April is National Poetry Month

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. It’s also National Poetry Month.

National Poetry Month 2016

It’s probably no coincidence the two art forms are celebrated during the same month. After all, the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to jazz poetry. The most celebrated jazz poet is Langston Hughes who collaborated with jazz musicians, including Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.

In his 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Hughes wrote:

But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.

In 1958, Hughes recorded his poem, “The Weary Blues,” over jazz composed by Mingus and Leonard Feather.

Also, check out a reading of “The Weary Blues” by Rev. Dr. Allen Dwight Callahan, a Philly native and former professor at Harvard Divinity School.

Jazz Appreciation Month 2016

Since 2002, April has been designated on Jazz Appreciation Month. The Smithsonian will kick off the celebration with a salute to Benny Carter:

To kick off Jazz Appreciation Month 2016, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra salutes the masterworks of this year’s featured poster artist, the innovative saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and arranger, Benny Carter. Affectionately known as “King,” Benny Carter was a major contributor in the development of jazz. As a musician, he helped shape the alto sax as a solo instrument in jazz; as a composer, he helped create the vocabulary of swing; and as a bandleader and arranger he broke down racial boundaries in jazz and spread the music around the world. As Miles Davis once said, “everyone should listen to Benny Carter, he’s a whole music education.

Carter’s legacy includes arranging the music for the Hollywood film “Stormy Weather.”

Stormy Weather

To find new ways to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month, visit Smithsonian Jazz or JAM at the National Museum of American History.

U.S. Postal Service Tribute to Sarah Vaughan

On March 29, 2016, at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall at Newark Symphony Hall, the United States Postal Service released the Sarah Vaughan Forever Stamp.

Sarah Vaughan - Available Now

Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman dedicated the stamp:

As one of the most compelling vocalists in American history, Sarah Vaughan was renowned for her artistic eloquence. Her dynamic vocal range, iconic vibrato, and innovative phrasing helped to transform jazz and popular music. The Postal Service is proud to honor Sarah Vaughan. Let this stamp serve as a lasting tribute to her legacy.

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who played with Miss Vaughan when he was 21 years old, sent a video tribute:

It’s only fitting that Sarah Vaughan is being memorialized with a forever stamp. She was great on so many levels. In honoring her, we honor ourselves. And her talent is truly forever.

The Sarah Vaughan Forever stamp is available at local post offices or online.

Philly Celebrates Jazz 2016

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection got the party started early with the Philly Celebrates Jazz kickoff on March 28th.

#PhillyJazzMonth Banner

Mayor Jim Kenney proclaimed April as Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month. He also honored Philly native and Grammy Award-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride who was given an inscribed Liberty Bell, the equivalent of the key to the city.

Mayor Kenney - Christian McBride

Kenney said:

Christian McBride is an ambassador of Philadelphia to the world, not only through his music, but also through his work as an educator and advocate for music education. Christian’s story and accomplishments demonstrates the power of arts education, in our schools and communities, and the impact it can have on a person’s life and how we can encourage and build the next generation of musicians, artists, and creative thinkers.

The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts was also recognized on its 50th anniversary. The Clef Club was the social arm of Union Local 274, the black musicians union.

David Oh - Derek Green - Don Gardner - Lovett Hines - Proclamation

Philly Celebrates Jazz includes live performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. Now on view at City Hall are two photography exhibitions, Live Philly Jazz – Through the Photographic Lens and The Clef Club at 50, a retrospective curated by Don Gardner, Managing Director of the Philadelphia Clef Club, and Artistic Director Lovett Hines.

Art Exhibition

For a full calendar of Philly Celebrates Jazz events, visit http://bit.ly/PhillyJazzMonth.

Women in Jazz: Sarah Vaughan

March is Women in Jazz Month. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Sarah Vaughan Forever stamp.

Sarah Vaughan Stamp

NJ.com reports:

Jazz legend Sarah Vaughan is being honored with a U.S. Forever stamp, which will be released March 29 with a free concert at her hometown’s Newark Symphony Hall.

Vaughan, who sang in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Choir and attended Arts High School, joins the ranks of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, all part of the Postal Service’s Music Icons stamp series. The stamp is an image of a Bart Forbes oil painting based on a 1955 photograph by Hugh Bell of Vaughan in performance.

The Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer nicknamed “The Divine One” and “Sassy” died of lung cancer in 1990 at 66. A member of the Jazz Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame, her hits include “Misty,” “Broken-Hearted Melody,” and “Send in the Clowns.”

The First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony will be held on March 29 at 11:00 a.m. at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall of Newark Symphony Hall. The gala event features a Proclamation from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and remarks from Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves. The musical highlights include performances by actress and singer Melba Moore, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir and the NJPAC Jazz for Teens Ensemble with Jazzmeia Horn.

Information on how to obtain free tickets for the concert is available here.

Marion Cuyjet, A Black Swan

Black Swan Theory—The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.
—Wikipedia

Born in 1920 in Philadelphia, Marion Cuyjet was “light, bright and damn near white.” Cuyjet took advantage of her skin tone to take classes with the prestigious Littlefield Ballet. The company was surprised to discover that she was a black swan. In an interview with Brenda Dixon Gottschild, author of Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina, Cuyjet recalled:

MC: It was obvious someone had seen me, and I didn’t know it—somebody black! So in another performance they came in a little group, my friends from the YWCA club and from church. They came backstage to say hello.

[…]

BDG: So did the Littlefields know you were black?

MC: They didn’t know before the girls came, but [then] it was easy for them to believe it.

BDG: What happened once they found out?

MC: Out! Out! Out! Definitely out! And don’t come back! It was a lady who worked at the desk who takes the money and answers the telephone.

BDG: Did she say why?

MC: No, but I knew what she meant.

On Sept. 21, 1948, Cuyjet incorporated the Judimar School of Dance where she passed on what she had learned. She trained and mentored generations of black swans, including Joan Myers Brown, Founder and Artistic Director of PHILADANCO! and recipient of the 2012 National Medal of Arts, and Judith Jamison, Artistic Director Emerita of the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater. Jamison performed her first dance recital at the age of six at the Judimar studio, located at 1310 Walnut Street.

Marion Cuyjet Collage v2

Cuyjet was the first African American woman to rent space in racially segregated Center City. However when the landlord found out she was a black swan, she was evicted. In her autobiography, Dancing Spirits, Jamison wrote:

She looked Caucasian and rented studio space that landlords would not rent to a person they thought was black. ‘She broke the color barrier and was constantly evicted once black children were discovered on the premises; she had to move her school seven times.

At age 14, Delores Browne won a scholarship to study with Miss Marion, as she was affectionately called. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, an author and dance historian, observed:

She recognized Delores Browne’s talent and Miss Cuyjet had this agenda. Her agenda was through the vehicle of Delores Browne to develop the first black ballerina to dance in a white ballet company.

Browne went on to audition for the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. She became one of only six black students.

Cuyjet was a visionary whose determination and commitment to social justice changed the face of classical ballet. Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal with the American Ballet Theatre, stands on Miss Marion’s shoulders.

Negroes in Ballet

Today, Philly’s development boom is erasing African Americans’ cultural heritage. So while we are still here, we must preserve the legacy of those who cleared the path. Marion Cuyjet beat the odds and had a major effect on the cultural heritage of Philadelphia and the nation. If we don’t tell the story of those who came before, who will?

NB The Judimar School of Dance was located directly across the street from the famed Latin Casino.

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