The tale of New York City’s contribution to jazz can be told by the writing on the walls…literally. In clubs all over Manhattan like The Iridium, Dizzy’s Club, Birdland, and others, drawings and photos of Monk, Miles, and Cannonball adorn the corridors. Paintings of Coltrane, Basie, Holiday, and Ella rest beside partitions in St. Albans, Queens, and Long Island. However, when folks look on the walls all over Brooklyn to gauge its musical contributions, instead of drummers and singers, you’ll find the likenesses of the wordsmiths and MCs of the Hip-Hop Generation.

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From Albany Avenue to Fulton Street, the faces of The Notorious B.I.G., Black Starr, Jay-Z, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie are immortalized, telling the story of what the streets would hear day in and day out; a story that would eventually spread throughout the planet. While those rappers and lyricists certainly put a significant stamp in Kings County music lore, it was the beats and harmonies of improv aficionados and song birds during the 1950s and 1960s that made it possible for them to even have a voice. Long before Biggie Smalls spent his afternoons free-styling over two turntables and a mic on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street, clubs on those same streets, like the Up Over Jazz Café and the Blue Coronet, were spewing different kinds of lyrical dexterity and fat beats.

As stated in Part 1 of this piece – which highlighted the best of BK’s current crop of jazz players – what makes a Brooklyn Jazz Artist so special is the fact that they defy what it is that they define. Folks like Robert Glasper, Arturo O’Farrill, Gregory Porter, Taylor McFerrin, and others are fulfilling the prophecy that was initiated by a select group of musicians who, like them, went against the grain of tradition during their time in Brooklyn. Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Eubie Blake are among the many who called Brooklyn home for a time, and we are all the better for what they created during that time. Had it not been for these men and women, Brooklyn Jazz wouldn’t be putting the dent into music that it is now; stirring the pot in the mainstream while lighting a fire under established players who just want to play standards all day. Here are some of the borough’s legends that made history by not being satisfied with keeping the peace.

Freddie Hubbard
Crown Heights

Brooklyn Jazz
Born in Indiana, Hub moved to Brooklyn in 1958 and immediately began establishing himself as arguably the best trumpet player in the world. During his time in Crow Hill, Freddie recorded his astral solo debut with Blue Note Records, followed in Lee Morgan’s footsteps into Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and played on two of Herbie Hancock’s most beloved albums, Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles. His greatest Brooklyn statement came on his first live album at the borough’s Club La Marchal with Morgan and James Spalding. The Night of the Cookers is a highlight for all Hubbard fans, Brooklynites or otherwise.

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Noel Pointer
Bedford Stuyvesant

Brooklyn Jazz
Like many great instrumentalists before and after him, Noel Pointer left us too soon, passing away at age 39. A classically trained violinist, Pointer did his best work during the late 1970s amongst contemporary jazz’s heavy hitters like Ralph MacDonald and Earl Klugh.  Not only did he leave us with funky, Grammy-nominated work, such as Phantazia, but he bestowed his gifts through his home town. He was an advisor for the National Endowment for the Arts, and a foundation that bears his name, currently housed at Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plaza, has given no less than 26 New York City schools a chance to learn string music.

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Wayne Shorter

Brooklyn Jazz
The stars aligned quite nicely for Shorter when he was a Brooklynite. Regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, the incomparable tenor saxophonist was able to meet his fate with two jazz landmarks during his stint in New York’s borough– Miles Davis’ 2nd Quintet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He later took what he learned from those experiences to incredible, complex solo work and eventually his own band, Weather Report. However, by that time, his legend was already confirmed.

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Lena Horne
Bedford Stuyvesant

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Ms. Horne was revered for her consistent beauty over her 92 years, but underneath that stunning face and her enlivening voice was a gritty woman determined to make change. Born and raised in Bed-Stuy, she saw the evolution of Black culture ebb and flow and used her malleable chops and movie star looks to bring attention to civil rights. Her reputation as an activist is nearly as prominent as her flawless recordings of classics from the American Songbook. However, as fiery and committed as she was to uplifting her people, she always did so with a unmatched sense of class and grace, as only a Brooklyn woman could.

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Art Blakey

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More than a drummer, Art Blakey was an institution. This one time BK resident provided a home to some of the greatest names in music history within his Jazz Messengers: Morgan, Hubbard, Shorter, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Wynton Marsalis, Reggie Workman, Terrance  Blanchard, Gary Bartz, Mulgrew Miller– the list goes on and on. Albums like Moanin’ and A Night at Birdland became hard bop classics, but he was never content with just being considered a jazz pioneer, as evident on his Drum Suite LP, which explored the tenants of African rhythms within a western setting.  He proved over and over that the great ones remain students until the end.

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Max Roach
Bedford Stuyvesant

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Although he was renowned all over the world, Max Roach is as synonymous with Bed-Stuy as Jay-Z. This late, legendary drummer always let his snare, kicks, and hi-hat inform the audience what was on his mind: a desire to educate his listeners and himself. Albums like Freedom Now! Suite, and Money Jungle informed the community that jazz could be used as a social platform for enlightenment and exposure. Later in his career, he gave the fledgling culture of Hip-Hop his stamp of approval by playing onstage with Fab 5 Freddy in 1983, effectively bridging the gap between the two worlds and setting the tone for the future Brooklyn Jazz legends we have today.

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Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneaddict)

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10/5 Revive Big Band Celebrates Brooklyn Jazz with Special Guests Oliver Lake & Sean Jones

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