Gloria and Ozzie: The Marriage that saved South Bay jazz
“Hi, it’s Gloria again,” a chipper voice rang over the phone line. “I forgot to tell you about the bronze plaques. You know the bronze plaques of the musicians in Pier Plaza in Hermosa? Ozzie did that, too.”
Gloria Cadena is 88 years old. She manages apartment buildings, runs the jazz program at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach and is extremely active in the SouthBay community. But her favorite pastime is talking about Ozzie.
“It was Ozzie’s idea to recognize the musicians that played at the Lighthouse,” she said. “It took him five years to convince the city, but he got it done.”
Gloria’s late husband Oscar “Ozzie” Cadena is nothing short of a legend in the jazz world, not only locally but nationally. He got his start in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey where he worked at the Radio Record Shop. The store was owned by Herman Lubinksky, owner of Savoy Records, a major jazz label. It wasn’t long before Ozzie was learning how to make records, earning the title of artistic director.
He went on to work for a number of labels, including Prestige and Blue Note and eventually founded his own, Choice. By the time he died in 2008, Ozzie had created a legacy of jazz appreciation and excellence that was fostered at the Lighthouse Cafe.
“This November 11 we would have been married 61 years,” Gloria said. “After his stroke I would go see him in the hospital. He could speak but he couldn’t move his whole left side. He said, ‘You have to do the music. Do the music.’”
Music was always forefront in Ozzie’s mind. And it almost cost him his bride when he met her in 1940.
“I had this friend, George, who told me he wanted to introduce me to someone,” Gloria said. “He told me he was a music guy that loved jazz like I did. And that he was a good dancer like me, you know, doing the jitterbug.”
“Well I got there that night and I guess Ozzie told George that he wasn’t interested in girls, that all he cared about was music. He was 17 and I was 16. And he didn’t think I knew anything about jazz. Oh boy, did I fool him.”
Gloria grew up in a musical household in Union, New Jersey. Her older brother, who is now 100, used to tap dance and perform at shows in the Navy. He instilled a serious love for jazz in his little sister at a very young age. Ozzie didn’t stand a chance.
“That was it,” Gloria said. “He was my first and last boyfriend.”
Ozzie went off to war as a Marine and the couple sent letters back and forth from Newark to Guam. Gloria expected to get engaged as soon as he got back.
“Nope. He came back from the Marines in 1945 still with the music in his head,” she said. “He decided he should go to music school in New York City and learn everything there is to know.”
Music ruled much of the Cadenas’ life together, but Gloria didn’t mind. They were finally married in 1950 and had a two-day honeymoon in New York doing their two favorite things: they went to see jazz and they went to a Giants game.
Ozzie’s successful music producing career kept him busy and he started to travel all over the country as his young family grew. He loved coming to Los Angeles.
“One day Ozzie came home and said, ‘We gotta move,’ and I thought he meant move maybe to the next town over in New Jersey. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘California.’”
“I was so busy when he traveled, raising the kids, helping at their schools and teaching kindergarten. He said, ‘We’ll move to California and you’ll never have to work again.’”
“Well, I’ve worked every day since I got here,” Gloria laughed.
It’s not an exaggeration. When the Cadenas came to Hermosa Beach in 1974, Ozzie bought a massive space at 901 Hermosa Avenue to open a record store. The couple had a record store back in New Jersey called Grab Bag and Ozzie brought their entire inventory with him across the country.
“Los Angeles doesn’t get the records as quickly as they do on the East Coast,” Gloria said. “So all these stores in L.A. came down and bought our entire stock. We tried to turn the place into an antique store but we just didn’t make any money. Within five years all of our money was gone.”
Ozzie was overcome by the loss and was physically sick as a result. Gloria rebounded quickly and started managing apartments in the early 1980s. She still does it today.
“Sometimes Ozzie’s ideas were too quick but he was a good man,” she said. “Your vows are for better or worse and so I jumped right in. Gals these days get divorced so fast. You’re supposed to help each other out.”
Meanwhile, Paul Hennessey had taken ownership of the Lighthouse Cafe. The Lighthouse had been a beacon for jazz music since its inception and Hennessey wanted to book some new jazz acts. He heard that the recording giant Ozzie Cadena was in town.
“The first band he booked was Woody Herman and he gave him his start,” Gloria said.
“From then on we were booking the acts, and to this day I’m in charge of the jazz program on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.”
“Ozzie was as good as gold but he had a temper and no patience,” she said. “So I made the calls and wrote the letters. I was the social one and he knew all the music.”
“I knew he wanted me to keep the music going after he died. I do it for him. I know he would want me to do it and musicians need the work.”
Gloria is at the Lighthouse three times per week with her scheduled bands. She mingles around the room with a tiny frame and an impish sense of humor. All the musicians know her and seem to adore her. Saxophonist Doug Webb makes a tribute to Gloria while he’s on stage, thanking her for keeping the jazz alive. She blushes.
“I don’t like when they talk about me,” she said after. “I can chat with everyone in the room, but I get shy when they talk about me. I like it when they talk about Ozzie.”
Gloria Cadena’s jazz program runs Wednesdays 6-9 P.M., Saturdays 11A.M.-2:30 P.M. and Sundays 11 A.M.-3 P.M. at the Lighthouse Cafe, 30 Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. Her schedule line up can be found on the Lighthouse page of www.lajazz.com. ER