I had the extreme pleasure to perform at the Brownsville Heritage House on Mother Gaston Boulevard and Dumont Ave in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on Saturday November 19, 2016, from 3pm to 6pm. The Brownsville Heritage House is located above a public library and together they form a cultural and academic oasis in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The Heritage House hosts an ongoing series of jazz concerts every third Saturday of each month. Every month this jazz performance is led by the extremely talented and fluid pianist Roy Meriweather and features several outstanding jazz performers. I was substituting for the iconic saxophonist and bandleader Bill “Big Daddy” Saxton. It is worth acknowledging that the Jazz Foundation of America sponsors this series. They pay the artist’s salaries and a free meal is also provided to the public. There is no admission charge and folks in the community are encouraged to attend.
Jazz performance initially had a very long and rich history of being an integral part of the African-American community from its inception. However jazz venues in their community have disappeared in recent times and there is certainly a shortage of places that promote jazz. The African-American audience is often obliged to travel outside of their community to hear a music that was created by their ancestors. In addition most venues that host jazz charge exorbitant prices, and as a result exclude many African-Americans because of the economic situation. It’s one reason why African-Americans do not make up a large percentage of the jazz listening audience.
It is quite refreshing to perform in the African-American community for folks who are truly so grateful and appreciative to hear great music, which is part of their cultural legacy. I have performed at this venue a few times and the response from the audience is quite overwhelming. As an artist I walk away from these performances feeling so revitalized and rejuvenated. I applaud the Jazz Foundation for their sincere efforts in keeping the flame of jazz alive in the African-American community and I wish there were more opportunities for jazz performance in the places that nurtured its birth. It is worthwhile to note the great work that additional venues in Brooklyn are doing to promote jazz in their community: Sistas’ Place, Sankofa Brownstone Jazz, and 966 all have a rich legacy of hosting jazz in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn.