FRIDAY night is the third of the four free concerts of local music that The Washington Post's Weekend section is sponsoring at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre. This week's show is a Latin concert, featuring (in order of appearance) Lilo Gonzalez y Los de la Mount Pleasant, Sin Miedo and Paul Hawkins & LaJazz. Tickets to the 7:30 show are free (and required), and you can pick them up at the Carter Barron box office starting at noon Friday. That's at 16th Street and Colorado Avenue NW (202/334-4748). Now, read on to find out a little something about Friday's headliner.
At Blues Alley recently, Paul Hawkins is grinning a huge, broad grin standing at the front of the stage. His drumsticks smack the timbale in front of him when they aren't doubling as his batons, steering his group LaJazz through a rhythmically driven set of Latin jazz tunes. The soul patch below his lower lip looks (for a change) like it absolutely belongs on this man's face, a crisp white triangle against Hawkins's brown skin. There's no posing here. Hawkins is as hep a hepcat as exists, the antidote for anyone who says Washington isn't cool.
Paul Hawkins was born 65 years ago in Gallinger Municipal Hospital (now D.C. General) and never really left town. "A Washingtonian, born and raised," he crows proudly in his scratchy voice, made even scratchier of late as he's been fighting off a summer flu.
His musical education began at Kelly Miller Junior High School, where he took up the saxophone, but a car accident left his mouth unable to make the needed amount of pressure to play that horn.
His next step was as a dancer, and Hawkins performed as a teenager at ballrooms and resorts throughout the area. "I used to go to the different beaches--Sparrow's Beach, Carr's Beach [pre-integration era black resorts near Annapolis]--you know?" Hawkins says. "They'd have these dance contests there, at places like, what's that place uptown? Turner's Arena, that's it," he says, pulling the venue's name from his memory after a pause. "I'd enter jitterbug contests and win all kinds of trophies."
By the early '50s he was a regular on the "Capital Caravan" TV show, a local black variety show, broadcast from what's now the 9:30 club. "I worked with the dancer and bandleader Roland Kave back then, and I followed him to the Casbah Club on U street where I played in his band," Hawkins says. By then, Hawkins had taken up the congas and was riding the mambo craze in Kave's band, Los Diablos.
"At the end of the evening at the Casbah, there'd be a big dance free-for-all, and we'd all jump down from the bandstand and dance with the girls; and one night, there were fellows from both the Arthur Murray Dance Studios and the Fred Astaire Dance Studios and they saw me and my dancing partner James Alexander. We became the first black instructors hired by both of those studios." (Male dance partners were common then, with the routines being more side to side rather than face to face.)
Hawkins went on to form his own Latin dance band, Los Tropicales, playing timbales and leading the band, as he still does today in LaJazz. "We were one of the first authentic Latin jazz groups in Washington," Hawkins says with pride. "We'd play big events at country clubs and synagogues, the big balls, you know? And lots of times we'd be side by side with the white society orchestras."
He formed his next band, Orquesta Siglo Viente, in 1962, and performed on occasion on the same bill as Latin legend Tito Puente. "When we played at the Palladium with Tito, my feet didn't hit the ground for two weeks," Hawkins says. "That man was such an inspiration to me." The two band leaders ended up friends for life, with Hawkins sitting in with Puente whenever he came through town.
Hawkins also became close with be-bop and Latin jazz pioneer Dizzy Gillespie after Hawkins and his timbale joined Gillespie on stage at Sparrow's Beach in the mid-'60s. "Every year for nearly 30 years I played with him whenever he was in the area. When Dizzy passed I stayed in my room for two weeks," Hawkins says. "It was hard to take. And the same thing happened all over again when Tito died last month. It devastated me."
As a sideman, Hawkins became part of recorded history when he joined Ramsey Lewis and was featured on congas on the LP "Ramsey Lewis at the Bohemian Caverns." He toured with Lewis, as well as with Herbie Mann, Barry White and the Temptations, and in the mid-'70s led the local Afro-Cuban jazz group Speed Limit, a combo that featured saxophonist Buck Hill.
When the '90s rolled around, Hawkins returned to fronting his own group, forming LaJazz in 1991. "There was no one around bringing Tito Puente's sound into the clubs," Hawkins says, "and I just saw this need."
They've been at it ever since, with Hawkins on timbales, performing regularly at festivals around the area and appearing twice a year at Blues Alley. Joining Hawkins in LaJazz are trumpeter and musical director Don Junker, trumpeter Cliff Bigoney, trombonist Bob Balthis, saxophonist and flutist Tom Monroe, bassist Bhagwan, drummer Celso Lopez, conga player Sam Turner, bongo player Rudy Morales and pianist Darius Scott.
You can see a short film of Hawkins in the newly re-opened Bohemian Caverns talking about his life of making music in Washington, D.C., by clicking on the "Nightlife" page of www.washingtonpost.com.
A PROMISING REBIRTH
Speaking of Bohemian Caverns (2001 11th St. NW; 202/299-0800), last Friday was the grand opening of this storied venue, closed since the riots of 1968. The building at the corner of 11th and U streets has been lovingly renovated as a jazz club (in the basement), a restaurant (on the ground floor) and a private club (on the second floor).
I stopped in for the opening and for the chance to hear legendary jazz organ player Jimmy Smith in the basement, which has been returned to its grotto-like glory. It was absolutely packed, and there was a tangible sense of history in the making. Smith's band was superb, and Smith (who played often in the original club) was stunning as he worked the keys and the foot pedals of his organ, sending the sounds through two swirling Leslie speakers.
I'll be taking a closer look at the club over the next few weeks, as the staff works out the kinks in the bar service and in the sound quality, but it's clear that Washington has itself another classy jazz club, in exactly the right location.
Upcoming shows include the Stanley Cowell Quartet this Friday and Saturday, Etta Jones and Houston Person on July 21 and 22 and Shirley Horn on July 28 and 29.
Heads up, punk rockers: Government Issue is back. Granted, it's only in digital form, but for anyone who was living the punk life in the heyday of Washington's influential and vibrant scene, the arrival of "Government Issue: Complete History Volume One" is a happy moment.
"Tom Lyle and I have been looking for a long time for a label to put out all the GI stuff on CD," says founder and front man John "Stabb" Schroeder. "We'd gotten so shafted by our label back when we put this stuff out, we wanted to be certain they were the right people." Schroeder and Lyle, the band's guitarist, finally settled on the California label Dr. Strange, and are so happy with the arrangement that "Volume Two" is in the works.
"Volume One" covers the band from '81 to '85, when Government Issue also featured (in various incarnations) such folks as Brian Baker, Mike Fellows, Mitch Parker, Lenny Leonard and Marc Alberstadt, while "Volume Two" will follow GI to its end in 1988, a final version of the band that featured future Jawboxers J. Robbins and Pete Moffett.
Schroeder went on to perform in Weatherhead, Teen Psycho Booty, Emma Peel and Betty Blue, and is currently in a studio-only band called the Factory Incident. Don't look for him to flail around stage as he did way back when, however. "None of us has any desire to play out live anymore," Schroeder says. "That got beaten out of us."
For more information, go to www.drstrange.com.