Jazz Is Queens
They May Have Played Harlem But They Lived Here
By Jennifer Polland
New Orleans. Harlem. Chicago. These are places that are all traditionally associated with jazz. But there is one place that is missing from that list: Queens. Our very own borough has been so instrumental in the history of jazz that many jazz giants – Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few – have called Queens home. Two neighborhoods in Queens, Corona and St. Albans, were once as star-studded as Beverly Hills or West Hollywood is today.
Flushing Town Hall is striving to highlight the history that is so often forgotten with its Queens Jazz Trail tour, a unique tour that guides you through Queens, the former “Home of Jazz.” With music, videos, and a knowledgeable tour guide, the Queens Jazz Trail brings the rich history of jazz in Queens to life. For more information on the Queens Jazz Trail tour, call (718) 463-7700 or visit www.flushingtownhall.org.
In this map, we highlight some of the homes where jazz musicians once lived. But if you decide to visit, please keep in mind that most of these homes are privately-owned today.
Louis Armstrong , 34-56 107th St., Corona
Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo,” purchased this home in 1943 for $3,500. The jazz legend lived here until he died at the age of 70 in 1971. In 1977, Armstrong’s house was declared a National Historic Landmark, preserving the home exactly the way it was when Armstrong and his wife Lucille lived in it. Today, you can visit The Louis Armstrong House & Archives, a historic house museum that displays Armstrong’s writings, books, recordings and memorabilia. For more information on the Louis Armstrong House & Archives, call (718) 478-8724 or visit www.satchmo.net.
Dizzy Gillespie , 34-68 106th St., Corona
Dizzy Gillespie lived around the corner from Louis Armstrong from 1952-1966. The two musicians and neighbors frequently jammed together. Gillespie died in 1993.
| Cannonball Adderly
Cannonball Adderly , Nat Adderly, and Jimmy Heath, 112-19 34th Ave., Corona (Dorrie Miller Houses)
Brothers Canonball and Nat Adderly lived in the Dorrie Miller Houses Co-op. Saxophonist Jimmy Heath still resides there.
William “Count” Basie , 174-27 Adelaide Rd., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Count Basie moved to Addisleigh Park in 1946. The bandleader once owned several properties around the St. Albans area.
| James Brown
James Brown , 175-19 Linden Blvd., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
In the 1960s, James Brown, nicknamed “The Godfather of Soul,” bought this home on Linden Boulevard and 176th Street from trumpeter Cootie Williams. Brown lived here until 1971.
Milt “The Judge” Hinton
Milt Hinton , 173-05 113th Ave., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Milt Hinton lived at 113th Avenue and Marne Place until he died in 2000. The bassist, who was nicknamed “The Judge,” played with jazz greats, like Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. If you visit on a warm sunny day, you may catch Mona Hinton, Milt’s wife, sitting outside greeting visitors near the corner named for her late husband.
Mercer Ellington , 113-02 175th St., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Duke Ellington’s son, who took over the Ellington Orchestra after his father’s death, lived on 175th Street near 113th Avenue.
| Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald , 179-07 Murdock Ave., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Ella Fitzgerald moved to her home in Addisleigh Park in the 1950s. The Grammy Award-winning singer is best known for her scat-singing technique.
Thomas “Fats” Waller , 173-19 Sayres Ave., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Fats Waller was reportedly the first African American to live in Addisleigh Park. It is said that Waller, best known for his hit “Ain’t Misbehavin,” paid approximately $11,000 when he bought his home on Sayres Avenue and 174th Street. His home had a built-in Hammond organ and a Steinway grand.
Lena Horne , 112-45 178th St., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
The jazz singer, who starred in the 1943 film “Stormy Weather,” moved to this home on 178th Street in the 1940s.
Illinois Jacquet , 112-44 179th St., St. Albans (Addisleigh Park)
Saxophonist Illinois Jacquet used to hold rehearsals in the basement of his home on 179th St, and he invited the musicians who lived nearby to jam. His brother, trumpeter Russell Jacquet, lived a few houses away at 112-32 179th St.
John Coltrane , 115-56 Mexico St., St. Albans
Arguably the greatest jazz musician of his time, Coltrane lived on Mexico Street near Quencer Road.
Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges and Charlie Shavers are all buried here.
From Queens Comes Kings
Queensbridge Remains Home To Rap Royalty
By Michael Cusenza
There are 26 housing developments harboring 17,501 apartments in Queens. The largest public housing development in the country’s most culturally diverse borough, and the entire City, for that matter, is the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.
At one time, it was Gotham’s most menacing.
And after two decades, it is still hip-hop heaven.
Rich in history, and infamy, Queensbridge has been a veritable breeding ground for can’t-miss hip-hop stars. It has birthed some of the most influential figures in the history of the culture, including Marley Marl, MC Shan, Craig G, Roxanne Shante, Cormega, Nas, Tragedy, Blaq Poet, Mobb Deep, Nature and Capone, to name a few. The projects’ immeasurable contribution to every element of hip-hop has become its identity; a proud badge of honor indicating to all that Queensbridge begets legends.
It’s easy to see that rap royalty has emerged from this once bullet-riddled, crack-addled, cutthroat environment of which Nas once said, “each block is like a maze, full of black rats trapped…”
What remains unclear is why.
Up From The Street
The Queensbridge Houses development was completed in March 1940. Bound by 41st Avenue and 41st Road, and 21st Street and Vernon Boulevard, it is comprised of two sections – Queensbridge North and Queensbridge South – each containing 13 six-story buildings. This six-block stretch, which got its name from its proximity to the neighboring Queensboro Bridge, features a total of 3,142 apartments housing 7,039 residents.
The first son of Queensbridge to establish himself on the then-nascent hip-hop landscape was DJ/producer Marley Marl. After working at pioneering hip-hop label Tuff City Records, Marley started his own imprint in the mid-1980s, Cold Chillin’ Records, which he ran out of Queensbridge.
Marley also started the Juice Crew, a pioneering collective of MCs that included fellow Queensbridge residents MC Shan and Roxanne Shante. Marley and Shan collaborated for one of the most import records in hip-hop history, “The Bridge.”
It was Shan’s paean to his home, a song whose drums are as celebrated as the man that programmed them. It is the track that ignited the battle for borough supremacy with KRS-One, and by extension, the South Bronx. It’s now a piece of history that helped Queensbridge become a household hip-hop name.
“Once guys like Marley and Shan put Queensbridge on a worldwide map it gave the kids there something tangible that they could grasp,” explained world-respected hip-hop tastemaker and manager of Fat Beats music retail store’s New York branch DJ Eclipse. “Everyone wants to make a name for themselves and gain respect, and what better way to get it then to be part of an emerging hip-hop scene that Queensbridge was becoming notorious for.”
As Eclipse alluded, it is the acts that followed Marley and Shan that have shaped Queensbridge’s Mecca-like status among hip-hop faithful, and cemented its mythic distinction as hallowed ground for serious lyricists, DJs and producers.
Aspiring Toward Greatness
One of the many legends to emerge from the shadow cast by Marley and Shan was Cory McKay, better known to hip-hop fans and Queensbridge streets as Cormega. A prolific MC, producer and founder of Legal Hustle Records, Cormega has lived both the criminal existence and that of a legitimate, successful artist. He’s widely considered one of the most comprehensive and introspective MCs to grace a microphone, and his brutally vivid depictions of life in Queensbridge are lauded throughout the genre.
Cormega grew up on the “40th side of Vernon.” He can tell you about Queensbridge.
“There’s an old saying, ‘Association breeds greatness,’” he posited. “When you’re around greatness, sometimes it rubs off on you.”
Mega said it’s comparable to sibling rivalry in Queensbridge, where the next generation strives to eclipse its predecessors.
“I think there’s so much greatness in Queensbridge that it inspires other people,” he explained. “You look at Peyton Manning; his brother is good, his father is good. When you’re around greatness, you either have to try to be as great as that or be better than it just to be recognized.”
It’s that competitive edge, Mega explained – that desire to be the best MC, the best ball player, the best writer in the Bridge – that keeps the cycle of creativity flowing in this six-block stretch.
He also recognized the power of writing in its myriad forms as an outlet to relieve stress for those in Queensbridge that must bear witness to the cycle of poverty and drug-fueled violence prevalent in his neighborhood. They have so much to say and it reflects in the quality of the work.
“Everyone has a different way of communicating what they see,” Mega said. “I know girls who write poems, I know guys who rap, I know guys that write film scripts. It’s all a form of expression.”
“You have a concentration of so many individuals in a sheltered area, and they have all this creativity that’s pent-up and they focus it on something that’s tangible to them, and that’s MCing,” echoed AllHipHop.com Music Editor Alvin Blanco. “Just from the sheer number of how many people are in those projects, and then add hip-hop to that, and people participating in it and selling it because it’s a talent that they get appreciated for… Out of that, you’re going to get a lot more people than out of some random neighborhood.”
As far as popularity of the product, Eclipse said it’s about the signature gritty Queensbridge sound and imagery that at once attracts two audiences: those who identify with the struggle, and those who are inexplicably drawn to the sensational street tales of strife and gunplay, but in reality know nothing of that lifestyle.
“Although these experiences are not confined to Queensbridge alone, the QB stamp of approval makes the world pay more attention,” he said.
Twenty Years Later
It’s 2007 and Queensbridge has changed, according to Cormega. He saw this firsthand when he recently returned for a two-week stay in the hood that helped raise him and mold the man and artist he is today.
“I felt out of place at times, because a lot of people I grew up with, some of them are dead, some of them are in jail, some of them are just there. They don’t do the things I do, or we have different aspirations, different visions,” Mega said. “Before, I used to say I’d never move. But, at the end of the day, when you think about it, isn’t that the goal?”
In addition to the people, the complexion of the landscape of Queensbridge as a neighborhood has changed. This waterfront patch of New York City has become a hot commodity, Mega reported, with the area experiencing a resurgence that has led to, in some ways, reform. Queensbridge is prime real estate, he said, and million-dollar condominiums are going up while a different class of people is moving in.
“Queensbridge has calmed down,” he concluded. “[It] has cameras in it now; the police presence is overwhelming. Back in the day, you could sit on the block and see crackheads. When you sit on the block now, you barely see crackheads, because there are different ways of hustling now. You can’t just sell crack out in the open like you used to, because you’re gonna go to jail. Queensbridge has changed for the better in certain ways.”
What hasn’t changed is the Bridge’s uncanny knack for producing hip-hop heavyweights. There are budding MCs today that are the pride of their block, looking out their project windows just as Nas did, furiously scribbling rhymes as they build from the foundation laid down by Marley Marl. They’ve been born with that unmistakable Queensbridge edge that drives them to be better than the legends that occupied the same apartments, and with every stroke and exhale they document the struggle using an art form their predecessors helped perfect.
This is the next generation. This is the future of Queensbridge.
Back To Bayside
Borough’s Rock Band Played National Tour
Bayside singer Anthony Raneri hails from Queens.
By Liz Skalka
Though the punk rock band Bayside is indeed named for Bayside, Queens, its name came about as a coincidence.
Passing through the borough in 2000, they needed a name for their newly formed group. While driving in Bayside, they saw signs all around for neighborhood businesses; with them they had a demo tape and no name for their band.
“We needed something to write on the CD so we just wrote Bayside,” said lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player Anthony Raneri.
Raneri is the only Bayside member from Queens. The band’s other musicians – Jack O’Shea, Chris Guglielmo and Nick Ghanbarian – hail from Long Island and Boston. In 2005, member John Holohan was killed when the band’s tour bus hit a patch of ice and crashed in Wyoming. Ghanbarian was seriously injured.
But tragedy hasn’t stopped the band from achieving success. Bayside released its debut album in 2001 with the help of a small independent record label based in Brooklyn. In 2003, they were signed by Victory Records, a major independent label headquartered in Chicago.
Bayside has released a total of six albums, and the band’s most recent, “The Walking Wounded,” was released in February and has sold more than 50,000 copies. The band also played this summer with Warped Tour – a national tour featuring more than 50 bands.
Though he does a lot of traveling, Raneri is a Queens-native through and through. Born in College Point, he grew up in Glendale and graduated from MS 67 and Cardozo High School. Perhaps taking an obvious cue, Raneri recently moved to Bayside with his wife. His favorite spot in Queens is Whitestone’s Cherry Valley Deli and Grill, whose food he says he misses when away on tour. “It’s the last thing I eat when I leave and the first thing I eat when I get home,” he said.
Queens In The Music
Although the band doesn’t usually spend much time together in Queens, they recorded “The Walking Wounded” at General Studios in Douglaston. Raneri says since his music is based his on experiences in his life, getting to record in his hometown was especially important. “Being in the place where most of those personal experiences happen is definitely inspiring,” he said.
Bayside has also played as a special guest at Cardozo’s battle of the bands competition. “It was cool to go back and play in my high school auditorium,” Raneri said. “We get tons of e-mails from kids that go to Cardozo that are excited about the band.”
As a teenager, Raneri recalls playing with bands in venues around Queens, including the Voodoo Lounge on Bell Boulevard, although he says that the music scene at that time flourished outside the borough. “Growing up the scene was more Long Island. All the bands I grew up with came out of Long Island,” he said.
Now, however, his own music has developed a following in the borough. “There’s definitely a hometown pride factor in our fan base,” he said.
Music In The Backyard
Borough Reaps Benefits Of Queens Maestro’s Help
| Barbara Podgurski
By Samantha Schoenfeld
Music is one aspect of culture that has the ability to reach every person. New York City, due to its diverse population, happens to be one of the foremost locations in the world to experience a variety of culture and especially music.
Queens has long since become a large part of this cultural phenomenon and often reaches the caliber of music that is expected of Manhattan. Groups such as the Queens Oratorio Society and Musica Reginae have made it possible to experience great music in Queens itself.
At The Helm
David Close, an organist by trade, is the artistic director and conductor of the Oratorio Society of Queens, an organization that allows amateur musicians to perform for their community. “The Ort,” as Close calls it, was created in 1927 for the purpose of providing music in Queens versus having to travel to Manhattan – a feat in the days before subways were created.
Although its heart lies in Queens, over the past 80 years this Society has grown to include 90-plus people that reach out to audiences anywhere from the North Presbyterian Church in Flushing to the Performing Arts Center at Queensborough Community College, from South Jamaica to Lincoln Center, and from Long Island to New Jersey. This society has successfully provided entertainment from people who perform for the love of music.
About eight years ago Close helped to start Musica Reginae. What is the Musica Reginae? “Music in your backyard,” as Close put it; a society that allows the people to experience the same professional, high quality music that Manhattan offers in Queens.
“You don’t have to go to Manhattan to go to the bank, or to get bread from Gristedes,” David said, so why go to Manhattan to enjoy music? Going to the Musica Reginae presents the chance for a night of professional opera, a concert of a full symphony or a solo pianist, chamber music, or even the celebrated Black History Month concert, “Sedalia to Harlem,” and as Close pointed out, all for a lower price than you would find in Manhattan.
Recently Close “passed the torch” of the title of executive director to Barbara Podgurski, who has insightful new ideas on how she plans to move the society from the past to the future. She has helped to bring about a new free program for elementary aged children in neighborhoods where schools don’t provide music programs. This program will help children and their families appreciate live music and will add cultural counterparts to their lives. She hopes the program will also slow down, as she puts it, “iPodization,” or the loss of live music to technological music.
Another remarkable addition to the society is a free concert on Veterans Day to help commemorate the nation’s veterans. These free programs will be the first ones in many years thanks to an increase in funding.
A Beautiful Process
To explain his love of music and working with these organizations, Close compared watching a chorus perfect a piece to a woodworker completing a project. The wood has to be sanded down and worked until it is perfect, then painted and lacquered for the final touch before presenting it to the public.
When asked what motivated him to work with these groups, David answered, “You say to yourself ‘I’d like to reach people with music. How can I do that?’” The answer: to give live music to the people and allow the audience to interact with the music versus listening to a CD.
One way that Close achieves this goal is by talking to the people about the performances that he hosts with the Musica Reginae. Music is about passion, and thanks to the Oratorio Society of Queens, Music Reginae, and all the other similar societies in Queens, live music lives on to be enjoyed by future generations.