The jazz was hot and the audience hotter yesterday as several hundred music lovers braved the muggy weather to hear a free concert on the Mall on behalf of a Church of Scientology-spawned religious freedom organization.
The concert, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Religious Freedom Crusade, featured about 60 bands and performers, including jazz and pop vocalist Al Jarreau, jazz keyboard performer and composer Chick Corea and singer-composer Frank Stallone.
While most of the crowd at the afternoon and early evening concert seemed to be focusing on the jazz, gospel and rock music, there was a definite message amid the melodies.
"You have a religious country," said actor Michael Roberts, addressing the audience on the Mall near Fourth Street. "This is not Russia, this is the United States."
Ken Hoden, president of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles and a sponsoring minister of the Religious Freedom Crusade, said the concert was being held to draw attention to the erosion of religious freedoms in the United States.
"We thought just the Church of Scientology was having the problem, but that's not true," said Hoden, 38, who pointed to the involvement in the crusade of Baptist, Methodist and Church of God ministers.
Hoden said the religious freedom organization got started in Oregon in May following a controversial lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology by a former member. He cited the suit as one of several attacks on various religious denominations.
"You can't prove religious beliefs," said Hoden, who predicted that religious rights will be the issue of the 1980s just as civil rights dominated the 1960s.
The concert crowd, which grew late in the afternoon as Jarreau and Stallone's performances neared, came prepared for the region's current heat wave. There were blankets for stretching out under the sun, and there were ice chests and cool drinks for withstanding its effects.
The audience as a whole cheered references to religious freedom, but there was more than a little restlessness during some portions of the concert.
When its emcee, actor Jeff Pomerantz, made another in a series of anti-Soviet barbs heard during the day, one concert-goer was overheard expressing his annoyance about distractions from the music.
"What's with all this Russia stuff?" he complained to a companion.