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Queens Chronicle

Celebrate music with Louis Armstrong

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am

It’s no secret Queens is a diverse metropolis. There are people from all over the world who reside in apartments in Sunnyside, a two-family home in Jamaica or a Tudor-style house in Forest Hills.

“Queens is really the ambassador of what the country is becoming,” Jeffrey Rosenstock, assistant vice president of external and government relations at Queens College, said. “Louis Armstrong is, in many ways, the cultural ambassador for Queens.” In fact, they called him Ambassador Satchmo.

Armstrong was known to invite musicians of all genres to his home and would often have them record a song or two for his music collection.

The trumpeter’s celebration of diversity and the fact he settled down in Corona, a neighborhood in one of the most diverse areas in the world, sparked an idea in Rosenstock.

“There were so many benchmarks, you had the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair and Louis Armstrong Day,” he said. “We wanted to do something that celebrated music, but also celebrated diversity.”

On Sunday, those benchmarks will be combined into the Louis Armstrong International Music Festival.

According to Rosenstock, the festival was originally planned to debut next year, but with the anniversaries taking place throughout 2014, he thought it best to shrink down his idea and put five artists on one stage under the Unisphere.

“If I had it my way, this would be a full two-day festival with several stages and 30 or so acts,” Rosenstock said. “In many ways, we are the foundry of what new voices will be heard and what music will be made. This should be a festival that celebrates who we are, and we are a diverse group of immigrants, exploring the world together.”

The performance list is eclectic and seems to be somewhat of a hodgepodge of music stylings, but a closer look shows, while it is a mixed-bag music festival, it mirrors the mixed-bag borough in which it will take place.

For example, Salman Ahmad may not mean much to just anyone, but to the Pakistani population, it’s almost the equivalent of saying “Bono.”

Ahmad leads the band Junoon, a rock ’n’ roll group that blew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Louis Armstrong was a singer and goodwill ambassador for humanity, and I’ve been trying to promote something similar, the integration of different cultures,” said Ahmad, who is now a professor at Queens College and a goodwill ambassador for polio research.

Junoon will celebrate its 25th anniversary soon and while Ahmad said the festival will not act as a reunion performance, fans can expect to hear some old favorites.

“The heart is timeless and ageless,” he said. “When I strap on my guitar, I feel like I’m 16 again.”

Jon Faddis, another musician set to perform during the festival, is more in the vein of Armstrong’s music style.

“Louis was really the first to do things on the trumpet that were so beyond what had been done prior on the scene,” Faddis said. “He’s been an influence on me, he’s been an influence on everyone.”

Faddis will perform with four other musicians but wouldn’t spill his set list.

“We’re looking for something that represents who we are as a borough,” Rosenstock said. “It’s nice to look at something in Time Out Magazine, but if we’re honest with ourselves, Queen’s is not about that.”

The show is free and will run from 1 to 7 p.m. in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

In addition to Ahmad and Faddis, the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band and Cuban-American singer Albita will also take to the stage.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit the festival’s website at: kupferbergcenter.org/armstrongfest.

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