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Meet the Art Makers

And the beat goes on!

February 19

Cranes and bulldozers have been digging up the Ford stage, but that doesn’t mean we're going to stop jamming! Starting March 5, we’ll be presenting JAM Sessions all over LA County – from Watts to Newhall and many places in between. The first few JAMs are listed below. Be sure to sign up here to get the latest scoop (of JAM)!

Last month, we introduced you to Ford staff members who make it all happen. This month, we sat down with frequent JAM facilitator and Freedom Drum Circles founder Christopher Ramirez.

Building community – one beat at a time: Ramirez leads a drum cricle JAM.

What excites you most about JAM Sessions?
Christopher Ramirez: To see parents and children playing music together is very inspirational. And, seeing people that don't know one another creating rhythms as one brings a smile to my face. I also love how JAMs create a very safe space for everyone: people of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds. 

Can you share a memorable moment from your JAM experiences? 
CR: At the end of one drum session, there was a woman who just kept on drumming – even after the rest of the group had stopped. She had her eyes closed and was creating her own rhythm. When she stopped, she explained that she was pregnant and that she hadn't felt her child move for weeks until that drum circle. Everyone cheered and hugged her. It was an incredible moment. 

What have you learned from facilitating JAMs, as an artist and as a community member?
CR: I’ve learned that art can create a platform in which we transcend our perceived limitations and differences. Specifically, I've learned how drumming can be a tool to help build community spirit.

A recent drum circle JAM
in San Fernando.
What motivated you to become an artist? 
CR: I can't imagine a world without music and the arts. After all, the heart is the rhythm we were all born with. So, it is our birthright to play music! 

I recently read a study that found that 80% of people in the USA wished they played music. Only 10% of those people were professional musicians and the others were passive observers. I want to change that and JAMs are a great way to start.

What’s the first art experience you can remember?
CR: I remember coming home from school and walking into my house. The front entry was always filled with traditional Mexican music – that was my parents for you. The middle of the house was filled with R&B and soul music – that was my sisters for you. The back of the house was filled with rock 'n' roll and jazz – that was my brothers for you. The house was always filled with music!

What’s coming up next for you?
CR: The next thing for me is Drum Day USC in March. It’s a day of clinics and participatory drumming sessions. My first Ford JAM Session this year will be in San Fernando on April 4. 

Christopher Ramirez is a percussionist, drum circle facilitator, songwriter, arranger/producer and drum instructor.

We're Engaged!

January 22

 Happy New Year, Friend!

The Ford Amphitheatre may be under construction, but our staff is still working hard on our resolution to expand and improve the programs you love. We sat down with programing staff members Ilaan Mazzini and Jennifer Fukutomi-Jones and asked them to give us the inside scoop on the work they do with the Ford’s public engagement programs (like, what is public engagement anyway?): 

The term “public engagement” can mean different things for different organizations. What does public engagement mean to the Ford?

Ilaan Mazzini: It’s giving our audience more choice in how they can participate with the performing arts – beyond just being spectators. It’s also a mutual exchange: less giving and taking and more sharing.

Besides JAM Sessions, what are some other ways the Ford practices public engagement?

IM: In thinking about the Ford as a County park and about how we have underutilized spaces, like the plaza and entryway gardens, we created Find Your Space. For this program, we open up our plaza spaces to anybody who wants to organize a gathering around the practicing of an art form. We give the space for free but require that the events be free and open to the public. This last year we had everything from African folklore embroidery and board game design to play readings and Americana folk songs. We want to expand on that for 2016, especially as the Ford will have a new plaza space when we reopen.


Why are these kinds of participatory programs so important?

IM: Everybody has a different comfort level. Some people want to try everything and some people want to sit and watch. If we can customize or respond in a way that makes more people feel comfortable participating in the arts, that to me would be successful. Our goal is to create a way for everyone to tap into their creative spirit.

Jennifer Fukutomi-Jones: In LA, there are so many different cultures. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to understand even just a little bit more about each other.

Have you had any memorable or unexpected moments at a past JAM Session?

JFJ: There is this incredible intergenerational connection that happens at JAMs. We had a square dancing JAM at the Ford and there were a bunch of little kids who were not participating. And then different adults in the JAM started helping guide the kids. Suddenly the whole group was in synch. It was a beautiful moment of community.

IM: There’s a lot of handholding in square dancing and facing each other and turning, so you’re constantly rotating who your partner is. It was amazing to watch how over time the adults were helping these kids, so that they could equally participate.

What are the Ford’s future public engagement plans?

IM: We’re really looking beyond what we deem our “engagement programs.” We now see everything as an opportunity to have an exchange, to listen and to provide different levels of participation.

Interested in engaging further? The video below documents some of the Ford’s public engagement programs and their impact all over LA County! 

Ford Theatre Foundation Program Manager, Artist Recruitment & Engagement Ilaan Mazzini and Associate Program Manager, Community Events Jennifer Fukutomi-Jones work together on JAM Sessions, Find Your Space and other programs. 



Original Salvation

August 27

Their motto reads: “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” That's the whole point of rock and roll, isn't it? LA based and inspired by the French-Cajun-American melting pot of New Orleans, 19-piece orchestra Vaud & the Villains brings their blend of 1930s jazz and rock 'n' roll to the Ford September 6, with a show they've entitled "Original Salvation."

Don't let the idea of 1930s jazz trick you into thinking this is some polite throwback event. Yes, Vaud & the Villains will be decked out in the era's ravishing costumes (think Moulin Rouge meets the sweatiest corners of the Louisiana bayou), but they play with the intensity of today's rock 'n' roll. 

The group's members - band leader and tenor sax extraordinaire Vaud Overstreet, vocalists Peaches Mahoney, Silky and Roxy Rae Boudreaux, fiddler phenom Big Daddy and Babyface O'Connor on the tenor banjo to name a few - have personas as saucy as their music. Trust us, these guys are raucous enough to melt the wax off your handlebar mustache.

Whether saint or sinner, you'll find a small bit of redemption and a whole lot of rollicking Americana at this one of a kind show.

Molly Kodros handles Marketing & PR at The Satellite, a live music venue in Hollywood.

Rock Out with Jail Guitar Doors

August 20

As the massive SXSW festival was taking place in Austin earlier this year, a musical gathering of a very different kind was happening just a few miles away. Behind bars at the Travis Correctional Facility, eight women were strumming acoustic guitars, each with the Jail Guitar Doors logo painted on them. Practicing G chords, they represented the power of music to transform lives.

Take in the ROCK OUT! concert at the Ford September 5 - you’ll be supporting a program that has helped rehabilitate inmates across the US and be knocked out by amazing music all at the same time. Jail Guitar Doors USA co-founder Wayne Kramer, guitarist for influential pre-punk band MC5, has enlisted a few of his friends - Jackson Browne and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello - to join him onstage, along with LA’s own lo-fi hero Tim Presley (aka White Fence). We wish we had friends like that.

Incarcerated for two years in federal prison in the late ‘70s, Wayne is no stranger to the power of music. “The hours I spent studying and practicing were hours that my energy and attention were focused on improving myself. I was putting in the work to change my situation for the better.”

Taking its name from a 1978 Clash song about Wayne’s experience (check out this video of Wayne performing the song), Jail Guitar Doors USA donates musical instruments to prison education programs and works to advance ex-prisoner transitions back into the community.

As one of the women at Travis said, "Music is like an escape. It reminds us there's life outside, there's something more than these walls to be a part of." You can be a part of something more too and escape to the Ford to hear Wayne and friends kick out the jams.

-Linda Chiavarolli, former Director of Communications at the LA County Arts Commission

Rock Out!


LA premiere of Ezralow Dance 

August 13

Choreographer Daniel Ezralow discovered movement was his love while studying biology in college: “I found that this expression to move the body was so integral to life. I’d rather not talk; I’d rather dance in front of you to tell you what kind of mood I’m in.”

Right now he’s in a mood to find out as much as possible about the Ford.  After years of globetrotting — doing a few small projects you may have heard of… like the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil and Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark — he’s back home in LA to form his own dance company. Ezralow Dance will debut at the Ford, along with a commissioned, site-specific work Ezralow is creating for the final offering in our Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series on September 13. How did we get so lucky?

The work is still taking shape but Ezralow gave us a sneak peek: it will feature 25-40 performers, including his new company, will use as much of the Ford as possible and be accompanied by live music — 15-16 different selections — played by the plucky musicians from wild Up. If you haven’t heard of wild Up yet, you will. They exploded on the classical music scene in 2010 and have been playing all over town since. Ezralow and wild Up’s conductor Chris Rountree are excited about collaborating together – their first time – and sharing their eclectic musical tastes.

For a long time Ezralow thought he’d never return to LA, but now he’s happy to be here: “What LA does have are these amazingly creative thinkers. I think there is a beautiful dance renaissance happening here.” We couldn’t agree more.

-Linda Chiavarolli, former Director of Communications at the LA County Arts Commission





J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival 

August 6

“I just wanted to do it every day,” says J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Festival producer and b-girl Emiko Sugiyama, who fell in love with hip hop when she took a dance class to learn more about American culture.

Emiko came to California from Tokyo in 1999 to study physical therapy. That dance class inspired her to enroll in a break dancing class, where she met b-boys, MCs and DJs and learned that hip hop is not simply a dance or a musical genre. It’s a culture and a lifestyle. (Help for the layperson: B-boys and b-girls are street dancers; MC, short for mic controller, refers to rappers and a DJ spins the tunes and “breaks” the music to which the dancers dance.) 

Emiko quickly became a part of a supportive community of street dancers and artists willing to share their passion with her. Needless to say, she switched her major.

"Hip hop has a powerful energy that brings people together,” states Emiko. Celebrating its 6th year at the Ford on August 22, the J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival brings together local b-boys and b-girls, MCs rocking the mic and a live DJ set by DJ Kenzo. The lineup features dynamic female popping duo Marie “Pandora” Medina (Step Up 3D) and Marie “Marie Poppins” Bonnevay (So You Think You Can Dance, 2014), Ricardo “Boogie Frantick” Rodriguez (Step Up 3D/LXD) and Versa-Style Dance Company.

The festival has also become a platform for world famous street dancers from around the globe to showcase their work, such as Millennium Dance Complex Japan. “Hip hop is a communication tool that has made me connect to people all over the world,” concludes Emiko. We can get down with that. B-boys and b-girls of the world unite!

-Brittany A. Gash

I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

July 30

Leave it to the adventurous tastes of the Long Beach Opera and our own Ford programming staff to at last bring a work that is so LA to LA. After multiple renditions around the world, John Adams’ song play of 1995, I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, has its Los Angeles premiere on August 23 as the second offering in this year’s Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series.

Adams’s librettist, the late poet and activist June Jordan, said she set the story in LA because “it’s the most heterogeneous city in the US” and took the title from a survivor quoted in an LA Times story about the Northridge earthquake.  The plot follows the lives of seven people in their 20s from distinct ethnic backgrounds, set against that cataclysmic backdrop. If you are expecting heavy melodrama, don’t. Even though Adams is most well known for his operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, this intimate work, to be semi-staged by Long Beach Opera, is more like a musical.

In an interview just days after he completed Ceiling/Sky, Adams said his use of American popular music has “never been so brazenly out front” as it is in this piece. Musical theatre singers, accompanied in this performance by three keyboards and a rock band ensemble, explore the issue of race, gender and immigration to the sounds and rhythms of urban life.

Adams, Jordan and director of the original production Peter Sellars knew they were breaking new ground. So it’s fitting that 20 years later, the piece should finally be performed for LA audiences in a venue so genuinely LA.

-Linda Chiavarolli, former Director of Communications at the LA County Arts Commission


OPM at the Ford  

July 23

With more than 7,000 islands and 170 different languages, the history of the Filipino people is just as varied and distinct as its geography.  Despite these differences, Filipinos unite over a sense of pride for their diversity and their love for OPM or Original Pilipino Music.

OPM emerged in the late 1970s as a way to get local songwriters on Filipino radio stations dominated by American Top 40. This era ushered in a number of prolific songwriters from a vast array of musical genres spanning rock, pop and R&B to jazz and folk.  Today, any song written by a Filipino, whether in English or Tagalog, is considered OPM. 

Music Arts Events brings to Los Angeles both the nostalgic and contemporary OPM in Serenata Filipina on August 17.  The event features such Filipino American artists as award winning jazz vocalist Mon David, premiering songs from his upcoming fourth album, and the all-male vocal ensemble Harana Men’s Chorus.  Joining them on stage is vocal specialist Annie Nepomuceno, soprano Louise Marie Cornillez, musical theatre actress Lara Avengoza and emerging stars Josie Gonzales and Amin Baghallian.

In honor of the ingenuity and adaptability of Filipinos residing all over the globe, proceeds from the concert benefit those recovering from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyon/Yolanda.  This solidarity through music celebrates the best of the human spirit.  What better place to do that than at the Ford?

-Brittany Gash



“Curiouser and curiouser!”  

July 16

A show at the Ford is always an escape. But on Friday, August 1, the truly fantastical takes place at one of the more unusual and appealing shows of the summer: a belly dancing revision of Alice in Wonderland.

Combining the spectacle of belly dance with a beloved British children’s fable may seem unexpected, to say the least. But unlike other Middle Eastern dance companies, Bellydance Evolution (led by belly dance sensation, and Queen of Hearts, Jillina) presents theatrical dance shows with a storyline, similar to ballet.

Much like Lewis Carroll’s imaginative novel, this exhilarating production breaks with tradition, fusing classical Middle Eastern dance with hip hop, contemporary, tribal and fusion dance in surprising ways. Bellydance Evolution pulls out all the stops in this refreshing retelling of one of the world’s favorite tales.

A cast of 20 will entrance with mesmerizing gestures, inventive choreography and elaborate costumes, all set to an original score composed by Paul Dinletir, the creative force behind the trailer music for such films as The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Hunger Games and more. Taken all together, it’s a production like no other and a night that’s an escape from the expected.

Molly Kodros handles Marketing & PR at The Satellite, a live music venue in Hollywood.