Queens - The Home of Jazz
Louis Armstrong House & Jazzmobile Block Party
August 20, 2012 / Corona Neighborhood / Live Music in Queens / Queens Buzz. The Louis Armstrong House hosts a Jazzmobile block party every August. This year the Jazzmobile block party included one of the current jazz greats, Arturo O'Farrill. Arturo won the Grammy Award in 2009 for Best Latin Jazz Album with the work entitled Song For Chico, and he has been a Grammy nominee several times over.
The album containing Song For Chico is dedicated to Arturo's father, Chico, who worked with many of the NYC jazz legends. Chico's musical peers and collaborators include Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman, as well as Latin jazz great Machito.
Both Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman lived in Queens. Both men are said to have jammed with Louis at the Armstrong House in Corona. Arturo O'Farrill and some of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra are shown in the photo above playing at the Louis Armstrong House during the Jazzmobile Block Party in the Corona neighborhood of Queens.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Robin Bell-Stevens, President & CEO of the Jazzmobile. Robin's father, Aaron Bell, played with Duke Ellington and Dr. Billy Taylor. Dr. Billy Taylor founded the Jazzmobile, sponsor of the event, in 1961.
Click here for our report and photos of the Louis Armstrong House & Jazzmobile Block Party at the Louis Armstrong House in Queens.
Queens - The Home of Jazz
Louis Armstrong House Block Party & Jazzmobile in Queens
August 20, 2012 / Corona Neighborhood / Live Music in Queens / Queens Buzz. Continued. As I made my way toward the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, I noticed that the late August weather was nearly perfect for an outdoor jazz concert. This was particularly true in light of the hot and humid summer we were in the process of coming through.
I headed up the street past the police blockade. They had cordoned off the entire block in front of the Armstrong House on 107th Street and put out between 50 - 100 chairs in the street facing a small stage. On the far side of the street stood several street vending food trucks, but no Jazzmobile. I found out later that the Jazzmobile is in need of some significant maintenance work.
Louis Armstrong House Block Party - Arturo O'Farrill & Co
The mood was quite relaxed, with folks taking in the nice weather while doing some crowd gazing. Arturo and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra had finished setting up and were introduced to us by Deslyn Dyer, Programs Officer at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Arturo introduced the band, which includes Adam O'Farrill on the trumpet, Amanda Ruzza on bass guitar, Zack O'Farrill on the drums, Livie Almeda playing tenor saxaphone and Shakoor Sanders playing bongos.
The outdoor jazz concert started at 7 pm and lasted about two hours. During the program Arturo would share a bit of himself in between different pieces played by the band. Each musician was accomplished in their own right, doing solos embedded in longer compositions, in a traditional jazz style.
They played a variety of jazzy tunes, starting with a classic one that just liesurely wound its way up and down and all around, putting us all in under their enchanted musical spell. Music is best listened to so we've embedded a video of theirs from another performance which should give you an idea of what we were treated to.
Jazzmobile - Jazzmobile & Louis Armstrong House Block Party
As mentioned in the introduction I met Robin Bell-Stevens, President & CEO of the Jazzmobile. She gave me a brief history of the Jazzmobile which I'll share with you.
The Jazzmobile was founded by Dr. Billy Taylor and Daphne Arnstein, back in the early 1960's . The Jazzmobile was intended to create a vehicle to take jazz to inner city youth. Budweiser put up some seed money and an old float which was converted into a bandstand on wheels [see photo to left].
Co-Founder Dr. Billy Taylor was an African American jazz musician. In the 1950's and 1960's Taylor became the unofficial jazz spokesman, and the longest serving house pianist at Birdland - a very fashionable jazz club in midtown Manhattan. Birdland opened in 1949 and closed in the mid 1960's. During this time Birdland became one of the central meeting places for jazz musicians, in a manner 'somewhat' like the Cotton Club was in Harlem during the heyday of jazz in the 1920's and 1930's. Fellow Co-Founder, Daphne Arnstein, was an arts patron who also founded the Harlem Cultural Council.
Jazzmobile Mission - Jazz, America's Classical Music
The Jazzmobile's mission is to: "Present, preserve, promote and propagate JAZZ, AMERICA'S CLASSICAL MUSIC."
Robin told me that her father, Aaron Bell, was a bassist who played with Dr. Billy Taylor at Birdland, and later played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Duke Ellington had become famous in the 1920's and 1930's during the Harlem Renaissance, playing at the famous Cotton Club for many years - beginning in 1927.
Post WWII, things had changed for jazz musicians, as rock 'n roll began making its way into American culture. And access to electronic media like television and radio, began to change how the American public consumed or absorbed the cultural arts. The value of liver performances began declining as people began exercising the option of enjoying music and theater in the comfort of their own homes.
Aaron Bell and Dr. Billy Taylor remained friends throughout their lives and it is through this friendship that Robin became involved in the Jazzmobile. Robin's presence lit up as she recalled her youth as the daughter of the famous jazz musician: Aaron Bell. Aaron Bell, Dr. Billy Taylor, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are now jazz legends who spanned nearly a century of the musical art. Robin Bell-Stevens, President & CEO of the Jazzmobile, is shown in the photo above right. And jazz musicians Arturo O'Farrill and Amanda Ruzza are shown at left. You can see their performances close up in the slide show below.
Jazzmobile in Queens & NYC - Concerts, Workshops, Education & Contests
Like most non-profit organizations, the soft economy has impacted the scope of Jazzmobile operations. The Jazzmobile sponsored 26 concerts this year, which is down from its height of more than 40 concerts some years ago. The Jazzmobile raises funds to sponsor these jazz concerts, as well as jazz workshops, competitions, education and to keep the Jazzmobile running. In some respects the Jazzmobile appears to be evolving from a physical construct to a concept, as one can see by what it used to be and what it now is.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum & Block Party - The Home of Jazz
After talking to Robin, I visited the Louis Armstrong House where I thanked Deslyn Dyer, Programs Officer, and Jennifer Walden Weprin, Director of Marketing for hosting this musical event. You can see them in the photo to your right.
Click here for a history of Louis Armstrong House in Queens, click here for a map showing the location of the Louis Armstrong House Museum map and click here for a business listing including contact info and website link for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Photos of Louis Armstrong House Block Party & Jazzmobile
Click here to view photos of the Louis Armstrong House Block Party & Jazzmobile in Queens, or you can view the photos below at your own pace by clicking on the arrows.
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