James Europe tribute, BAM R&B, Dylan tribute

Ron Scott | 6/1/2018, 11:05 a.m.
Long before the outspoken voices of Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Thelonious Monk, who were determined to forge their own ...
Jazz Notes

Long before the outspoken voices of Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Thelonious Monk, who were determined to forge their own musical paths, there was bandleader, composer and arranger James Reese Europe.

He was the most influential bandleader and composer of the 20th century. In World War I he became the first Black commissioned officer (a lieutenant) in the New York Army National Guard with the segregated 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, who fought with the French army. It was Europe’s military band that introduced ragtime to the French and British soldiers and civilians.

June 8, the African-American ragtime and early jazz bandleader and war hero will be celebrated at a WW I Centennial Tribute Concert at Symphony Space (Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre), 95th Street and Broadway, at 8 p.m.

The evening will be presented by New York Jazzharmonic Trad-Jazz Sextet under the baton of Ron Wasserman, with vocalist Aubrey Barnes, in collaboration with the United States World War I Centennial Commission and the New York Veteran’s Alliance. The commission will present a proclamation to the Harlem Hellfighters’ 369th Veterans Association.

“We did some new arrangements based on recordings of Europe’s military band and after his service,” said Wasserman. “The WW I Centennial Commission thought it would be a good idea to have a concert just for Europe. It is so appropriate for New York City, reflecting its jazz history, Black history and military history.”

The concert will consist of music composed and performed by Europe from several phases of his career, his pre-military and post-military years. His music became a combination of blues, ragtime and his early introduction of jazz phrasings. The band was also responsible for the music that sparked the dance known as the foxtrot.

“It is a real joy and privilege to be part of this sextet that is celebrating the music of James Reese Europe,” said Barnes. “He was a music visionary. Some of the material was originally sung by Noble Sissle in Carnegie Hall, in 1912. Spirituals are my home base and I will be singing a few, including my own arrangement of ‘Deep River.’”

Gene Peters, noted collector of African-American artifacts, will display his collection of Europe military antiques, which includes such items as a WWI Trench Bugle (with the names of 11 French towns etched into the leather strap) and a 1918 French Croix-de-Guerre war medal.

In 1910, Europe organized the Clef Club, a society for Black musicians. In 1912 the pre-jazz band made history by becoming the first Black orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall. It would take another 26 years before Benny Goodman’s big band make its debut appearance at Carnegie Hall. The Clef Club played music written only by Black composers that included Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

“We colored people have our own music that is part of us,” Europe stated in an interview. “It’s the product of our souls; it’s been created by the sufferings and miseries of our race.”

At his untimely death in 1919, Europe was the best-known Black bandleader in the United States. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Eubie Blake called him the “Martin Luther King of music”