Three weeks ago I listed the best local concerts of the previous year. But it was a pretty short list: five shows, in a COVID-crippled year. NICOLE RECOMMENDS added nine more, and six of them were in one long weekend.

But the year before — boy howdy! “What a banner year 2019 was,’ I wrote. “A cornucopia of amazing performances, large and small.”

Before the very notion of live music concerts becomes a fading nostalgia, allow me to cruise through the best of the last full year that we had. Perhaps it will rekindle my appreciation and yours for what we have lost, and what we hope so fervently will again be part of our lives. It certainly illustrates what I’ve been saying since I moved here 40 years ago — LA: best live music city on the planet.

We just celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth and life, and he once said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” — Plato.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” — William Shakespeare

“Music can change the world.” — Beethoven.

“Live music is the cure for what ails ya.” — Henry Rollins.

There were too many great shows I missed, but here are the ones I caught, that caught my imagination, in 2019 —


Jan. 6, Walt Disney Concert Hall — After closing out 2018 with two thrilling Brahms pieces conducted by our ex-dirigent Zubin Mehta, Renaissance man JOHN CAGE conducted the world premier by his buddy PHILIP GLASS, Symphony No. 12, “Lodger,” from the music of David Bowie and Brian Eno, featuring ANGELIQUE KIDJO as vocalist plus two sopranos and a mezzo. A wild card that did not disappoint. God bless The Dude(-amel) and his adventuresome programming. We are so fortunate to have him here.

McCabes — Thanks to a matinee performance by the Phil, I was also able to catch CONNOR AND ARIANNE VANCE opening the evening show at McCabes. They are Santa Monica’s own homegrown, how can one married couple be so nice smart good looking AND so ridiculously talented, The Vances, she of a pure, emotional, joyous voice and he the multi-instrumental whiz formerly of the Dustbowl Revival.

Jan. 19, Sam First — playing a fairly rare public gig, close to home, next door to LAX at classy jazz joint Sam First, Santa Monica’s world-renowned melodic, so creative jazz drummer PETER ERSKINE (with superb sidemen pianist Alan Pasqua, also longtime SM, bassist Derek Oles, and Boston tenor sax man George Gorzone) created the expected magic. Being able to sit close enough to see every small movement of Erskine’s sublime sticks and brushes is enlightening, and a cherished treat.

Jan. 25, Barker Hangar — “I love love love this event,” I wrote back then, even before my first taste of liquid or musical gold. “WHISKY X LA. will be even better in 2019,” I predicted, because the band booked was 8-piece Alabama soul outfit ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES, with food and 60 whiskies to taste.” And it was.

Feb. 11, The Broad — lively, thought-provoking Artists Talk panel discussion on the intersection of art and politics featuring graphic artist/activist SHEPARD FAIREY, conceptual artist Tavares Strachan, UCLA photography prof Catherine Opie, and Russian activist, two-year Siberian prisoner and PUSSY RIOT founding member NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA, with a performance afterwards by Pussy Riot, which now, mostly, is only Tolokonnikova and a riveting multimedia show.

Feb. 16, Jazz Bakery — I wasn’t familiar with the DON BRADEN QUARTET, went because the great BILLY CHILDS was on piano. And it was exceptional. You can pretty much trust RUTH PRICE’S JAZZ BAKERY to thrill you every time.

Mar. 3, Walt Disney Concert Hall — there may not be a more magnificent piece of music than the MAHLER Symphony No. 9 — I think I teared up — and LA PHIL conductor GUSTAVO DUDAMEL has built his reputation partly on his mastery of Mahler’s emotional landscapes. His official last symphony, he put his soul into it but died two years after completing, and never heard it performed.

Mar. 2, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion — “The Clemency of Titus” was MOZART’s last opera, rarely performed but considered some of his best opera music, the plot careens from palace intrigue to a scorned woman to betrayal, and the LA OPERA made a little-known work pop and resonate.

Mar. 5, Harvelle’s — their annual MARDI GRAS CELEBRATION is reason alone to miss the packed-house shows at our local landmark, 90-year-old blues club. Oh sure, the New Orleans vibe was cool, with Abita beer, deadly Shark Attack cocktails, King Cake, creole food out back, but this is one of the few Mardi Gras celebrations in town that rocks because of the DAMN WELL PLEASE ORGAN TRIO, with DARIUS blowing your mind at the keyboards, yeah he’s that good, plus maybe about a dozen friends sitting in, it’s enough to make a Catholic out of you. Darius retired from live performance — except for that one show, once a year..


LISTEN TO JAMES BALDWIN’S RECORD COLLECTION — After coming across photos of the great author and activist James Baldwin’s record collection posted by Maison Baldwin (a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the writer’s legacy in the South of France), Hammer Museum curator Ikechúkwú Onyewuenyi was inspired to compile the collection into one place: a 32-hour, 484-song Spotify playlist available for all to stream.

In an interview with Hyperallergic, Onyewuenyi said, “The playlist is a balm of sorts when one is writing. Baldwin referred to his office as a ‘torture chamber.’ We’ve all encountered those moments of writers’ block, where the process of putting pen to paper feels like bloodletting. That process of torture for Baldwin was negotiated with these records.”

I am always interested to learn about the artists who inspired those who inspire me, and to get a glimpse into the sounds that accompanied Baldwin throughout his creative life feels very special. Perhaps it helps that I actually like the music, but if you are at all a fan of Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, Milt Jackson, or other great jazz, blues, gospel and soul, you will no doubt enjoy this glimpse into an intimate part of one of our country’s greatest minds.

The playlist can be accessed via this link, or by searching “Chez Baldwin” on Spotify: si=Ei6X GFo2SgKJkVIuYCi1mw

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 35 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at