Beginning this Saturday, celebrities and emerging musicians alike will play all over the borough in a month-long celebration of Brooklyn’s rich jazz heritage.
The Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival, now in its ninth year, runs through Wednesday, May 7 and involves nightclubs, restaurants and venues across Kings County. This year’s theme, “Brooklyn in the Jazz Tradition,” will influence all the performances, asking musicians and audience members alike to take a new look at the borough’s musical history and outstanding musicianship.
“The group decided on the theme because there are a lot of people who don’t know about jazz [in Brooklyn], and we want them to know about the traditions of jazz,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Alma Carroll, 82, founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, the group that sponsors the festival. “There are a lot of jazz innovators that people have never heard of, including my husband, Joe ‘Bee-Bop’ Carroll, who was a vocalist with Dizzy Gillespie in the 1940s, and Otis Blackwell, who wrote ‘Fever.’
“People are not really interested in the fact that jazz is America’s only original music,” added Carroll. “I don’t want jazz to become unknown, especially since many jazz entertainers come from Brooklyn, and it wasn’t that long ago that there was as much jazz in Brooklyn as there was in Harlem.”
With a lineup that includes Arturo O’Farrill, musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, guitarist-singer Olu Dara and a tribute to drummer Max Roach, this year’s festival is certainly one for the history books.
Kicking off with a community day on March 29, the festival will celebrate the past and present of Brooklyn jazz with events that include a tour of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Fort Greene, a gospel brunch in honor of Billie Holiday’s birthday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and even a dance contest at Jazz966 in Clinton Hill. Additionally, live bands will be playing almost every day of the festival, including many of the borough’s own musicians such as O’Farrill, who will play the Brooklyn Public Library’s Dweck Center at Grand Army Plaza on April 26.
“Brooklyn has always been a bedroom community for great jazz artists, but we wanted to give today’s Brooklyn artists more exposure,” said Bob Myers, one of the event’s organizers. “Here in New York, where entertainment is like nowhere else in the world, a lot of names get lost, so we thought this would be a good platform to expose them.”
More than 35 bands are playing this year’s festival, but Myers said that education is just as important as music this time around.
“The festival is really opening up and is encompassing more of Brooklyn, including events at the Dweck Center,” he explained. “Not only can you learn about jazz music by hearing it, but we’re also holding educational seminars and screening films so people can learn about the great jazz legends of Brooklyn.”
Despite events for every sort of jazz fan imaginable, there are some events that even the organizers are giddy about attending. The opening day’s presentation on how art can satisfy the economic and social needs of people is “not to be missed,” according to Myers.
On March 30, Dara will perform a musical piece called “Stranded in Brooklyn” at the Weeksville Heritage Center, where more than 200 people are expected to attend, and on March 27, Brooklyn’s own Max Roach will be celebrated with a tribute concert at Medgar Evers College in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Roach died in 2007 and is another innovator on a long list of those who are no longer with us.
“We’re dying out,” said Carroll. “That’s another reason for ‘In the Jazz Tradition.’ Today hip-hop is the dance of the day; when I was a teenager, jazz was the thing and there are very few people doing that now.”
As the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival grows each year, however, it’s unlikely that the borough that spawned so much historic music will stop making history.
The Ninth Annual Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival runs March 29 through May 2 at venues across the borough. Ticket prices vary. For information and a full schedule of events, visit www.cbjcjazz.org.