Jazz lovers will be happy to know that the Charlie Parker Jazz festival takes place this weekend!
Parker lived in Alphabet City, on the Lower East Side, during the 50s. The actual block he lived on, Avenue B between 7th and 10th Streets–right alongside of Tompkins Square Park–was renamed Charlier Parker Place in 1992. Ever since 1993, the jazz festival, which celebrates Bird’s birthday, is an annual event in the park and in other locations around the city.
This year’s festival highlights include a show on Saturday uptown in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, in the same neighborhood as Minton’s, the legendary jazz club where Parker and other greats sowed the seeds of the beginnings of be-bop. The show features the Wallace Roney Orchestra, guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke, pianist Kris Bowers and saxophonist Melissa Aldana, with a guest turn by soul singer Chris Turner.
Sunday’s show in Tompkins Square Park features incredible pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, saxophonist Craig Handy and vocalist Brianna Thomas.
That’s a lot of talent packed into two days. And did I mention that the entire festival is free? The magic word, F-R-E-E?
Attention roller skating fanatics! On Saturday or Sunday in the warmer months, hundreds of skaters gather in The Skate Circle, located in the middle of Central Park by 70th St. The Skate Circle is an area cordoned off specifically for skate dancers to roll around, enjoy music and have a blast.
According to the Central Park Dance Skaters Association (CPDSA), which organizes the fun, skating has always integral to the city and they want to keep the tradition alive. As they explain in their website, photographs from the 1890′s show people ice skating on the Lake and the Boat Basin, and roller skating came into vogue in the 1930s.
These days, skating begins on designated days at 2:45 and winds down at 6:45. A DJ will provide beats, of course, because how can you possibly dance skate without them? And you don’t have to even wear blades to join the circle; non-skating dancers are welcome too.
There’s always plenty of music to listen or dance to in our city–especially in the summer. And a chunk of it is free, people! I’ve already given you the schedule for SummerStage, but here are some other worthy events scheduled for the latter half of July.
The Riverside Clay Tennis Association holds free sunset concerts, like Rickie T & his Reggae All-Stars shown above, post-sundown, on last Saturday night. Shows are held in Riverside Park, right by 97th St. next to the tennis courts (‘natch). Reggae, classical, tango and jazz are among the many genres represented. Bring a picnic basket and a bottle of wine and watch the sky above the river turn multiple colors as these seasoned performers close out the day. And be prepared to dance, people! Rickie T. got everyone from two-years-old to 80 up on their feet. Concerts begin at 7 each Saturday night and will run through August 16th.
Pete Seeger fans can mourn his passing together at Seeger Fest, a five-day event honoring the lives and legacies of Pete and Toshi Seeger through music, film and community events. Shows start at 7:30 pm on July 17th on Pier 46 (Charles St. and West St.)
Also on the 17th, the Bronx Raised Hip-Hop Series is on at the Willis Avenue Community Gardens in the Bronx (Willis Ave. and 143rd St.) Local artists use dance, spoken word, and music to deliver rhythm and rhymes that reflect a Bronx state of mind. If you miss it tomorrow night, there will be another one on August 2nd. Who knows? Maybe you’ll witness the musical birth of the next Afrika Bambaattaa or Grandmaster Flash.
You can finally learn the dance of love…tango…in Stuyvesant Park (around Second Ave. and 16th Street). Argentine tango lessons will be among the around the fountain. Beginner lessons are from 6:00 to 6:45 pm, but the dancing doesn’t end until 9.
Motown will be represented on the Astoria Park Lawn in Queens in the Motor City Revue on July 31st at 7:30. Marvin, Smokey, Diana & The Supremes and The Temptations are just some of the artists that will be covered.
See? There’s something for everyone. Click here for a more comprehensive list.
The last living member of the original lineup of the Ramones has left us. Waaaaah! Tommy was the drummer of one of our city’s favorite bands, one that we’re proud as hell of. The foursome was formed in Queens in 1974, and Tommy, along with Dee Dee (bass), Joey (lead vocals) and Johnny (guitar), became a (the!) major influence in the punk rock movement.
Tommy was born Thomas Erdélyi on Long Island. When the Ramones first came together, he was supposed to be the manager, but was drafted as the band’s drummer when Joey became lead singer after finding that he couldn’t keep up with the band’s increasingly fast tempos.
“Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to,” Dee Dee later recalled.
I know that I’ve certainly gotten jobs that way.
While we would have liked to play host to the whole band, we know for certain Dee Dee checked into our hotel alone in 1979. But we like to think that maybe Tommy came and visited him, right?
The Rolling Stones landed on our shores in 1964 for their first US tour and our hotel was their home base. Can you imagine Keith Richards hanging in the lobby bar? Charlie Watts getting hot sauce advice from Ronnie? Ooh, what I would give to see Mick busting out his Tina Turner-like moves in the lobby. It was 50 years ago that they played two shows at Carnegie Hall before coming home and crashing with us.
The Rolling Stones: England’s Newest Hitmakers was released in May. The single, Not Fade Away introduced American kids to the band that their parents would hate.
Let’s take a minute to watch The Boys when they played their hit on the Dean Martin show:
The Lincoln Center Arts Festival is officially on and lasts through August 16th. The beauty of this event is its global reach: you can enjoy performances by artists and ensembles from 11 countries unfolding in six venues right here in the city on and off the Lincoln Center campus. Theater, music and ballet will all be represented, so choose your poison. Here are some highlights:
From Russia, The Bolshoi Ballet, Opera, Orchestra and Chorus will bring the audience both ballet (Swan Lake) and opera (The Tsar’s Bride).
Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert will star in the Sydney Theatre Company’s presentation of Jean Genet’s The Maids, an intense play in which two housemaids construct sadomasochistic rituals while their mistress is away.
From Japan comes the top Kabuki theater company, Heisei Nakamura-za, with Kaidan Chibusa No Enoki (The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree), a classic revenge tale from far east.
And from not so far away–just a few thousand miles west, in fact–comes the Houston Grand Opera production of The Passenger, an intense 1968 opera about the Holocaust from Mieczylslaw Weinburg, The libretto focuses on a former SS prison camp overseer on board an ocean liner who fears her secret past is about to be revealed. (A friend of mine from Houston who’s an opera nut and a man of great taste has seen it and says that it’s incredible.)
In 1963, 18-year-old Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas co-wrote California Dreamin’ and Creeque Alley with her then-husband John, while living right here at the Washington Square Hotel. We’ve played host to hundreds of artists of all types over the years…something that we’re quite proud of. Isn’t it nice to think that the atmosphere at our little hotel could maybe possibly hopefully foster some creativity? We like to think so.
We all know California Dreamin’. If you don’t recognize the title right away, you will remember Creeque Alley once you have a listen. It’s an autobiographical song narrating the story of how the group was formed, and describes its early years. (The title references a club in the Virgin Islands.) Here’s a video of the group’s performance of the tune on The Ed Sullivan Show:
One of the highlights of summer in the city is the wonderful SummerStage series of concerts. The shows have been going on since the 80′s and never disappoint.
SummerStage in Manhattan takes place at Rumsey Playfield: enter Central Park on 69th and 5th Avenue and follow the crowds…you’ll be sure to find it. (There are SummerStage events in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, too–with some shows devoted solely to kids.) Almost all the events are free; the few that aren’t are benefits for charities. And it’s all about variety.
Some cool highlights this year: The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series on June 23rd, Ballet Hispanico on July 16th, the Rock Steady Crew’s 37th Anniversary Concert on July 27th and a Motown Gospel Revue on August 9th. Beck, The Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket will be playing benefits. One thing I love about this series is that you can check out different music genres and it costs nothing.
Along with the music, there is, of course, FOOD! And good, interesting local food at that. Asia Dog, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Lonestar Empire BBQ and Pizza Moto. Plus local City Winery wine, and local brews: Laguanitas, Ommegang and Six Point. All vendors are cash-only.
There are bleacher seats available, but it’s probably more comfortable to head to the park early and bring a blanket. I’d arrive at least an hour before the show to get a good viewing location. The show goes on rain or shine, but will be cancelled in the event of dangerous lightening. (We New Yorkers are hardy, but we’re not stupid.)