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Queens: Home of Jazz and Flushing Town Hall

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Queens has the special distinction of having been home to the largest collection of famous jazz artists anywhere at any time.
When most people think of jazz in New York City, Manhattan readily comes to mind. The "East Coast" stride piano style was developed in Harlem, where venues such as the Savoy Ballroom, Small's Paradise, the Cotton Club and Minton's Playhouse presented the big bands and small groups of jazz lore. 52nd Street became known for its collection of clubs catering to jazz musicians and patrons in the 1950s. So the association of Manhattan and jazz is understandable. Few would deny that the statement "New York is the Jazz Capital" usually refers to the Big Apple, not the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and Queens.

Nonetheless, each borough of New York City can stake a claim to its own parcel of ownership of the real estate of jazz history. The Bronx was home to the bygone Club 845 and Blue Morocco venues, where Latin and swing rhythms percolated and Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
1923 - 1967
piano
, Tina Brooks
Tina Brooks
Tina Brooks
1932 - 1974
sax, tenor
, and Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
hung out and played. The Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant was home to Randy Weston
Randy Weston
Randy Weston
b.1926
piano
, Duke Jordan
Duke Jordan
Duke Jordan
1922 - 2006
piano
, Tommy Potter
Tommy Potter
Tommy Potter
1918 - 1988
bass, acoustic
, and Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
; the latter three were at one point Charlie Parker's rhythm section. (In more current times, Steve Coleman's M-Base Collective began in Brooklyn.) Staten Island, the so-called "forgotten borough," had a thriving club scene, and Jimmy Knepper
Jimmy Knepper
Jimmy Knepper
1927 - 2003
trombone
, Don Joseph, Caesar DiMauro, Don Hahn, Chuck Wayne
Chuck Wayne
Chuck Wayne
b.1923
guitar, electric
, and siblings Kenny and Reggie Washington lived and performed there.

Yet Queens has the special distinction of having been home to the largest collection of famous jazz artists anywhere at any time. That's right: Queens, New York, where, since the 1920s, jazz artists have chosen as a comfortable place to live. In fact, Queens has been dubbed "the home of jazz." A sampling will suffice: Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
1903 - 1931
cornet
, the Heath Brothers, Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
, Slam Stewart
Slam Stewart
Slam Stewart
1914 - 1987
bass
, Illinois Jacquet
Illinois Jacquet
Illinois Jacquet
1922 - 2004
sax, tenor
, Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
, Milt Hinton
Milt Hinton
Milt Hinton
1910 - 2000
bass, acoustic
, Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
vocalist
, Earl Bostic
Earl Bostic
Earl Bostic
1913 - 1965
sax, alto
, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
, Frank Wess
Frank Wess
Frank Wess
1922 - 2013
sax, tenor
, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
Eddie
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
1922 - 1986
sax, tenor
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Ben Webster
Ben Webster
Ben Webster
1909 - 1973
sax, tenor
, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson
1894 - 1955
piano
, Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
1904 - 1944
trombone
, Woody Herman
Woody Herman
Woody Herman
1913 - 1987
band/orchestra
, Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
, Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
, Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
, Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
b.1920
trumpet
, Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
, and Jimmy Rushing
Jimmy Rushing
Jimmy Rushing
1903 - 1972
vocalist
all lived in Queens at some point in their careers. Most famously, Louis Armstrong's residence in Corona, Queens today serves as a museum open to the public. Armstrong's archives are available at Queens College, Flushing campus.



Flushing, Queens was home to Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Bill Doggett
Bill Doggett
Bill Doggett
1916 - 1996
organ, Hammond B3
in years past, and today is home to the Flushing Council of Culture and the Arts (FCCA), which preserves, reflects, and perpetuates the cultural legacy of Queens, especially jazz, at its presenting venue Flushing Town Hall.

This writer visited Flushing Town Hall by way of a short trip from Grand Central Station on the #7 train, passing by the new Mets stadium along the way. I spoke with FCCA Executive Director Ellen Kodadek and Jazz Producer Clyde Bullard, a professional bassist who has produced jazz events at Flushing Town Hall since 1998. "Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
has referred to this institution as the 'cultural crossroads.' That's absolutely reflected in the kind of programming we do here," said Kodadek. "It's extraordinary to have someone of his caliber, expertise and experience to refer to us and think of us in that way."

Cultural crossroads is an apt description of Queens also. According to Kodadek, "Queens is the most diverse county in the country. There are over 138 languages spoken here. We're in downtown Flushing, which is mostly Chinese and Korean. As you spread out further into Flushing and further into Queens, you get this amazing cultural mix: Chinese, Korean, Columbian, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, East Asian and East Indian communities, and African-American."

The foundation of Flushing's cultural diversity was cemented over 300 years ago. "In 1657 the inhabitants of Flushing wrote the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition declaring religious freedom," said Bullard. Dutch settlers first came to America in the 1620s as a colony of Holland. Governor Peter Stuyvesant didn't tolerate religious freedom and decreed that Quakers be banished from Flushing. Flushing residents protested that ordinance in writing; this formal protest was a precursor to the U.S. Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. "That set the stage for everything that has happened in Flushing," Bullard declared.

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