of Southeast Queens residents and the greater New York music community
turned out under light drizzle this week to pay respects to late local
jazzman Edwin Swanston.
Turner blows his horn
at South Jamaica’s Carmichael’s Diner, which is sponsoring a
St. Albans jazz festival on July 19.
Photo By Shams Tarek
was a Hollis pianist who recorded tracks with legend Louis Armstrong in
the 1930s and 1940s and was one of two surviving original members of the
Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, widely cited in jazz circles as the most
authentic swing band in the world.
June 18 funeral at the Roy L. Gilmore Funeral Home in St. Albans marked
the end of an era for a lot of local musicians and jazz fans.
with death comes a possible rebirth; as they paid respects, many of
Swanston’s admirers were also quietly planning – through a big concert
and new historical society – a renaissance of jazz in Southeast Queens.
new era of recognition will begin with a six-hour jazz festival in St.
Albans, once home to dozens of internationally-known jazz celebrities and
still home to many working and amateur musicians.
pianist Edwin Swantston, second from left, died at age 80 on June
13. He poses with fellow member of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band,
which is performing at a July 19 jazz festival in St. Albans Park.
1st Annual St. Albans Jazz Festival, an outdoor celebration to be held at
4 p.m. on July 19 at the neighborhood’s namesake park, is meant to
“pay tribute to the legacy of St. Albans jazz greats and celebrate the
history and contributions of a great neighborhood, its people and its
traditions,” according to Carl Clay, director of the Black Spectrum
Theatre Company, which is organizing the event.
St. Albans All-Star Band, put together just for performing at the free
event, will be one of the main acts.
musicians will include:
• Howie Grate, drums
• Omaje Allan Gumbs, piano
• David Jackson, bass
• Bill Jacobs, vibes
• Steve Kroon, congos and percussion
• James Spaulding, alto sax
current incarnation of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band will also perform,
as will Q-5, a youth jazz band featuring a dozen kids from St. Albans; The
Casey Benjamin Band, also from the neighborhood; The Jazz Gents, a band of
adolescents and young adults from the Manhattan School of Music featuring
a couple of area musicians; and a guest female vocalist.
Dawson of St. Albans is creating The St. Albans Historical Jazz
Hinton, the wife of late legend Milt Hinton and grand marshal of the
festival, will be given a “special presentation,” according to
organizers, but details aren’t known yet.
Hinton, who has the St. Albans street where he lived named after
him, is considered a one of the founders of modern jazz bass through his
work with fellow Queens residents and legends Armstrong, Count Basie and
will also be given to living legends who used to call—and some still
do—St. Albans home.
Drummer Roy Haynes, who backed up stars like Lester Young, Miles Davis and
Dizzy Gillespie for years and is now being recognized as a bandleader
Drummer Walter Perkins, who has worked with bassist Charles Mingus and now
leads the house band on Wednesday nights at Jamaica’s Carmichael’s
Flutist Frank Wess, known as one of the first major jazz flutists
Saxophone player Jimmy Heath, who has worked with Gillespie and has been
called “Little Bird” because of his similarity to virtuoso Charlie
legends from St. Albans, like John Coltrane and Lester Young, will also be
honored at the event.
festival, which is starting right after the end of the neighborhood’s
“Family Day” celebration, will also be a forum for local historians to
present information about St. Albans and its jazz heroes, according to
festival is being sponsored by Black Spectrum, along with all of St.
Albans’ elected officials.
Carmichael’s Diner and The Door, two local venues for live jazz,
as well as the NAACP and other local jazz advocates, are also sponsors.
are currently looking for more help in putting together the festival. For
more information about the festival and how to participate, call Black
Spectrum Theatre at (718) 723-1800.
Dawson, a St. Albans resident and percussionist who often plays congas
with the house band at Carmichael’s Diner, talks with wide eyes and in
hushed tones about being able to work with Perkins and the other jazz
veterans in the group.
eyes open wider and his voice gets more earnest when he talks about
another project he’s working on – one that he likes to tell people is
going to turn his neighborhood into a focal point for jazz fans and
historians around the world.
and his partner Billy Mitchell are days away from incorporating The St.
Albans Historical Jazz Society, which Dawson’s been thinking about for
years, planning for months and and for which he has now created a formal
and education, especially for young people not widely exposed to jazz,
will be the first priorities of the Society, which Dawson hopes will get a
lot of support after next month’s festival.
Society will aim to increase the number of jazz performances and events in
Southeast Queens, according to Dawson, with an insistence that they also
teach people about the history and techniques of the genre.
now the mission from God for me is trying to educate these kids,” Dawson
and recognition will be the second priorities of the Society, said Dawson,
who noted that there are so many jazz and other black music legends from
the area that “it’s like something in the water in Southeast
wants to establish a “living monument” in St. Albans Park that will
recognize both past and present jazz musicians from the area who’ve made
significant contributions to the music.
also wants the Society to have an element of community service to it,
looking for it to “develop social reforms within the community” and
“promote positive artists and music.”
Borough Of Legends
Albans, as well as the rest of Southeast Queens and other parts of
the borough, has been home to some of the biggest names in jazz
Here’s just a sampling of them, with an extremely
condensed description of each of their instruments.
Brook Benton (vocals)
Earl Bostic (saxophone)
James Brown (vocals)
John Coltrane (saxophone)
“Wild Bill” Davis (piano/organ)
Ella Fitzgerald (vocals)
Roy Haynes (drums)
Milt Hinton (bass)
Billie Holiday (vocals)
Lena Horne (vocals)
Illinois Jacquet (saxophone)
Slam Stewart (bass/vocals)
Fats Waller (piano/vocals)
Frank Wess (flute/saxophone)
Lester Young (saxophone/clarinet)
Roy Eldridge (trumpet)
Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
James P. Johnson (piano)
Charles Mingus (bass)
Charles “Cootie” Williams (trumpet)
Queens (Corona, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside)
Nat Adderly (trumpet)
Louis Armstrong (trumpet/vocals)
Bix Beiderbecke (cornet)
Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet)
Benny Goodman (clarinet)
Jimmy Heath (saxophone)
Glenn Miller (trombone)