The Jazz.com Blog
May 22, 2008 · 1 comment
The jazz.com bloggers are a cosmopolitan bunch. They have recently given us the lowdown on jazz in Estonia and Norway. They have highlighted lesser known talent in Ireland and Germany. They have explored the jazz scene in New Orleans and celebrated the sounds of Réunion Island. Now arnold jay smith tells us that he doesn't need a passport to discover some jazz exotica, just a MetroCard. Below he calls our attention to the jazz heritage and happenings of Queens. T.G.
It’s becoming cliché to tell about the many jazz musicians who lived in the borough of New York City called Queens. Names like Fats Waller, Illinois Jacquet, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, John Coltrane and of course Milt Hinton and Louis Armstrong immediately spring to mind. The Louis Armstrong House and Museum are now land marked and under the guidance of curator Michael Cogswell have grown into international stature. Milt and Mona Hinton’s photographs have been exhibited around the world as well as in books and documentaries.
Now Queens resident saxophonist / composer / arranger / former director of the jazz program at Queens College and soon-to-be-author Jimmy Heath has been commissioned to lead a band made up of some of his protégés and successors to his teaching legacy as well as members of his own quartet. The Queens Jazz Orchestra had its premiere at a sold out Flushing Town Hall concert on a very stormy night in May. The premise of the series begun in 1993 and called Jazz Live! is to give Queens its due on the jazz map. There’s even a motorized trolley which takes folks on a tour of the prominent musicians’ former homes. FTH jazz director Clyde Bullard and founder Jo-Ann Jones agreed that Jimmy Heath was the man to take it the next step: organize a band as a Queens jazz legacy.
Bullard, himself a scion of a jazz family, spoke at the event which had developed its own buzz with a full schedule of jazz even by Big Apple standards. Bullard’s father, Clarence, “CB,” was the Atlantic Records A&R go-to person for most of the last quarter of the last century. If you needed any information, interviews, or LPs — no, it was not all that long ago — you called CB. He was instrumental in developing the jazz program at Flushing Town Hall which is now so fittingly directed by his son.
The sine qua non of the FTH’s ongoing jazz programming is Jimmy Heath’s QJO. It is a 17-piece affair sprinkled with former Heath students such as reedman Antonio Hart, now a professor at Queens College, trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman, director of Jazz Studies there, Jeb Patton, the longtime pianist with the Heath Brothers, veterans such as drummer Dennis Mackrel, saxophonist Charles Davis and trombonist John Mosca, who leads the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, itself a legacy.
The repertoire, which represents former Queens residents, has the fingerprints of its conductor/arranger. The opening and closing work was the commissioned "Crossroads." The band, along with singer Antoinette Montague, vocalize the words “the Queens Jazz Orchestra” which are later echoed by instrumental punctuation. Montague returned to do Lady Day’s “God Bless the Child" and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.” The program opened with Lil Hardin Armstrong’s "Struttin’ with Some Barbecue." There’s a bit of irony here. While Lil taught Louis how to read and write music, it was not until Louis’ wife #4, Lucille that he even had a permanent home to which to come to off the road . Fortuitously, it was in Corona, Queens. On "Struttin’" Louis solo spot was first taken by Mossman and then by the entire trumpet section.
Basie was represented by a disparate pair of selections. The standard Frank Foster’s "Shiny Stockings" came in the second half. The first, "The Basie Section," was from another Heath commission of some 30 years ago. The Afro-American Suite of Evolution, a massive undertaking, was presented by Jazzmobile at NYC’s Town Hall. There are no extant recordings.
Jacquet’s "Robbins Nest" was a duel between Davis and Heath, while Jackson’s "Bag’s Groove" was the trombones’ feature. It is always with deep reverence that Jimmy bows to his musical mentor Gillespie. "Without You No Me" featured the trumpets and the penultimate closer "A Night In Tunisia" had some high note trumpet work by Terrell Stafford, another Heath protégé. Jimmy’s was the only solo on “Trane Connection.”
Look for more on the Queens Jazz Orchestra in a OctoJAZZarian feature on Jimmy Heath coming soon to jazz.com.
This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith