout, as well as a lifelong fan of jazz, as was Gloria.
“He would come out to the Lighthouse and check the bands out... he loved the club because of its history,” said Gloria, who will celebrate her 94th birthday at the Lighthouse celebration.
According to daughter Lori Cadena, things changed when it came to music when the Lighthouse found a new owner in 1994.
“Time to time they would ask my dad, who was there all the time because he loved it, to help them with artists that he knew... but he really didn't get involved with regular booking,” said Lori, who grew up around the club as well as her brother Dez Cadena, of Misfits and Black Flag fame. “They didn't have jazz there for a really long time, like all through the 80s, until the early 90s, when Paul Hennessey eventually took over as owner.”
Ozzie started booking one night a week of jazz, which then expanded to two, and eventually three nights a week. Gloria said she was “always in the background,” helping with her husband's work and being a fixture at the Lighthouse on jazz nights, but when Ozzie had a stroke in 2006 and died two years later, she took over and continued his work.
Gloria still books the club's live jazz and continues to appear at the Lighthouse every Wednesday night as well at the jazz brunches Saturdays and Sundays.
Gloria said she continues to look for fresh talent in the jazz world.
“I take the time out when I get a CD or something and they haven't played there... to listen and see if they really fit in there, just to keep it going,” Gloria said.
The Cadena's are also being honored for organizing the free concerts on the pier and Ozzie also led a committee's efforts to honor the Lighthouse and the many musicians who played there with plaques on the Pier Plaza.
“Gloria has continued to build upon a family legacy of promoting and fostering jazz excellence at the historic venue, so we wanted to honor both of them with a plaque,” said Hermosa Beach Mayor Stacey Armato in a statement.
“I wish he was here,” said Gloria about her husband taking part in the festivities.
David Benoit returns
Famed musician David Benoit was a teenager when he remembers first stepping into the Lighthouse in 1969. He grew up on Longfellow Avenue and was exposed to jazz by his father, a jazz guitarist.
“I remember them letting me sit at the bar and have a fruit juice,” recalled Benoit. “I remember seeing Cannonball Adderley, The Crusaders... there were so many great artists who all came to the Lighthouse.”
It was 1971 when Benoit heard musician Tim Weisberg play on a Sunday afternoon at the Lighthouse.
“I went inside and met Tim, he was a really nice guy,” Benoit said. “He actually let me sit in and play with him, I think maybe the second time I heard him. It was such a thrill for me. That was the first time I was ever actually on stage at the Lighthouse. I had just graduated high school at Mira Costa.”
Since those early days, Benoit has released numerous albums that have charted and he's been nominated for three Grammy Awards.
At the Lighthouse celebration, Benoit will reunite with Weisberg when they take the stage on Pier Plaza. Benoit's band will also feature musicians from his youth orchestra, the Asia America Youth Orchestra.
“It's going to be a real meaningful, special event for me,” said Benoit, bringing together his past and the future.
La La Land
The Lighthouse received national attention when “La La Land” was released in December 2016, and featured scenes taped in Hermosa Beach. The scenes include stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the Lighthouse and Gosling performing a dance and song number on the pier.
The Oscar-winning movie has been a tourist boon for Lighthouse. General Manager Steven Grehl said the film and director Damien Chazelle “made us out to be the cool place again.
“We've been lucky enough to actually reach out and the 20-somethings are coming, which is nice,” Grehl said. “It's nice to see them on a Saturday or Sunday morning where you look around and you got a group of young faces that happen to be here. They're either from jazz classes or schooling they've been a part of or they're gravitating because of the movie.”
From 2 to 6 p.m., KJAZZ will have a live remote broadcast from the Pier Plaza, which will run concurrently with Farmer's Market.
The Cadena's will be honored with the plaque installation at 6 p.m. on Pier Plaza.
From 6 to 9 p.m., acclaimed saxophonist Charles Owens, who appeared in “La La Land,” will play at the Lighthouse.
A ceremonial proclamation will be read at 7 p.m. from city officials before David Benoit and his special guests hit the stage in front of the Lighthouse for a free concert.
Also, on Monday, June 24, the Hermosa Beach Historical Society will honor the Lighthouse with live music and drinks, as well as a screening of the locally produced documentary, "Jazz V. Punk: Hermosa Beach." The free event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hermosa Beach Museum located at 710 Pier Ave.
For more information, visit hermosabeachhistoricalsociety.org.