Community jazz group helps a neighborhood stick together
By Gary Walker
Many bands aspire to build communities of interest around their music.
The Del Rey Community Jazz Band makes music to strengthen neighborhood bonds.
With a regular first Fridays gig at the Del Rey Farmers Market in in Glen Alla Park and annual appearances at both the Del Rey Day community picnic and the Culver – Marina Little League’s opening day, the 10 member group offers the soundtrack for an often overlooked Westside enclave to come together and celebrate its identity.
It all started five years ago when then Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe learned about guitarist and band leader Danny Meyer’s musical talents during a community event.
“After we started playing, we found that there were a lot of professional musicians in Del Rey but most of them have day jobs. It’s been a lot of fun meeting them and playing with them,” said Meyer, 49.
Saxophonist Ken Weiner, also a resident of Del Rey, works in digital advertising but enjoys making music with his band mates whenever they have a gig.
“It’s great to be part of a community band even though I haven’t made music my career,” said Weiner, 42, who picked up the sax in elementary school.
Current Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Jonathon Neumann said the Del Rey Jazz Band has done more for the neighborhood than lend a hand during public events.
“Personally, I think the jazz band is one of the best outreach vehicles that Del Rey has,” Neumann said. “We have seen great exposure for Del Rey through the jazz band. They have played all over the city and they have become a requested performer. People know who they are, and Helen Lee, the organizer of the farmers market, has said that crowds at the market are larger on those first Fridays when the band plays than on other days.”
Del Rey Art Walk organizer Charlotte DeMeo said the band has been a big hit each of the three years it’s played the event.
“People were asking where they were this year, so we had to direct them to the home where they were playing,” she said.
The Del Rey Community Jazz Band’s repertoire includes some reggae, funk and disco, but their signature sound, as the name suggests, is jazz and blues.
Meyer learned the art of jazz and blues while growing up in Washington D.C., and he spent time as a music teacher and in classes at Boston’s famed Berklee School of Music. He cites Stevie Wonder as his greatest musical influence, adding that jazz appeals to him on both the sensory and intellectual levels.
“The rhythm of jazz works your body and, as with the blues, it also appeals to the soul, the brain and the spirit,” Meyer said. “Whenever we play, we always honor straight-ahead jazz and pay homage to the masters like [pianist] Duke Ellington and [saxophonists] John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.”
The band also performs at schools to pass on their love of music.
“We’re considering working with the neighborhood council and the schools about starting a Junior Del Rey Community Jazz Band with students from the local middle schools and eventually students from Venice High School,” Meyer said.
Mariana Aguilar, chair of the council’s education committee, likes the idea.
“I am a strong believer in the importance of art and music in our schools, and I am excited that Danny has offered to share his talents with local students,” Aguilar said.
For Meyer, making music is a thrill in its own right.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of playing music and getting a great response,” he said.
The Del Rey Community Jazz Band plays at 6 p.m. on Aug. 4 during the LAPD Pacific Division’s National Night Out Community Picnic and at 5 p.m. on Aug. 7 returns to their first Friday duties at Glen Alla Park, 4601 Alla Road, Del Rey. Call (310) 396-1615 or visit delreync.org.