The Old Town Music Hall and the King of Jazz

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When your friend Katie Cavera invites you to go to the movies to see “the worst movie ever made” you cringe, ponder, and then say “Yes,” because with that kind of pedigree there has to be laughter.

There were three things that turned my normal “No Way” into a hesitant “Yes.” The feature, Paul Whiteman‘s The King Of Jazz was being shown at a cultural landmark. The movie boasts Bing Crosby’s first film role as part of the Rhythm Boys, and Katie’s sister Laura was joining us. Two people laughing at a bad old movie is just obnoxious but three and you got yourself a small mob.

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Laura Cavera, Katie Cavera, and Randi Cee
Hecklers: Laura Cavera, Katie Cavera, and Randi Cee are poised to enjoy (?) the 1930 extravaganza, The King of Jazz. (photo courtesy Randi Cee)

My snorfling was only heard by us and the one couple in front of us and they appreciated my occasional audible thought bubble/groan. In fact, Katie’s idea was to get a big enough group together and have an interactive experience like they do at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which would entail response yelling and throwing things at the screen (the place is a historical landmark so it’s not suited for throwing anything…but…if it was, tiny teenie plastic pianos would be perfect).

But The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a funny piece of camp from the get-go. The King Of Jazz is not. TKOJ, if nothing else takes itself very seriously. I still might need counseling after having seen the ghost/child bride section.

It was, as Katie promised, hard to sit through. Seeing a very young Bing who had not yet found his smooth velvet sound was the highpoint. For me the movie vacillates between creepy and what I imagine a hallucinogenic drug trip might be like. The weirdest thing (and that is saying something) was that actual jazz was almost nonexistent.

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As I licked a finger from a particularly good bite of chicken wing at our post movie dinner, I mentioned that the film makers had some moments of original creativity. You could see they were trying new cinematic ideas and some of the more artistic elements were years ahead of their time. Speaking of time if we cut the last 45 minutes it would have been much, much better.

Old Town Music Hall
A magnificent showplace: the Old Town Music Hall. (photo by Randi Cee)

The star of the day (besides the best chicken wings I have ever had) was the theater and the pre-film entertainments. As soon as you walk into the theatre you are so delighted you don’t much care what is showing. I am going back in early February to see Cabin In The Sky. The Wurlitzer and how they have illuminated it literally and with a wonderful demonstration of how the organ works is worth the price of admission. I imagine I will enjoy it the second, third, and fourth time around.

The Old Town Music Hall has been many things and seen many lives. Built in 1921 it was built to be a live performance venue to serve neighborhood refinery workers. A few years later it was updated to be a movie theatre and stayed that until the mid-1930s. Sitting in the same building that others had potentially seen this exact same movie 90 years ago thrilled this history loving gal. Why didn’t I find the time travel portal in that cool old building?1930 King of Jazz Film Restored

For a mere $10 you get to see a classic movie, hear a brief history of the theatre and of the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ and hear 24-year-old Edward Torres play that gorgeous beast with flair and a clear love of the old tunes. He has been under the direction of Bill Field one of the founders of the theater who until recently played every weekend since the opening in 1968. There was also a sing-along with organ accompaniment and lastly a cartoon short from the period. Ours featured the early animated icon, Betty Boop.

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It’s not surprising that the people who brought this dream to life were two musicians. Specifically, Bill Field and Bill Coffman the “Two Bills” as they are referred to, started in 1960 by purchasing the pipe organ from the Fox Theatre in Long Beach, CA.

One of the Bill’s was a collector and the breathtaking chandeliers which you can’t help but notice as soon as you cross the threshold were found for $25 dollars for the pair. Some of the décor on the proscenium was snatched off the Venice pier when it was coming down.

Randi Cee Edward Torres Portrait
Edward Torres, organist at the Old Town Music Hall.

Not all old buildings give you a great feeling when you walk in. This one does. It’s just such a gem and I think that probably has a lot to do with it being run and kept alive by people who just love the period. There are live performances in this theater as well. It’s a registered landmark and a Los Angeles Treasure.

Katie gave us all fair warning and yet she bought Laura and I an “I’ll never drag you to that again” apology dinner. It was a glorious outing and not one I will soon forget.

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