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Queens Chronicle

A self-guided jazz tour through Queens

Flushing Town Hall takes you around the real ‘home of jazz’

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

Louis Armstrong was known to sit out on his porch, playing his trumpet while the streets bustled around him.

It wasn’t New Orleans, Chicago or Harlem where the jazz legend hung his hat, it was Corona, and Armstrong wasn’t alone in calling Queens home for so many years.

Jazz is recognized as America’s indigenous music as classical had been practiced decades before in other countries and later genres including rock, soul and pop were heavily influenced by jazz and other preexisting genres.

Though it is “America’s music,” since the 1920s, Queens has been the “home of jazz,” where hundreds of musicians resided.

Heavy hitters like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie all lived in Queens at some point in their musical careers.

In an effort to shed light on the rich jazz culture in Queens that has largely been ignored, Flushing Town Hall for centuries created the Queens Jazz Trail map.

Music lovers can visit the arts venue to pick up a colorful map to use as a personal guide that includes the addresses of the jazz musicians who lived in Queens and is easy to navigate.

On the reverse side, there is a breakdown of each neighborhood in Queens and the musicians who lived in it, as well as a brief overview on this history of jazz and the influence Queens had on the musicians.

The presence of notable jazz musicians in Queens can be traced back to 1923, when music publisher Clarence Williams and his wife, singer Eva Taylor, purchased a home on 108th Avenue in Jamaica.

As Williams grew up in the countryside in Louisiana, he didn’t want a home in Harlem or Greenwich Village, which were fairly urban. Jamaica, still fairly suburban at the time, provided a lot of open space at the time.

“When I look back at it now, I realize what that Ruscoe Street house really meant to us,” bassist Milt Hinton said on his first house in Queens in the book “Bass Line.” “For the first time we had something that was ours. It was our security and some new roots.”

In fact, many African Americans who grew up in the South flocked to Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis and surrounding neighborhoods to settle down.

Addisleigh Park in St. Albans became especially popular in the 1940s and ’50s with famous residents including Count Basie, Lena Horne, Mercer Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and soul singer James Brown.

“In no time at all, we had assembled the greatest community of black people in the country outside Harlem,” saxophonist Illinois Jacquet recalls about Addisleigh Park. “We built a neighborhood to be proud of, a monument to black achievement.”

As the years pass by and the great jazz musicians of the ’30s and ’40s pass away, institutions such as Queens and York colleges and the Louis Armstrong Museum have made it a point to preserve the rich history that the borough has to offer.

While formal tours of the Queens Jazz Trail are no longer offered, jazz fans can visit Flushing Town Hall at 137-35 Northern Blvd., to purchase the map and take in some of the historical photographs of famous jazz musicians.

When it was held weekly, the tour would stop in Corona and the Louis Armstrong Museum, located at the trumpeter’s old home.

The museum offers a look at Armstrong’s personal collection of recordings, reel-to-reel tapes, scrapbooks, photographs, trumpets and awards.

After the museum visit, the tour would make brief stops at the nearby home of Dizzy Gillespie and the Dorrie Miller apartment complex which was home to Cannonball and Nat Adderley and is still the residence of Jimmy Heath.

The tour continued southeast to Addisleigh Park in St. Albans, which has the highest concentration of jazz greats’ homes in the borough, including Count Basie’s home that had a yard as big as a city block.

In addition, Flushing Town Hall has put together the Queens Jazz Orchestra, conducted by musician Jimmy Heath which works to bring young and old musicians together to help revitalize and nurture a new generation of jazz musicians.

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