A Very Rewarding Evening Well Spent in Deep Brooklyn. Jazz is the Most American Contribution to the World – A Universally Acknowledged Contribution. Did anybody calculate this contribution of Black-America to the GDP?
On Saturday I was looking for THE BROWNSVILLE HERITAGE HOUSE – address given was 581 Stone Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11212. I got this by e-mail from our friend Jim Eigo, a public relations professional for Jazz. The train ride to the Junius Street subway station of the #3 line took an hour and I found that the bloc I was looking for was renamed to Mother Rosetta Gaston. I stopped first at the Brownsville Community Center were people inside were waiting to get free Thanksgiving turkeys, and asked them for the address I was looking for. No problem, they knew where I was going, and told me it was across the street – on the second floor of the library building. A very nice library and kids using it.
A room fully decorated with artifacts and lined with vitrinas with more artifacts of black America and Nations of Color. Chairs in rows the center of the room. A kind lady received me at the front desk.
At the left side as you come in, in between the vitrinas at the wall, a walkway, and the seating area – there is a long table on which, in the middle, there is a poster of Harriet Tubman and hanging down from the table a T-shirt saying: “I Freed A Thousand Slaves. Could Have Freed Thousand More, If Only They Knew They Were Slaves.”
To the left of this, closer to the door – a poster about The Triangular Trade – Slaving, Slave Laws, and Punishment. Then Horrors of the Middle Passage boats – “each slave had less room then a man in a coffin.” Reference – from Capitalism & Slavery, and from the “Black Holocaust for Beginners” by S.F. Anderson – “We must remind ourselves of the obvious: Africans were not born to be slaves. They were sold into it.” At the other end of the table – the word FREEDOM and articles about Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama.
In front a five men band playing the best Jazz music you find anywhere. The audience, all black, looking as having come to a social event – clearly a Middle Class afternoon.
Most people in the 50-60 age range I thought. At the right end of the stage set-up there hangs a black T-shirt with the face of President Obama and a Large cut out of the First Lady in a green dress. On the table next to her a poster saying Four More Years – VICTORY – in big letters next to a bigger poster frame – “Black Declaration of Independence.” Behind this a person-size cut-out of the President.
Dizzy Gillespie music – great performance with the sax and French Horn in front. Ladies came by and handed us tangerines, apples, grapes, packaged sweets, potato chips. The musicians are introduced and more music.
Behind the pianist there are two posters about Mother Rosetta Gaston (1885-1981) on whose name that bloc of Stone Avenue is named Mother Gaston Boulevard and the official address puts the building at Corner of Dumont Avenue – Upstairs in the Stone Library.
Mother Gaston was a devoted leader of black people and her dream for the Brownsville community, where she lived in her old age, was to create an educational and cultural center for old and young which would spur individual and community achievement by focusing on common heritage. Brownsville Heritage House (BHH) was opened March 31, 1981 – a month after Mother Gaston passed away at 96. The Board of Directors is responsible for the house activities and it is headed now by Miss Patricia Deans who started out as a volunteer 20 years ago. Now she describes herself curator of the collection. The activities are funded by the community. The library/multicultural center with its collection of African-American artifacts provides also music education to children from the community.
Ms Deans expanded the collection of artifacts to include the Caribbean, South and Central America, besides the US and Africa, under the concept that there is a past connection and thus there must be a common vision of the future.
On the right side of the piano there is another set of memorial plaques behind a teddy bear XOXO and memorial candles – these for Wade Barnes – the founder of the Wade Barnes Jazz Band where he played Piano and drums. This band used to appear at BHH and he also helped young musicians in fact and by inspiration. The event I came to attend was now with The Wade Barnes Tribute Band where Roy Meriweather sits at the piano and Dave Gibson is the newly added drummer that replaces Wade Barnes. The other participants, all original members, are Bill Saxton (Saophone), Vincent Chancey (French Horn) and Robert Cunningham (bass).
Mr. Barnes was a well known drummer, composer, producer, bandleader, arranger, educator and executive, he was the director, principal composer and arranger, of The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble, a 17 member ensemble. In addition, he led smaller ensembles. Two of his other regular working bands were: Wade Barnes and The Bottom Line (a ten member ensemble); and Wade Barnes and Unit Structures. Barnes was founder of the Brooklyn Four Plus One, Inc., a nonprofit whose stated mission, according to the organization’s website, is “to bring the highest quality of America’s classical music [jazz] to all ages, races, ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels.” BHH and Barnes were a match made in heaven.
Barnes died at 57 on March 3, 2012. Now his Wade Barnes Band has morphed to become the Wade Barnes Tribute Band. Their next performance at the BHH will be on December 15, 2012 trying since July to have one performance per month at this location.
Looking further to my left side – the wall was covered with vitrinas stuffed with artifacts from the Caribbean – straw huts that could have been as well from Africa, the Chicken rules, and figures we think of as part of Voodoo culture.
The place fills up, more chairs are brought in. A mother with a young daughter sits next to me, then sees free space in the first row and they move.
Bill Sexton greets the girl and another woman arrives and sits next to that first pair in front row – it seems like a three generations group.
The French Horn leads in a clear dancing mood aided at times by the piano and the drums. That was a cha cha cha. I get some crunchies.
A piano solo as opener for next piece. My mind wonders. What is the contribution of these musicians to the American GDP?
Is it not true that the most American contribution to the world was the invention of Jazz? What would the South be without the blues? In Louisiana jazz music dates much earlier then oil. Tourism did not come because people wanted to watch cotton picking! What was the part of the masters in either of these two very American industries? Mr. Romney would you argue this point please? After all you had experience with Olympics’ tourism.
When the Gershwins popularized this culture by enlarging on American Musicals they were no Mormons either.
An older woman leaning on a stick is lead in and served bottled water. We were told about food and a blessing was offered. There are CDs one can buy and ruffles as well.
I get up to look closer to the right side of the room. Next to the two Obama cut-outs there is a poster of Nelson Mandela and an old library globe of the earth. Then a whole Mandela table and a King & Mandela photo. Further to the right 9 Hispanic-American Leaders.
A closer look at “The Black Declaration of Independence” reveals it is a full page advertisement of Friday, July 3, 1970, by the National Committee of Black Churches, Inc. 110 E. 125th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10036
In that corner, in wall-vitrinas, wood carvings, shell work, glassware, copper artifacts, straw works, and cereal grains and plant part artifacts.
Looking closer at the collections in the vitrinas on the wall to the left, I find a jar with cotton and cotton seeds. Also the ten commandments in Hebrew behind a display that holds a cross. A plate with the map of Panama, some artifacts that carry flags of Honduras, Puerto Rico, Barbados.
Then two vitrinas holding American Indian artifacts, another two for Egypt, and one for the Far East – mainly China,
By that time I was ready to join the line for a Thanksgiving Turkey-dinner and to chat with some of the attendees and Bill Saxton who gave me his card for Bill’s place at 148 West 133rd Street (between Lenox and 7th Ave.) – Harlem’s Little Speakeasy that does not serve liquor. He plays there every Friday – Harlem’s King of Jazz – Bill Saxton & the All-Star Quartet. I trust the truth that it is indeed “Best Jazz Buy in Town.”
After the food – another hour of good Jazz, and before I left I was made to take along Sweet Jams and Macaroni-Cheese leftover.
I bought a 1991 Bill “The Master” Saxton CD recorded live at the Henkelman Jazz Club Vol 1.
To me this was an eye opening American experience. Upon leaving I saw good looking cars waiting for some of the people – so it was indeed more then just a neighborhood thing.