After a year-long intermission forced by COVID-19, the eclectic Flushing Town Hall (FTH) has opened its doors to in-person audiences for select events while continuing to live-stream all programs.
On Aug. 20 the concert hall will vibrate with the rhythmic sounds of Gino Sitson Trio’s “AfriClass” energetic colors of African music. Sitson originally from the Bamiléké region of Cameroon, intertwines an innovative combination of traditional African polyphonies with percussive grooves, enchanting vocals, and lyrical melodies (at 7 p.m.).
The trio will include Sitson’s voice, body percussion and compositions, on guitar and vocals Marvin Sewell and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. This will be Sitson’s first time performing with Sewell although he says they have been acquainted. He has been performing with Plaxico for 13 years since 2004. “Lonnie is on three of my CDs,” says Sitson.
Although he has been living in New York City for quite a while, he spends most of his time performing in Europe and lecturing as a scholar around the world. With such a busy itinerary it is easy to understand why this will be his debut performance at FTH. “As a trio we are putting together our personal vocabularies with our roots to bring the music all together,” said Sitson. “When I was a kid, we played what we had, it was the body and voice. As time went on, I began focusing on my voice and body. There are so many sounds aside from the words.”
Since coming to New York City, a variety of musicians have worked with Sitson, including Manu Dibango (worked on projects together before coming to NYC), Wally Badarou, John Scofield, Geri Allen, pianist James Hurt, Frank Wess, Wallace Roney, Ray Lema, Craig Harris, Michael Brecker and saxophonist Antoine Roney, whom he refers to as his brother. “He exposed me to the music, introduced me to so many folks and was very encouraging. I am so happy to have worked with so many people exchanging ideas and music. These guys are my family—it’s more than music.” He was inspired to move to New York by legends such as Al Jarreau and Bobby McFerrin. “I was so fascinated with what they were doing,” said Sitson. While he never worked with Jarreau, he has worked with McFerrin. “I was so amazed to be with Ron Carter, I was like a kid, it was incredible. Having him record on my third album.”
As a researcher in musicology, his work focuses on music cognition, expressive properties of the voice and the process of transmitting music from the “Black” diaspora. Among them, he is particularly interested in Gwoka music from Guadeloupe. Sitson earned a PhD in musicology at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Sitson is a pioneer of a new generation of multi-culturally influenced African musicians who are integrating into their musical styles their own exciting interpretation of this music (both traditionally and beyond).
Flushing town Hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd in Queens, N.Y. For in-person and virtual tickets, visit the website flushingtownhall.org.
Last weekend with at least 10 outdoor music concerts filling eardrums with sweet melodies throughout New York City, Berta Indeed the Harlem Jazz impresario (concert promoter) managed to have the best jazz festival to date. It was the first annual Sugar Hill Jazz Festival held in the Jackie Robinson Park on Bradhurst Avenue. The one-day festival featured abled musicians, some who despite their accomplishments have yet to get their just desserts while being household names in the Harlem community with glowing international recognition. Hosts included Lamon Fenner, WHCR-FM radio host of Sunday Jazz Break (8 p.m. – 10 p.m.), trumpeter Al Mtu and Barbara Jean English.
Berta was also presented the Jazz Journalist Association’s 2020 Heroes Award for her longtime dedication to jazz and the Harlem community.
It was a great acknowledgement to the artists and a treat to Harlem. The roster included such celebrated artists as pianist and composer Bertha Hope Trio, who accompanied noted vocalists Lynette Washington and Ghanniyya Green, who adds a mix of soulful flair and gospel vigor to her jazz interpretations. Hope stretched out into some serious rhythmic swing with her trio before the accompanying started. The conga player Leopoldo Fleming, who received internal fame as the accompanist for Nina Simone and Mariam Makeba, led his Afro Caribbean Band. The vocalist Cynthia Scott, a former member of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, was finally able to perform her heartfelt song written during the pandemic, “Hold on Stay Strong,” some tears some sighs some joy. Harlem’s own Lady Cantrese enticed everyone with her ballad while Sister Zock came hard with that revolutionary spirit of truth with her Solid Band and dancers.
Saxophonist and multi-reed player Patience Higgins, a Harlem staple with international acclaim, led the Sugar Hill Jazz Quartet (keyboardist Marcus Persiani, trombonist Michael Roby, drummer David F. Gibson and bassist Tarik Shah). Higgins, Gibson and Persiani were members of the original quartet formed in 1993 by Berta. The quartet became the house band at St. Nick’s Pub that became Harlem’s international jazz mecca, thanks to Berta, who started the weekly jam session.
“We have all been so down and cooped up during this pandemic and finally people are coming out again and live music seems to be returning,” said Berta. “I just wanted to make a statement in the community to do something big and bring the people out from the kids to the senior citizens—that’s what this first annual Sugar Hill Jazz Festival is all about. It serves as a tribute to Harlem, its strength, culture and music.”