Somehow I missed the sad news that on October 3rd we lost beloved Laura Mae Gross, matriarch of Liemert Park’s iconic blues bar Babe & Ricky’s and one of the few participants left from Central Los Angeles’ swinging days of hot jazz.
Before South Central became famous for violence, its main thoroughfare was known worldwide for glamorous packed nightclubs and swinging ballrooms. As late Saxophonist Art Pepper described the scene:
“It was a beautiful time. It was a festive time. The women dressed up in frills and feathers and long earrings and hats with things hanging off them, fancy dresses with slits in the skirts, and they wore black silk stockings that were rolled and wedgie shoes. Most of the men wore big, wide-brimmed hats and zoot suits with wide collars, small cuffs, and large knees, and their coats were real long with padded shoulders. They wore flashy ties with diamond stickpins; they wore lots of jewelry; and you could smell powder and perfume everywhere. And as you walked down the street you heard music coming out of everyplace. And everybody was happy….
T]here were all kinds of places to go, and if you walked in with a horn everyone would shout, “Yeah! Great! Get it out of the case and blow some!” They didn’t care if you played better than somebody else. Nobody was trying to cut anybody or take their job, so we’d get together and blow.” (SOURCE)
Open for 45 years, Babe’s and Ricky’s moved from Central Avenue to Leimert Park in 1997 after financial difficulties, but the club’s heart and soul always stayed the same. While she never made much money, Mama nurtured (and fed) generations of Angelenos and provided a safe haven for jazz and blues lovers to network with link minded musicians. Babe & Ricky’s remains open without Mama and still hosts their famous Monday night jam session complete with their traditional $10 soul food dinner.
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