City of Degenerate Angels: Wallace Berman, Jazz and Semina in Postwar Los Angeles

Wallace Berman designed the cover for this 1947 78rpm record set on the Dial label that showcased the emergence of bebop jazz. Berman and his friend Robert Alexander were in the studio when a drug-addled and increasingly erratic Charlie Parker made this notorious recording of “Loverman.” On this hot and rainy night, as Alexander recalls in a 1988 interview, Parker stormed off shirtless down Sunset Boulevard with his saxophone around his neck.

“The Chase” features tenor saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, to whom Berman dedicated one of his issues of his art and poetry journal, Semina. In this 1952 concert recording in which they trade solos, Gordon and Gray demonstrate the battle of musical wits that made them famous in Los Angeles’s Central Avenue nightclubs during the 1940s.

I discuss the album cover and the game-like nature of “The Chase” as examples of Berman’s strategies of art making and community building in postwar Los Angeles that shaped his production of the underground journal Semina.

Charlie Parker, “Loverman,” Bebop, Dial Records, 1947

Wardell Gray & Dexter Gordon, “The Chase,” Recorded live, “Just Jazz Concert”, Pasadena, California February 2, 1952