Arts & Entertainment

Free music under the stars in the Southland

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The summertime outdoor concert season is underway. The Levitt Pavilions in Pasadena and MacArthur Park offer free open-air concerts all summer long. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad tells us all you need is a lawn chair and a picnic basket to enjoy the sounds of summer.

Shirley Jahad: Tonight at MacArthur Park near downtown L.A., the Levitt Pavilion begins its new season, offering free music five nights a week. In Pasadena at Memorial Park, the Levitt season is already in full swing.

Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch: Music under the stars every Wednesday through Sunday. All of our performances are free of charge. Bring a blanket. Bring a friend. Bring your puppy. Bring your family.

Jahad: Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch of the Mortimer Levitt Foundation helped create the model: a grassy lawn, a gorgeous band shell, and great music – like from Barbara Morrison, one of L.A.’s finest jazz and blues performers.

Levitt Hirsch: Barbara Morrison has one of the great jazz voices. She sings jazz classics and she gets the party going. She has a way of talking to the audience. People love her. When Barbara comes on, the place is jam packed.

Jahad (at the Levitt): What do you love about being out here?
Music fan 1: It’s the beginning of summer. And it’s good times. To be outside to hear live music, there’s nothing like it, to be outdoors, nature. It’s all organic. It’s all good stuff.

Jahad (at the Levitt): I see you came out early. You brought the little ones, the food, the blanket, and even the dog. What do you love about being out here at the Levitt?
Music fan 2: That it’s outside. They have fantastic music. And we get to have a picnic with neighbors. It’s perfect.

Jahad: Giving people a place to come together and enjoy the arts is the whole point of the Levitt. The non-profit uses foundation grants and donations to cover the cost. CJ Whitcomb, the executive director of the Levitt in Pasadena, says a big part of the mission is to connect diverse groups of people.

CJ Whitcomb: People of all different economic ranges and languages and cultures are sitting side by side being a part of the same community. It’s that experience that only music takes you to.

[Latin music]

Jahad: L.A.-based Cava, led by powerful and graceful vocalist Claudia Gonzalez, also performs this summer. The Levitt series brings artists from East L.A., West L.A., and halfway around the world – Indian, Brazilian music – along with some unusual hybrids.

Whitcomb: One of the groups we have is from Scotland. It’s called Salsa Celtica. Now, when you see them on stage you’ll think, “Hmmm. We’re in Scotland.” But when they start to sing, you’ll hear the music of salsa. They are fantastic.

[Bagpipes and conga drums]

Jahad: The Levitt season in MacArthur Park opens tonight with a free community party. Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch says the music at the refurbished pavilion there has added additional life and art in the community for anyone who wants to come.

Levitt Hirsch: It’s been a peacemaker in that area. It’s actually been profound. And for people who come to MacArthur Park, often they are so overwhelmed with the transformation that if they had a previous love for it, it will bring tears to their eyes.

Jahad: Levitt Hirsch envisions further expanding Levitt Pavilions across America. Right now, there are about half a dozen of them around the country, all non-profits offering free music outdoors through the summer. In the Southland, plans are in the works to open Levitt Pavilions in Long Beach and in Riverside.