Jewish Journal

Up Front

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

by Rob Eshman

Posted on Jul. 10, 1997 at 8:00 pm

The history of the Jewish Los Angeles writ small -- very, very small -- might be found on the 500 block of Rose Avenue in Venice. There, behind a typical beach-community discount fashion store, Susan Edelman is struggling to create a clothing empire. It happened to the brothers Marciano (Guess?), it happened to the Wexners (The Limited), and it happened to hundreds of Jewish entrepreneurs, dating back at least to Levi Strauss himself.

In fact, there's something vaguely anachronistic about Edelman's enterprise. Jews were creating an empire of their own in the fashion business in Los Angeles as far back as 1840. Compared with the billions of dollars clothing and fashion brings into the Southern California economy, Hollywood's contribution is popcorn.

These days, the fashion industry is more commonly home to Pacific Rim-mers, Latin and Central Americans. But Edelman is still pushing ahead. Inspired by her 3-year-old son, Jones, she created Farmer Jones, a line of bright, simple unisex children's clothing that features farm animals, fruits and vegetables. The 35-year-old first-time mom and Santa Monica resident came up with her own designs, contracted with a manufacturer near New Orleans, invested $5,000 of her savings, then hit the pavement to interest department stores. "I was looking for a design that wasn't firetrucks for boys, flowers for girls," she told Up Front.

Unfortunately, the big retailers told her, Americans want their boys in firetrucks. Undeterred, she contacted smaller stores and sought publicity in magazines. So far, her first run of brightly colored infant and children's jumpers, shirts and T-shirts has sold out, and Edelman has reinvested. The walls of her one-room warehouse/workspace are stacked with clothes now, and Farmer Jones even has an Internet site (www.farmerjones.com). Is this a new Mizrachi or Judy's or Polo in the making? Well, if history is any guide....

You can reach Farmer Jones at (310) 392-9464.

Heard Any Good Newspapers, Lately?

Every once in awhile, somebody comes up with an idea so sensible, so obvious, so good, you have to wonder what the rest of humanity has been doing with its time. Example: Eugenie "Jolie" Mason.

A year ago, Mason realized that blind and otherwise sight-impaired Jewish Angelenos who want news of their community have no way of getting it. Having lived in Washington, Mason knew that the D.C. Radio Reading Service regularly read selections from the ethnic black press over the air to its listeners. Why not, she thought, do the same for ethnic groups in Los Angeles.

Mason had already started the Los Angeles Radio Reading Series four years ago. LARRS broadcasts a two-hour reading of stories from the Los Angeles Times each weekday on the 67-kilohertz subcarrier frequency of 88.5 FM.

Mason recruited volunteers to start African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish editions. For the Jewish edition, she found Stan Dounn, a 65-year-old semi-retired engineer. Dounn, along with readers Bernie Feuerman and Paula Berg, records a two-hour session in a trailer donated by CBS Studios in Studio City. The readers cull the pages of The Jewish Journal and other local and national Jewish papers, choosing articles, Dounn says, "without being too political. We steer clear of one-sided stories." The Journal's "Dear Deborah" is a regular feature.

The sessions are broad-cast on the sub-carrier fre-quency of radio station KCSN-FM, on Fridays, from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and Sundays, from 4 to 6 p.m. You need a radio that's specially adapted for the subcarrier wave to pick up the broadcast. LARRS distributes these for between $24 and $85. The organization is looking for ways to provide the radios free of charge to those who cannot afford them. LARRS also seeks volunteers and contributions. Call (818) 345-2874 if you'd like to help.

Blues Brothers

When Bernie Pearl phoned Up Front to tell us that he had a great music story with an interesting black-Jewish angle, we couldn't have imagined how wrong he was -- because the story of Pearl and his longtime partner, Harvey "Harmonica Fats" Blackston, has little to do with race, creed or religion and everything to do with making great music.

Since releasing their first CD, "Two Heads Are Better," in 1994, the acoustic blues duo has received unqualified critical and popular praise. Pearl plays guitar, and Harmonica Fats plays...oh, just take a guess. Their musical virtuosity, combined with Fats' Louisiana baritone vocals and both men's deep knowledge of American blues, never fails to bring audiences to their feet. Their current CD, "Blow Fat Daddy Blow," will do the same for anyone within range of a stereo system.

Pearl is Jewish. He grew up in Boyle Heights, the youngest of Morris and Sarah Pearl's five children. Influenced, initially, by the first wave of modern folk singers, which included Pete Seeger and the Weavers, he soon came under the spell of such black artists as Leadbelly and Sonny McGhee. His repertoire also included the Zionist songs of his youth, which Pearl, now 58, performed constantly during a 1954 trip to Israel. When he returned from Israel, he began playing with the folk legends appearing at his brother Ed's seminal folk club of the 1960s, the Ash Grove (now risen again at Santa Monica Pier). He was soon playing with and learning from the greatest blues master alive.

Harmonica Fats was born in 1927, the eldest of the 13 children of a Shreveport cotton farmer. He picked up his first harmonica at age 4, moved to Los Angeles at age 19 and, after several years, became a fixture in the city's thriving blues scene. Fats and Pearl hooked up around 1985 at a Long Beach club called Miss Whis. Something clicked. An audition tape the two made sold briskly, and soon they started touring clubs and blues festivals, hawking their CDs from the stage. "If you sell 4,000, you've sold a lot," Pearl told Up Front. The duo's brand of acoustic blues is anathema to the major labels -- electric rules -- though you'd be hard-pressed to find such infectious, joyous tunes on any label.

So Pearl and Fats plug (unplug) along, stage by stage, CD by CD. The "black-Jewish thing" never came up, Pearl said, until recently, when Pearl's son was bar mitzvahed. Then Pearl told Fats how his Jewish heritage had actually led him, as it had so many Jewish men and women, to delve into the songs of oppression, liberation and exodus that the blues represent. And when Fats' wife, called "Mrs. B.," passed away, Pearl played a haunting blues ballad in her memory. He put it on the newest album and called it "Blues Kaddish."

You can catch these two live on July 16, 23, 30 at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach (562-983-7111), and at the Fairfax Avenue Farmer's Market on Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (562) 426-0761.

Irving Berlin (above) and Ira and George Gershwin.

Star Light, Stars Bright

Next week, you'll definitely find Up Front listening to percussionist and vibraphonist Terry Gibbs at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute's Under the Stars Concert series, on Sunday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m. Gibbs and his jazz quintet will perform "All That Jazz," including a tribute to Benny Goodman.

Now in its 10th year, the series will include a "Classical Hollywood" program, with chamber works by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and others, on Sunday, Aug. 3, and a concert by performer/songwriter Debbie Friedman, on Sunday, Aug. 24. Tickets for the concerts ($20 each) can be ordered by calling (805) 582-4450. Reservations are required.

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