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”
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.symphonyspace.org/event/10003.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music R&B Festival at Metro Tech returns with 10 free concerts from June 7 to Aug. 9. The Brooklyn concerts take place on Thursdays from noon to 2 p.m., at Metro Tech Commons (at the corner of Flatbush and Myrtle avenues), rain or shine.
The festival opens with Harlem’s favorite swinging drummer Bernard Purdie’s All-Star Shuffle, with guests flutist Bobbi Humphrey, known for her funk and straight-ahead movements, and Quiana Lynell, the 2017 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition winner. She infuses her classical training with gospel and jazz.
June 14, the explosive tap dancer Savion Glover, whose rhythmic tap sound resembles the rapid torpedo licks of Elvin Jones in a solo frenzy. The young competent drummer Marcus Gilmore, who never misses an opportunity to push music parameters, will accompany him.
June 21, the musician, singer songwriter PJ Morton hits the stage. He is the keyboardist for the pop-rock band Maroon 5.
For more information, call BAM Ticket Services at 718-636-4100 or visit BAM.org.
April 12, 1963, Bob Dylan played his first major concert at The Town Hall in New York City. Last week, May 24, Bob Dylan’s 77th birthday, The Town Hall presented Tomorrow Is a Long Time: Songs from Bob Dylan’s 1963 Town Hall Concert, a musical celebration of that performance.
The press release described that 1963 celebration as being a momentous performance. I can’t vouch for that one, but this concert was a historic event. The songs and poetry he performed during that distant point in time reflect today’s ailing society with the same psychosis of the empowered conglomerate empire, who refuse to accept his verses of diagnosis and provided prescription. The answers are still “blowin’ in the wind” and now the Power to the People, Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements are even more significant. The struggle continues. “You’ve been hiding behind the flag too long.”
The singer/songwriter, author and artist Dylan has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than five decades. The Town Hall Ensemble was directed and assembled by trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein. His challenge was to take a large ensemble and
reconfigure “music that was performed by one guy with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica,” he said, adding, “We are not going to recreate that concert, but re-imagine it.”
He selected a group of musicians, who like Dylan refused to be categorized. They represent a creative force of styles and genres from jazz and Cuban roots to hip-hop and rock. These New York musicians included alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, tenor saxophonist Ron Blake, guitarist Nels Cline, cellist Marika Hughes, violinist Zach Brock, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, trombonist Natalie Cressman, piano and keyboard player Marc Cary, tuba player Marcus Rojas, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez and percussionist Pedrito Martinez.
“It was incredible to be a part of this ensemble,” said Cary. “Seeing the reverence for Dylan and to hear all of his lyrics in one place was amazing. I became more aware of Dylan while playing with Abbey Lincoln when she recorded his song ‘Tambourine Man.’”
Some of the special guests included indie folk duo The Milk Carton Kids, poet and performer Anne Waldman, rock/R&B singer Peter Wolf, singer/multi-instrumentalist/ songwriter Joan as Police Woman (aka Joan Wasser) and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
The musician/songwriter Emily Haines lent her smoky timbre to “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” The R&B/rock singer and Grammy Award winner Lisa Fischer, who played such a significant role singing with Luther Vandross and the Rolling Stones, offered “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” It was a blazing combination of big blues, gospel and down-right cornbread soul. “Walls of Red Wing,” her duet with singer/songwriter Teddy Thompson, was an up-tempo blues swinger.
The musician, writer and producer Greg Tate took the audience on a romping roller-coaster ride on “Seven Curses.” He recited the lyrics with rhythmic vigor and conducted the band weaving in and out of rock, Latin and hard-jazz swing. The actor/comedian Bill Murray took a serious note as he and singer Joan Wasser shared “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Dylan’s set included mostly unknown songs and soon-to-be classics such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”
The barn fire of the evening was the reciting of Dylan’s poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.” In his 1963 introduction, Dylan explained that he had written the piece after being asked to “write something about Woody…What does Woody Guthrie mean to you?” He said at the time, “I wrote out five pages and … I have it here … Have it here by accident, actually.”
What a moving, sparking moment of awareness, similar to a sermon that hits all the right notes. He has not done this poem in person since that 1963 show.
Dylan, who lives in Malibu, Calif., was busy launching a line of whiskey called Heaven’s Door and couldn’t make the date.