By Mary Alice Miller
This year’s celebration of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium encompasses the totality of our culture: music, spoken word, food, theater, arts, dance, and books.
Here is a sampler of this year’s cultural celebration so far.
The festival opened with Community Day, held at Restoration. Mrs. Alma Carroll, wife of the late jazz vocalist Joe “Be Bop” Carroll, who worked with Dizzy Gillespie, recalled the days of Model City, the development of Restoration, and Neighborhood Youth Core. She remembered when Restoration was a milk factory and Von King Park was Tompkins Park. Then, the community’s dreams were to build what we have now. According to Mrs. Carroll, the current dream is the documenting of America’s classical music-jazz. Nightclubs, schools, and churches, 32 organizations in all, have come together to fulfill that dream.
Colvin Grannum, president of Restoration, assured those in attendance that Restoration is committed to promote the culture of our people and build the economic base of the community.
Keynote speaker Kevin Powell, hip-hop historian, gave a presentation entitled From Be Bop to Hip-Hop: the Historical Connections between Jazz and Rap. Powell encouraged us to continue building bridges between youth and elders. He states: “Young ears have not been acculturated to jazz.” Powell gave three foundations for jazz: the black church, blues, and Ragtime. He noted that there is a difference between the hip-hop industry and hip-hop culture. Powell reminded us that, just as poor people created jazz, poor people created hip-hop.
Music for Community Day was energetically provided by Sabor & Company, allowing young members of Non Stop Productions to give a wonderful vocal performance.
A well-kept secret is the new Secrets Restaurant on Nostrand Avenue. Secrets hosted a couple of Sunday Jazz brunches featuring the Eric Frazier Trio. Although Frazier is a conga player, he calls himself an entertainer, engaging the audience while singing “The Jazz Spot,” (a tribute to the Bed-Stuy club) and a sultry version of “Fever.” The Eric Frazier Trio also performed selections from In Your Own Time, their current CD (#1 across the country, according to Frazier). Jazz vocalist Steve Cromity stopped by for brunch, and was enlisted by Frazier to give a beautiful rendition of “On a Clear Day.”
Despite a chilly rain, jazz lovers flocked to Sugarhill Restaurant and Supper Club for the festival gala’s Afro-Caribbean Jazz Experience featuring the Hai Resolution Band. Announcer Harold Valle provided his melodic voice and rhymes.
Jitu Weusi, president of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium (CBJC), presented awards to this year’s inductees into the Central Brooklyn Jazz Hall of Fame. The Deacon Leroy Appling Young Lion Award was given to Anthony Wonsey, pianist. The Hall of Fame Award was given posthumously to saxophonist and composer Roland Alexander. The Jazz Impact Award was given to drummer Ben Dixon. This year’s Jazz Shrine Award was given to Pumpkins Lounge. Saxophonist Gerald Hayes was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Weusi showed a short film of CBJC’s sojourn to the South African Jazz Festival last February. CBJC took five jazz groups representing American jazz, including Randy Weston and his Quintet, the Jeff King Band with Gregory Porter, Vanessa Rubin and her Trio, D.D. Jackson and his Trio, and Bishop Nathaniel Townsley, Jr. and the Gospel Jubilee.
The Hai Resolution Band filled Sugarhill with music, thrilling the crowd and enticing them to dance. The Band performed musical selections from all over the Caribbean, and the U.S. Hai Resolution’s band members played so tightly, the late James Brown, notorious for identifying the errant note, would have been proud. One enigma in the band was Sterling Sax, who could play both his alto and soprano saxophones at the same time, and could blow a sweet note for four bars while breathing in.
Last Friday, CBJC hosted a Jazz Sampler Tour, with first-class transportation sponsored by Brooklyn Tourism. First stop was Secrets, then on to Jazz 966. What would Jazz 966 be without house announcer Harold Valle? Dancing at Jazz 966 is rumored to cure minor aches and joint pain. Featured entertainment that night was Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers. Jeopardy question: Pucho is one of two African Americans in the Latin Jazz Hall of Fame. The other? Dizzy Gillespie. Next stop was Solomon’s Porch, home of the Jeff King Band. Solomon’s Porch is a comfortable, earthy space. It was pleasant to see the mixed crowd, young and not so, as well as singles and couples. As I looked around, I was struck by the fact that our elders felt comfortable being out at 11:00 on a Friday night in the middle of Bed-Stuy, enjoying a drink and great music.
The Jazzpazazz Preservation Society hosted Jazz Connection the next day at Sugarhill. The purpose of the Jazzpazazz Preservation Society is to collect and document the oral and written jazz traditions in Brooklyn. A panel of five including Mrs. Alma Carroll, Wade Barnes (drummer), Mario Escalera (saxophone), Mrs. Rachman, wife of Bilar (woodwinds), and Kiane Zawadi (euphonium-a type of trombone), gave recollections of jazz’s heyday. Of particular interest is Bilal Rachman’s In the Key of Me, a history of jazz in Brooklyn. Original copies of In the Key of Me are available; however, the book is being edited for reprint.
Next stop was open house at Afroart, featuring the Jeff King Band and the fine art of Answered Stewart. Afroart offers beautiful home furnishings with a cultural flair. You can get custom kente cloth wallpaper and borders, cultural greeting cards, custom-carved Ghanaian art, stoneware, multi-colored woven straw baskets, as well as candles, oils and scented soaps. Afroart features a new artist every six weeks. Item prices vary, so even if you are window shopping, you can spiritually support this black-owned business with a purchase as small as $1.
Sista’s Place hosted the Sonny Fortune Trio. With its bistro-like atmosphere, Sista’s Place attracts an eclectic, interracial clientele. Sonny Fortune plays his saxophone as if he were conversing with numbers instead of words, if numbers were a language like Swahili or Wolof. Drummer Neil Smith went so deep into meditation during a solo, I thought he wouldn’t come out. David Williams dances with his bass, rocking with it, plucking and stroking with undulation rhythms as if it were a favored paramour.
The Brooklyn Historical Society featured “An Evening of Jazz and Conversation with Randy Weston.” The event began by previewing An African Odyssey, a soon-to-be- released film about Randy Weston. Our palates were whetted by Weston himself, who told of being born and raised in Brooklyn by a Panamanian father and African American mother. Weston recalls his father telling him, “Boy, you are an African born in America.” Weston’s father believed in the teachings of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and provided him with books on African history. Weston studied the cultures of ancient Egypt and Africa. According to Weston, “Through that process, the music came.” Weston found that the “tradition of music in ancient cultures” was strong. He says, “They were masters of making musical instruments. African people have a spiritual music, no matter what the religion.”
Weston added, “Brooklyn can be like Kansas City, New Orleans, and Harlem, if it just claims its heritage.”
And then came the music.
The Randy Weston Trio’s first song, “Little Niles,” began with a beautiful interlude by Weston.
This song inspired Weston to expound on the essence of traditional African rhythms. You cannot improve on traditional music. There are songs for harvest and for babies being born. Music is a healing force all over the world. Mother Nature is the original music. The wind, plants, birds and insects make music. African music projects the beauty of our people. You cannot lie about music. It is a universal language of love, healing. We respect you, Mother Africa.”
The Trio then performed “Borom XanXan,” a song written for the great Egyptologist Chek Anta Diop. “Borom XanXan” is a Wolof phrase that means “man of high spiritual status.” Next came a song called “African Sunrise,” a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. TK Blue on sax and Bennie Powell on trombone accompanied Weston, bassist Alex Blake and Neil Clarke on African percussion.
The performance was concluded with “African Village, Bed-Stuy,” and the Trio’s theme song from Ghana, “Love, the Mystery Of.” Now, that’s entertainment.
The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium’s 8th Annual Festival continues through April 29. Come out and enjoy yourself. You won’t regret it.