Photo of B.B. King Blues Club & Grill located on 237 W 42nd Street
New York City is known for its pivotal role in providing culture and scene for its residents, especially with music. Music venues have served as places of collectivity and euphoria for those who share a common love for the art. Jazz is known to be one of the most innovative music genres that has created musical legends and broken racial barriers in New York.
Although jazz originated in New Orleans, it prospered in New York City. New York City has always claimed to be the jazz capital of the world. Jazz clubs birthed legends like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington.
Jazz venues were dispersed all throughout Manhattan in the early 1900’s. However, in recent years, venues shut down due to rent fees or larger corporations taking over.
Aniya Smith, a jazz singer and songwriter, performed in monumental jazz venues such as House of Blues, The 40/40 Club, and The Village Underground. Smith has been performing since 1980, at eleven years old, and jazz is more than just a hobby for her.
“Jazz has been in my family for years, it’s in my blood. I’ve been performing since I was a little girl. I started singing in my church choir but I moved my way up to jazz clubs. I’ve looked up to the legends my whole life and it makes me feel like one when I get on the stage.”
Venues such as Bradley’s and St. Nick’s Pub, Smith would go to with her family are no longer in business.
“Bradley’s used to be one of my favorite places to go to and learn from the most talented musicians New York had to offer. It saddens me that I can no longer go to these venues to relive my glory days as a young child learning to be one of the greats.”
Danny Clarke, owner of The Village Underground, keeps the essence of jazz alive in his club.
“The Village Underground keeps the spirit of jazz alive in a world where it’s constantly being torn down. We have performers come from all over New York City who perform songs from jazz hits to down in the blues kind of songs,” Clarke continued, “I see all of these venues getting shut down which worries me sometimes, I fear for my club but I fear for the loss of the genre more. I always ask myself how will the flavor of jazz stay alive in New York City, the place that helped it grow.”
Although the 1920s were labeled as the Jazz Age, it doesn’t necessarily mean the era of jazz has to end there. Since the 20s, major jazz clubs have shut down, but there are still some that survived the influx of clubs that were forced to shut down.
Kim Parrott, jazz singer and performer, started her musical career performing in major venues such as The Apollo Theater. Parrott has also performed in B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, and The House of Blues.
“In 1980, The Apollo Theater was my first big break, I’ve developed so many good relationships with owners and musicians throughout my career,” Parrott continued, “There are moments when I feel like the golden years are over. There was a point when I felt that I had to stop performing for a living and only for a hobby because it was difficult for me to find gigs at venues other than where I have already performed.”
Parrott’s struggle in finding venues to perform has resorted her to pursue a career in teaching, rejecting her dreams as a jazz artist in New York City.
“I occasionally perform on weekends at B.B. King’s in Times Square, but it doesn’t feel the same. Thirty years of performing brought me to occasional gigs here and there.”
The world of jazz is in a constant battle of trying to keep its music alive. From Bradley’s closing in 1996, to St. Nick’s Pub closing in 2012, to Lenox Lounge closing in 2013. Bradley’s and St. Nick’s Pub closed due to financial problems and Lenox Lounge closed due to differences among the club owners, despite the situation, local jazz clubs throughout New York City are being shut down bringing unstable venues that will last.
Willy Mosquera, a house manager and recruiter at Queens Theatre in the Park, books artists that play different forms of music at the theatre.
“We’ve held jazz festivals, here at the park, for several years. In 2010, we had T’ain’t No Sin, A Ragtime and Jazz Party. The show focused on jazz and blues music of the 20’s and 30’s, along with an ensemble of jazz musicians from New York,” Mosquera continued, “I travel all over the city to find jazz artists to perform at the theatre. We try to relive and bring back how it was in the Harlem Renaissance.”
“My mother always taught me about being the strongest I could be,” said Andre Fordson. “Which is why I decided to join the marines.”
While Fordson stood outside his Bronx apartment, his phone rang and received a text from his mother.
“She has taught me so much,” Fordson continued, “Sometimes I sit back and think about how much my life has changed and it hasn’t even started yet.”
The 24 year old has lived in Queens his whole life, until he made the decision to move out last year and shortly, he decided to join the marines.
“It has been something I’ve always been interested in. I want to make my mother proud of the man she raised on her own.”
As a Cuban, Jamaican, and Trinidadian descendent, Fordon aspires to be trilingual by the end of this year.
“My girlfriend is teaching me Spanish and I hope to be fluent before the year ends when I leave. She never gives up on me, no matter how much I’m terrible at speaking it.”
Andre pulled out his phone again and showed me his wallpaper, which was a photo of his girlfriend.
“I’m going to miss her so terribly. Along with my mom, she’s my biggest supporter and I do everything for her. There have been some times when I contemplated my decision on leaving for marines and whether or not it was the right thing to do,” Fordson said. “But I know it’ll be worth it in the long run.”
Fordson will return back to school once he returns from the marines. His major will be Computer Science with a minor in finance.
“I would be the first one in my intermediate family to receive my bachelor’s,” Fordson continued, “I was raised to be the best you could be and to try your hardest. Everyday I try to work just as hard as my mother did raising me as a single mother, which is why I always try to prove to her that she didn’t raise a quitter.”
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