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Jazz Notes: Donald Byrd Street, Lana and Wendell, Tain Watts

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It is a big deal when the arranger, composer and trumpeter Donald Byrd, a native of Detroit, is so loved and respected in New York that a street is named in his honor.

September 9, the Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation will host a street “renaming” ceremony for Byrd, aka Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds, at Teasdale Place and Boston Road between 163rd and 164 streets off Third Avenue, Bronx, NY. (11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.).

In the 1950s, Byrd and a young pianist, Herbie Hancock, got an apartment together on Boston Road and 164th Street in the Morrisania section of Bronx, which at the time was extremely vibrant, bursting with good schools, cultural centers and Latin and jazz clubs.

During those days, before his music captured the swinging feet and souls of America at large, Byrd was a music teacher at Alexander Burger Junior High School (near St. Mary’s Park). This vocation was during a now forgotten time, when NYC middle schools and high schools boasted about their bands and orchestras and music programs that allowed thousands of students to take their instruments home for practice.

As a Bronx music teacher, Byrd mentored numerous young musicians, including the trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who took private lessons, and the Latin trombonist Willie Colon, who was his student at Alexander Burger JHS.

It was Byrd who introduced Hancock to the percussionist Mongo Santamaría, and in the early 1960s, when he needed a pianist, he called Hancock. Santamaría’s band was then performing at Club Cubano Inter-Americano on Prospect Avenue, a popular Latin music spot.

During the gig, Byrd suggested that Hancock play his new piece called “Watermelon Man.” Santamaría loved it so much he asked Hancock if he could record it, and it became a smash hit.

Byrd’s legacy in Bronx, and the renaming of the street in his honor, demonstrates how important music is to young people growing up and how it plays a significant role in their creative development. Byrd’s influence also demonstrates the importance of bridging cultures and joining the historic roots of Puerto Rican and Black music together.

Members of the original group, the Blackbyrds, will also be present. The pianist, composer and recipient of the first Bob Cranshaw Award, Onaje Allan Gumbs, will perform.

A celebration reception will follow (12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.) at the percussionist, composer, arranger and activist Bobby Sanabria’s Bronx Heritage Music Center (1303 Nine Louis Boulevard in Bronx).

This event and ceremony is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.donaldbyrdculturalfoundation.org.

The Harlem native Lana Turner has appeared in a host of printed media outlets, as well as television and radio interviews. In Harlem, and perhaps certain parts of the world, she is an icon.

Currently, the celebrated woman of fashion and cultural radiance is featured at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. The exhibit is entitled “Lana and Wendell: Sartorial Escapades,” on view now through September 9.

In this exhibition, photographers Dario Calmese (Turner) and Felicia Megan Gordon (avant-garde fashion designer Wendell Headley) capture the sartorial escapades of their respective muses and uptown self-expression creative style.

“The struggle to be yourself is hard when you’re constantly shown things that are not you,” said Turner. “Therefore, I reach back to the past because we have always had pride in the way we carried ourselves, even if you were beaten all week doing some crazy labor. We got ourselves dressed and got ourselves ready for Saturday night to celebrate our lives with each other.”

Headley’s approach is to tear down the past, rip it apart and make it entirely anew. “People will find their own politics in what I do,” noted Headley. “They’ll say I’m breaking too many fashion rules.”

Turner and Calmese met a few years ago at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, when he was looking for a few hats to shoot for a fashion story. On hatting with her, he realized that she needed to be photographed in her wardrobe and in her hats, of which there are approximately 500.

Gordon is a producer and photographer residing in Harlem. She currently publishes the online magazine, Those People. The exhibit is curated by Souleo, whose perspective on Black arts and culture jumps out to the edge.

For my money, the drummer and composer Jeff “Tain” Watts grew into a young Elvin Jones and became a strong disciple. He has that same fire and hard-driving finesse that placed Jones at the top of the drummers list.

September 5 to September 10, at the Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th Street), the fierce Watts will lead an abled crew of musicians in Elvin Jones 90th birthday celebration. The well-qualified group will include trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Robin Eubanks, bassist Neal Caine and pianist Eric Lewis.

Joining the core band for one night each will be three saxophonists with a direct connection to Jones’ music: Dave Liebman (September 6) and Sonny Fortune (September 9), who played with Jones, and Ravi Coltrane (September 9), son of the legendary John Coltrane, who was considered Jones’ closest musical compatriot. They will pay tribute to the Electric Elvin Band and the Alumni Band.

Jones along with Coltrane bridged the gap between straight-ahead hard bop, avant-garde and the spiritual devotion of “A Love Supreme” (Impulse! 1965).

For more information and reservations, please call 212-576-2232.

 

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