Category Archives: Cultural Heritage

We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told

Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh once had a robust jazz scene with legendary venues, including the Granada Theater and the Crawford Grill.

Crawford Vintage

Crawford Grill - Pittsburgh - Historical Marker - 2001

Pittsburgh produced jazz greats such as Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine and Kenny Clarke.

We Knew What We Had2

Thanks to a new documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told,” the world will know what Pittsburgh had.

The one-hour documentary includes live performance clips of the Jazz Masters, interviews and archival photographs. As important, the filmmakers contextualize Pittsburgh’s jazz culture by exploring social conditions and historical events.

“We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told” will air in February. For more information and air dates, visit their website.

Jazz Congress 2018

The inaugural Jazz Congress will be in session January 11-12 in New York City. Co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz Times, the conference will “bring together artists, media and industry leaders in the global jazz community to exchange ideas in order to nurture and grow the jazz community and the underlying business and organizations that promote, produce, present, market and support the music.”

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Managing and Artistic Director at JALC, said:

Jazz at Lincoln Center is excited to host this much needed community initiative. We will stimulate an inclusive environment, explore new ways to expand audiences for our music, and learn from one another. With so much discordant non-communication around the world and in our country, now is the perfect time for us to come together for serious discourse around and about our cultural, business and aesthetic objectives.

Marsalis added:

Jazz has what our modern world needs. Let us all take pride in our collective advocacy of this great music by identifying, declaring and demonstrating our common ground.

The program includes panels focusing on race and gender, and audience development. Hall of Fame basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabber, a jazz enthusiast whose father was a trombonist, will deliver the keynote address. Abdul-Jabbar will talk about the role jazz can play in today’s society.

I am particularly interested in the panel discussion on jazz, politics and activism. One of my objectives with All That Philly Jazz is to contextualize jazz within the framework of movements for social change. Indeed, the jazz culture was about intersectionality before the term was coined.

Checker Cafe

Some of the sessions will be livestreamed. You can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #JazzCongress. For more information, visit JazzCongress.org.

Merry Christmas

The Christmas season is hard on folks who are too broke to pay attention. But if you are a literary giant like Langston Hughes, your DIY Christmas cards end up on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Michael Morand, the Beinecke Library’s communications director, told Hyperallergic:

Langston Hughes’s extensive archives provide numerous insights into his long life and career. His 1950 typewritten Christmas postcards illuminate a period when his finances were limited though his friendships remained abundant. He wittily addressed his wide circle of friends that year with verse that tell how times were tough and still convey resilience and joy. Likewise, the 17 boxes in the archives of Christmas cards he received and kept over many decades demonstrate the breadth and depth of his personal and professional relationships with other cultural and civic leaders.

Langston Hughes - Broke and Busted2

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.

UPDATE: After making some noise on Twitter, I received a DM from Footaction.

Footaction - Direct Message - 12.12.17

True to its word, restoration of the “Spirit of Harlem” mural is in progress.

Footaction - Restoration in Progress

Advocacy works!

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.