Mother Nature provided the glowing sun and cool breezes that swept across the lawn of St. Albans Park Saturday and local musicians provided the aural atmosphere with the staccato sounds of the ninth-annual St. Albans Jazz Festival.
Billed as the place “where it all started,” the festival was just as much about celebrating the rich musical history of the neighborhood as it was about nurturing and sharing the creative forces that exist today.
“I grew up in this neighborhood, and when I grew up there was music in the schools and you could hear people practicing,” vocalist Claudette Morgan said from the stage as she wrapped up her set. “It’s just such a joy to be here and keep this going.”
Bands such as U4ouria and the Bill Jacobs All-Stars filled the air with varying interpretations of the genre.
The festival was co-produced by The Jazz Knights and the Black Spectrum Theater Co. with the support of City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
Carl Clay, the theater company’s executive director, said the festival was started nine years ago in the middle of St. Albans, chosen specifically for the community of jazz musicians who once called it home.
“In the late ’50s and early ’60s, you had a lot of world-class African-American jazz musicians here. Illinois Jacquet, John Coltrane, Brook Benton, James Brown, Milt Hinton ... the list goes on and on,” he said.
The festival was canceled last year due to financial difficulties, and Clay said he was bombarded with demands that it return this year.
“For years when the community started transforming, people grew up and moved away. Some came back home. This is a great reunion for a lot of families and musicians. It’s more than just a jazz concert. It’s about what this neighborhood was, what it is and what it still can be,” he said.
The concert was emceed by Ken “Spider” Webb, who hosts the Soul Town program on SiriusXM’s channel 49. Webb said that in the neighborhood’s jazz heyday, Merrick Boulevard was the epicenter of jam sessions and impromptu concerts.
“People would get together and play in houses ... maybe they had a piano in the house,” he said. “It was no different than a baseball team. We’d play groups from the next town over.”
Morgan, who teaches third-grade at PS 132 in Springfield Gardens, filled her set with jazz standards such as “I May Be Wrong,” “Summertime” and “Afro Blue.”
The youngest of four children, all of whom took private piano lessons, the musician said she could remember children coming home from school carrying their horns and clarinets, and that a musical education is instrumental to a child’s critical development.
“Children need something else besides sitting with a notebook,” she said. “Practicing an instrument teaches you how to teach yourself.”
Morgan said it meant a lot to her to participate in an event that gave her the opportunity to share something that meant so much to her.
“It’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal. I wanted to participate for a while,” she said. “I don’t know who I’d be without music.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@
©2011 Community News Group
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