This year marked the 9th anniversary of the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, and my first time attending. The event, a prohibition era inspired celebration, was first conceived by composer Michael Arnella of (Michael Arnella and his Dreamland Orchestra) as a small gathering, and originally produced by Governor’s Island. However, after three years, Michael Arnella took the reigns and grew it into one of New York City’s most memorable and enjoyable annual summer events.
For $37.50, you gain general admission where you’re welcome to picnic on the lawn in style. But the celebration is more than just a throwback party which takes place two weekends a year. Michael Arnella, as well as all of the performers and vendors, pay homage to the era by being as accurate as possible in their delivery and execution of everything from the music they play to the food they serve. And while dressing in the period attire isn’t mandatory, floating through a sea of people who look like they’re headed to a speak easy, makes the pretend prohibition era feel that much more real and magical.
This post is overdue by a few weeks (it’s July 22nd, even though I’m dating it the 4th) but it’s something I wanted to make sure I remembered and could share with anyone interested.
It’s said that Jazz was born in America and is enjoyed worldwide, so it was very befitting that the father of jazz, Louis Armstrong, happened to be born on this day – or so that’s what most people believe. From a child, Louis Armstrong had been told by his mother that his birthday was the same day as the country he had been born in. It’s the date associated with his social security number as well as his draft card and other government-issues documents. It wasn’t until scholars found his baptismal papers that it was confirmed that Louis Armstrong was in fact born on August 4, 1901.
That didn’t stop the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM) from celebrating his birthday in full force on July 4, 2013, however. The LAHM is an organization run by Queens College, CUNY, built to preserve the legacy of Louis Armstrong and the home he shared with his wife Lucille in Corona, Queens, where he spent the last 30 years of his life up until his death on July 6, 1971 just a month shy of his (real) 71st birthday.
The celebration started with a private complimentary luncheon for members and then followed with a concert from the band Bria’s Hot Five which was open to everyone who purchased a ticket. Being a member of the LAHM, but never having visited the house, I was able get access to the backyard (you need to sign up for a tour to see the inside of house) before most were – though it turns out almost everyone who attended has been to the house before. The backyard, which is an entire lot onto itself, had what could be described as a parasol of intertwined branches and leaves. The high trees gave an abundance of shade, which made it more comfortable on such a hot day, though there was unshaded area where you could sit on benches or admire the small pond. There was also a nice outdoor bar, where they served members some southern fixins like collard greens, mac & cheese, rice & beans and corn bread. Not to mention the delicious birthday cake that everyone got a piece of after the show. It was certainly a great day and a great way to celebrate The 4th of July.
PS: If you bring your mouthpiece to the LAHM archives at Queens College, you’ll get the opportunity to play one of Louis’ actual trumpets.
In belated honor of fellow jazz great, Dizzy Gillepsie’s birthday, I thought I’d post a pic from a Chick Corea show a few weeks back at the Highline Ballroom. (I didn’t check my camera before I went to realize that it wasn’t working so I was only able to get a shot with my phone from the back).
The Chick Corea trio consisted of himself, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t really follow Chick Corea. I know he’s been on albums with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, but as a pianist I’m not too familiar with his newer music. I might even be one of those people who say they like the ‘old Chick,’ the same way others say they like the ‘old Miles’, before fusion and funk. Either way, I am smart enough to know that he is one of the last living jazz legends and worth seeing if you have the chance. He’s had such a successful career that it’s like witnessing history when you see him perform, even if the players have changed.
The band played mostly new music, which I hadn’t heard before, but really enjoyed. He saved the best for last when his wife Gayle came on stage to sing “You’re Everything.” At the time she walked on I didn’t know she was a singer, but it was obvious she was when she opened her mouth. She has a very light voice that that seemed to float on top of the instruments. It was a really good ending.
I had heard about Freddie Hubbard from my boyfriend. He talked about him, along with the other great jazz players we so often listened to, and one of the few to still be alive. Ironically, the first time I saw the likes of Freddie Hubbard was in the movie ‘Round Midnight. He was the trumpet player in Dexter Gordon’s band.
The more interested and excited I became in jazz, the more disappointed I felt that I would never be able to see all of these great musicians live and feel the energy they emanate when they perform in front of a crowd. But then I found out that Freddie Hubbard was playing at Iridium. I knew it would be a great opportunity to see him live in such a small venue.
It was well known that he had health problems, both with his heart and lips. And he definitely didn’t play his horn like he did in his prime. But seeing him on stage with his flugelhorn, knowing of his accomplishments, made me feel like I was in the presence of a legend, which I was. That may have possibly been one of his last performances, as he died a year later.
My boyfriend is a big jazz fan. He started getting into it a few years ago when he took up the trumpet. Even though I played the trumpet 3 years in junior high school and was in Jazz Band, I was convinced that I never really knew much about the music and had never been overly interested in it. It wasn’t hard getting exposure to it, since he listened, played and read about all the time. And it wasn’t long until I realized the importance and popularity of the songs I played in Jazz Band. I finally learned what Mack the Knife was about and that ‘What a Wonderful World’ isn’t what made Louis Armstrong famous. I learned about musicians and singers, watched movies and documentaries, and bought books that helped catch me up to speed on what I had been ignorant about for so long.
So that started my love of jazz and, I guess you could say, a great history lesson into music. Apple pie and baseball may be American pastimes, but nothing else can claim to be born in America and enjoyed worldwide.
This photo, entitled A Great Day in Harlem, was shot by Art Kane in 1958. The idea was to create a group portrait of living legendary jazz musicians (57 are featured) on a Harlem street. It turned out to be one of the most iconic portraits in music, if not photography. The one question I have, though, is why people like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, to name a few, aren’t there. I simply think that some of these musicians weren’t from NY, or in NY at the time of this shoot, and they just couldn’t make it.
Not all of the faces are clear enough to identify by name, if you even know all of them. But fortunately, Art Kane’s site (click the ‘harlem’ link at the top to see this photo) enables visitors to roll over each person and see their name in the lower right hand corner.