Harlem on My Mind

Gentrification is displacing longtime residents in historically African American neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles.

Gentrification - Historically Black Neighborhoods

I grew up in Bed-Stuy and went to college in Harlem where an iconic mural, the “Spirit of Harlem,” was covered up by Footaction, a sneaker and apparel company.

Spirit of Harlem Mural2

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”


We know what happens if we don’t fight the collateral damage of gentrification. African American cultural heritage and presence will be erased from public memory. So Harlem activists are organizing to give the boot to Footaction.

Give the Boot to Fooaction

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 2015, Pennrose Properties demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural2

But rather than simply lament its destruction, I made some noise in my capacity as director of All That Philly Jazz. Fast forward two years, Pennrose Chairman and CEO Richard K. Barnhart thanked me for my activism. Barnhart told me that in raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation I “made him a better person.”

On September 24, 2017, the “Why We Love Coltrane” mural was dedicated.

Why We Love Coltrane-3

The mural was funded by Pennrose Properties and the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with All That Philly Jazz, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Why We Love Coltrane Acknowledgements

Footaction is owned by retail giant Foot Locker. Together, we can make Footaction a better corporate citizen. Let’s make some noise.

Leonard Bernstein@100

This year marks the centennial birthday of several jazz luminaries, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Thelonious Monk. Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 but the celebrations are already underway. The worldwide festivities will continue until August 25, 2019.

Bernstein had a longstanding appreciation of jazz, blues and spirituals. His 1939 Harvard University bachelor’s thesis was entitled, “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

From LeonardBernstein.com:

From his earliest years, jazz was an integral part of Bernstein’s life, and it made a crucial impact on his own music.

As a teenager in the 1930s, he put together a jazz band, was famous for his jazz piano playing at parties, and directed a swing band at summer camp. Some of the jazz-inflected music he composed in the mid-1930s at Harvard, and later at Curtis [Institute], provided source material for future works. Perhaps most significantly, his undergraduate thesis was no less than an assertion that jazz is the universal basis of American composition. In New York soon after college, he got to know jazz intimately, by day transcribing for publication the improvisations of legendary players like Coleman Hawkins, and playing piano in jazz clubs at night.

About 15 years ago, I first saw this video of Bernstein conducting Louis Armstrong performing “St. Louis Blues” with the composer, W.C. Handy, in the audience. The images are forever etched in my mind.

On December 2, I will attend the Louis Bernstein Marathon at the CUNY Graduate Center, an eight-hour concert featuring performances of Bernstein’s most popular work. For me, the event is a mash-up of two of my passions: good music and historic preservation. The CUNY Graduate Center is located in the repurposed B. Altman & Co.

B. Altman

For Louis Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, go here.

Going to Chicago for PastForward

I’m going to Chicago for PastForward 2017. I am a two-time recipient of a diversity scholarship to attend the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference. But as I wrote for the Preservation Leadership Forum blog, I am an accidental preservationist:

I love old buildings. I love even more the stories that old buildings hold—they are places where history happened. To borrow a phrase from blues singer Little Milton, “if walls could talk” they would tell stories of faith, determination and triumph. For me, historic preservation is about staking African Americans’ claim to the American story.

One of my first stops will be State and Washington streets to check out the 10-story mural of Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters Mural

I’ll also check out the former home of the blues icon. Sadly, the 125-year-old building is under threat of demolition.

Muddy Waters Home

Discussions on reUrbanism, preservation and health, and technology will be live streamed. You can sign up as a virtual attendee for free. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PastForward17.

I’m going to Chicago, y’all.

While in the Windy City, I will use the CTA to get around. NEA Jazz Master and Philly naive Jimmy Heath composed “CTA.” Miles Davis said it was named after Heath’s then-girlfriend Connie Theresa Ann.

Still Chasing Coltrane

Fifty years after his death, music lovers are still chasing John Coltrane.

John Coltrane1

The critically acclaimed Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary will premiere on PBS on Monday, November 6, 2017 at 10:00pm ET.

The GRAMMY Museum will celebrate this “towering figure in the history of music” with a new exhibition, “Chasing Trane: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey Transcended”:

It will trace the saxophonist and composer’s career with rare performance footage and audio recordings from Coltrane’s Japanese tour in 1966, handwritten manuscripts, instruments, and more.

The exhibition will open on November 17, 2017 and run through September 2018. For more information, visit the GRAMMY Museum.

Vote for Nina Simone for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The High Priestess of Soul has been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Nina Simone’s unapologetic rage and accusatory voice named names and took no prisoners in the African-American struggle for equality in the early 1960s.

Her triumphant voice sang what it meant to be young, gifted and black in a sometimes unjust and troubled world.

Nina Simone is one of 19 nominees in the Class of 2018.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Information on the induction process is available here. Fans can vote for up to five nominees once a day. Voting is open through 11:59 p.m. on December 5.

As of this writing, Ms. Simone is trailing behind in fan votes.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Current Standing

An unvarnished truth-teller, Nina Simone worked her magic “for the whole round world to hear.” Let’s show her the love that’s in our hearts. Vote early and often.

Thelonious Monk@100

This year is the centennial of the birth of Thelonious Monk. Monk’s 100th birthday is being celebrated across the country.

Thelonious Monk

For Philadelphia, one day is not enough. Starting at midnight on October 10, WRTI will play his most recognized composition to start off every new broadcast day for a whole year. The station will not have to hit repeat since there are more than 1000 versions of “’Round Midnight.” Fittingly, Monk was a classically trained pianist.

One of my most memorable experiences was attending Monk’s funeral in 1982. The homegoing service was held at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians played version-after-version of “’Round Midnight.” It was a loving tribute to the man who composed the most recorded jazz standard in history.

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