By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
Queens has long been the home of many prominent jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Flushing Town Hall, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate dedicated to presenting global arts programming, is making sure New Yorkers remember these legends by hosting monthly jazz jams. It has been promoting jazz in Queens for decades and this month it is hosting the 2nd annual Jazz Jam All-Stars Concert, which was paused due to the pandemic.
Jazz Jam is a monthly gathering of musicians whose sole purpose is to jam out together; age and skill level don’t matter. Mimi Block, 20, is one of the participants. She has been going to the jams for years and will be one of the 10 honorees performing at the Jazz Jam All-Stars Concert.
“I [hope attendees come to the concert and] appreciate how much jazz has influenced American music and why jazz means a lot to other people, and what it means in general. I [hope attendees] understand why jazz should be preserved.”
Block was diagnosed with autism when she was 2 years old, and music has been a large part of her life since. As a child, she used the violin as a therapeutic tool. Earlier this year, she received the Barry Harris Performance Achievement Award in New York City. Jazz is one of Block’s favorite genres and through the jams she is able to keep the genre alive amongst young people.
“You have to preserve jazz history because jazz itself is a very influential genre of music and it inspires a lot of different genres of music,” she says. “My mom says I have to keep playing jazz for the next generation because I am the next generation.”
Ezra Kessler, 15, is also performing at the upcoming concert where he will play the drums. At his young age, he’s already gotten the opportunity to play with professional musicians like Jeff Coffin, Dave Matthews and Bela Fleck. While most teenagers would rather listen to other musical genres, Kessler believes elements of jazz can be found in today’s popular music.
“A lot of our music right now, including hip hop and rap is very improvised, and so is jazz. Jazz formed it,” he says.
Carol Sudhalter, Flushing Town Hall’s house band leader, has been teaching music for more than 50 years.
“It’s very thrilling for me to see how they grow, because these are people who come back month after month and year after year. There are these vast improvements, vast changes that most people would take five years to do,” she says. “As a musician, to see that jazz is alive in young people, it’s very rewarding from so many angles.”
Listen to the 2nd annual Jazz Jam All-Stars Concert in-person or virtually on Saturday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. In-person tickets range from $15-$25 and can be purchased here. Tune in for free via YouTube or Facebook.
Angelina Nelson contributed reporting .