Flushing Town Hall is hosting a series of lectures that take an approach in contrast to its usual live music programming: the art of record listening.
The arts organization will host jazz researcher and educator Ben Young for a new Jazz 101 lecture series, a series of programming covering the history of jazz music, held weekly over eight, two-hour sessions from April 6 to May 25.
Young, who worked at Columbia University’s radio station and has made a career of documenting jazz artists and remastering old jazz recordings, said that the lectures will build off “hot clubs,” another word for the listening groups that he has previously organized with Flushing Town Hall to do some focused listening to 78 rpm records.
He sees it as a complement to the live performance programming that the arts organization usually puts together. About half of each session will consist of music listening, he said. The other half of the class will guide listeners through what to listen for, and tell some of the histories of the musicians, relating them back to the culture of 20th century America.
“You can’t hear Louis Armstrong in person anymore, right? So let’s make sure that in contemplating Louis Armstrong, we’re actually playing his recordings rather than just listening to modern interpreters,” Young said.
In its historical content, the course will situate early jazz as an early 20th century pop phenomenon related to ragtime music and social dancing. But even more broadly, Young aims to “understand how black American culture fits into the multiplex panoply of pre-Civil War days, of Reconstruction, of Jim Crow life and then of the advancement through the various stages of the lowercase civil rights era.”
For Young, researching jazz is a lifelong passion. He’s hosted programs at WKCR-FM curating a range of jazz and modern improvised music. Since 2010, he has taught courses in jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University program. He’s also worked to document the lives of several prominent New York City-based jazz artists including trumpeter Bill Dixon and the recently deceased Milford Graves, an avant garde jazz percussionist who lived in Jamaica for most of his life.
“[Graves] was central to the way that what we call the avant garde in jazz has unfolded since the ’60s. And I was forever after him to talk about the stories, about the history part and also the theory part,” Young said.
Though the different classes revolve around different geographic nodes of jazz history like New Orleans and Chicago, Young said that he’ll take every chance to tie the art form back to its intersections with New York City, and Queens in particular.
“Even if folks don’t know the names and don’t know the sounds or the styles or the history, they will know the geography, and that can be very useful,” he said.
Though jazz culture can sometimes take on the air of exclusivity to the uninitiated, Young emphasized that part of his goal is to demystify the music for the layman and bring on people who aren’t already fans.
“There’s really no assumptions, everything gets explained, and no question is too basic,” he said
Tickets are $10 or $7 for members for an individual class and $56 or $40 for members for all eight classes. To find out more about the class or to sign up, visit flushingtownhall.org/jazz-101.