[Dixielandjazz] FW:Jazz history in Queens, New York

Bill Haesler bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Sat Jan 20 13:45:27 PST 2007

Dear friends,
This one of interest from my mate Denis King, moderator of the Australian
Dance Bands list.
Kind regards,

Jazz's History Is Living in Queens

by Nat Hentoff
Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2007

No book on jazz history that I've seen includes the deeply rooted,
living history of this music in the borough of Queens in New York
City. Years ago, I interviewed Lester Young ("president of the tenor
saxophone") in his home there; and I've visited the Louis Armstrong
Home (a National Landmark, administered by Queens College) and the
Armstrong Archives at Queens College. But until recently, I had no
idea of the scores of jazz makers who have lived in Queens, and
those who have died there.

The list is longer than this article, but among them: Count Basie;
Bix Beiderbecke; Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong (close
neighbors and friends); Ella Fitzgerald; John Coltrane; Woody
Herman; Jimmy Rushing; Julian "Cannonball" Adderley; "Fats" Waller;
James P. Johnson; Jimmy Heath; and Tony Spargo (he was a member of
the white New Orleans Original Jazz Band that, in 1917, made the
first jazz recording).

The fount of this research finally aligning Queens with New Orleans,
Chicago, Manhattan and other storied centers of jazz is the Flushing
Council on Culture and the Arts in Flushing Town Hall. Its regular
tours of "The Queens Jazz Trail" include a large illustrated map of
the icons and their addresses over the years. The lively map is the
creation of Marc Miller, who has written a 22-page guide that is
further animated by tour conductor Toby Knight (a singer with the
Chords, a doo-wop band).

Mr. Miller tells of John Coltrane tutoring children and teenagers in
his St. Albans, Queens, neighborhood who showed musical promise. And
he tells of a pivotal 1930s evening in jazz history when Benny
Goodman first jammed with pianist Teddy Wilson at a party in the
Forest Hills, Queens, home of Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey. The
Goodman trio was birthed that night -- one of the first, and the
most historic, racially integrated groups to play in public. (There
had been integrated after-hours jamming for years before.)

Mr. Miller has found that the first jazz community in Queens was
formed by Clarence Williams -- a successful record producer, music
publisher and entrepreneur who in 1923 bought a home in Jamaica
where "he planned to create a community of black musicians.... At a
time when there were few hotels for African-Americans, many out-of-
town musicians stayed with the Williams family; among them
Willie 'the Lion' Smith, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Louis Armstrong
probably got his first exposure to Queens visiting Williams."

The word got around of how welcoming Queens was becoming -- and
remained -- for black musicians. Armstrong wrote, not long before
his death, about how much he treasured the home his wife, Lucille,
had bought for him in Corona in 1943: "Just think -- through the 29
years that we've lived in this house we have seen just about three
generations come up on this particular block.... Lots of them have
grown up, married, had children, and they still come back and visit
Aunt Lucille and Uncle Louis." And many of them went to the Louis
Armstrong Elementary School and the Louis Armstrong Intermediate
School in Queens.

Another Queens resident at the time, trumpet player Clark Terry,
told me that Armstrong would occasionally invite Terry and other
musicians to his home "to tell us the history of jazz."

The greatly respected bassist Milt Hinton ("the Judge," his fellow
musicians called him) spoke for many in that community of black jazz
creators about the effect being together in Queens had on their
lives. "When I look back on it now, I realize what that house really
meant to us. For the first time, Mona and I had something that was
ours. It was our security and some new roots."

The roots continue to be fruitful. At the Flushing Council on
Culture and the Arts -- the curator of the past, and the generator
of the future, of Queens jazz -- producer Clyde Bullard has, for the
past eight years, produced concerts with, among other jazz
performers, Barry Harris, Marian McPartland, Dr. Billy Taylor and
Randy Weston.

His father, C.B. Bullard -- for 27 years head of the jazz department
at Atlantic Records -- founded the jazz program at the Flushing
Council, along with Jo-Ann Jones and Cobi Narita. Recently, Clyde
Bullard applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant to allow
the creation of an 18-member resident Town Hall Jazz Orchestra to be
directed by Jimmy Heath, known to his peers as "the complete
Jazzman." The mission of this prospective orchestra, says Clyde
Bullard, "will be to revitalize and rejuvenate the jazz heritage of
Queens through concerts, lectures and performances of music created
by the great legends that once resided here."

Among those who still do live in Queens is composer-saxophonist
Heath. And of those who have died, buried in Queens cemeteries are
Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Shavers and
Jimmy Rushing. And another seminal figure in American music, Scott
Joplin, the master composer of the graces of ragtime, is buried in
the borough's St. Michael's Cemetery.

The Queens Jazz Trails tour takes place the first Saturday of every
month. (For information: 718-463-7700, extension 222.) Copies of the
accompanying map can be obtained from Mr. Miller at Ephemera Press (
http://www.ephemerapress.com/ ). There, too, is his celebrated
illustrated map of the Harlem Renaissance that cites cultural
historian Alaine Locke's 1919 first chorus to the abiding importance
of Harlem: "Harlem is the precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the
big apple."

A story that climaxed in the Queens jazz community was told to me by
alto saxophonist Phil Woods, designated this year a Jazz Master by
the National Endowment for the Arts:

"Many years ago, at a club in New York, I was down. I was
saying, 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm a white guy in this music.'
Hearing me whining and crying the blues, Art Blakey and Dizzy
Gillespie kidnapped me. They put me in a cab and took me to Dizzy's
place in Queens.

"Dizzy sat me down and said to me about Charlie Parker, 'Bird gave
it to everybody. To all races. If you can hear it, you can play it.'"

In countries all over the world, musicians of all blends of races
are playing music created on the Queens Jazz Trail.

--- End forwarded message ---

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