Brooklyn Roads Newsletter

BK Summer Music Wrap Up
BK Summer Music Wrap Up
Afropunk: A Celebration of Diversity, People, Culture and Place
Afropunk: A Celebration of Diversity, People, Culture and Place
Vince Giordano: Brooklyn, Victrolas, Scorcese and All That Jazz
Vince Giordano: Brooklyn, Victrolas, Scorcese and All That Jazz
Jazzman José James: A Dreamer Grows in Brooklyn
Jazzman Josť James: A Dreamer Grows in Brooklyn
BACK IN THE DAY: Brooklyn Music Milestones
BACK IN THE DAY: Brooklyn Music Milestones
Brooklyn Voices

Volume 3, Issue 5
Publisher- Howard B. Leibowitz
Editor- David K. Moseder
Contributing Editor - Elizabeth Siegal
Contributor - Jacob Tupper
Events Editor - Jamie Brooks

All music…. All Brooklyn !!

BK Summer Music Wrap Up

St. VincentAnother summer has come and gone, leaving Brooklyn residents and fans pining for one more concert and extravaganza. Unfortunately, while the heat plays one last trick on our insatiable summer needs, the memories of cool summer nights are what remain as we look back on a season to never forget.

While Smorgasburg took free reign of every Brooklynite’s taste buds and Brooklyn Bridge Park gathered cinephiles abound with free screenings of classic films, it was the music of the borough that kept the soul of summer alive. BAM’s unforgettable R&B Festival lineup, which included The Ohio Players, Bobby Rush, Snarky Puppy, and Lisa Fischer, could only be rivaled in spectacle by the annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, a concert that celebrates the abundant hip-hop culture cultivated in the borough. While the latter concert has played host to heavy weights such as Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, this year sent fans into a frenzy, as Brooklyn’s own Jay-Z showed up to perform with fellow Roc Nation artist Jay Electronica.

The city-wide Summer Stage festival brought to Brooklyn a variety of musical showcases, stretching from the Metropolitan Opera summer recital series to a “salute to hip-hop” in Hebert Von King Park. However, the highlight of the summer was the 36th season of BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! at the ProspectPark Bandshell. With performances from Jack Johnson, Jánelle Monae and Neutral Milk Hotel, the excitement was endless. Kensington residents The National wowed the audience with Grammy-nominated work and Amos Leebrought the park to a standstill, after openers MS MR electrified concert-goers. The soulful pipes of Lake Street Dive, another Brooklyn based quartet, mesmerized with their jazzy songs and had the crowd dancing and singing along in time for headliner Amos Lee. Yet, the park saved the best for last with Brooklyn based baroque-pop band San Fermin opening for St. Vincent, whose amazingly outrageous lead singer, Annie Clark, lit up the stage with her guitar riffs and ethereal presence.

To send August out with a bang, Brooklyn played host to the tenth annual Afropunk Festival in Fort Greene and the first ever Live In Levi’s concert at Brooklyn Bridge Park, featuring Brooklynites Sleigh Bells and west coast darlings, Haim. As we reach for our sweaters packed away in our closets and brace ourselves for another winter, our records will remain on repeat, a reminder that great live music can always move indoors and is celebrated year round in BK.

-Elizabeth Siegal

Afropunk: A Celebration of Diversity, People, Culture and Place

Sharon Jones at Afro Punk 2014The 10th Annual Afropunk Festival was held on August 23-24 at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, hosting a celebration of diversity, people, culture, community and place.

The music of the festival ranged from up-and-coming punk bands such as Sunny Gang, Top Dog Entertainment’s R&B artist-on-the-rise SZA, the Odd Future funk/soul band The Internet, and New York dance party regulars Electric Punanny. While there were great sets from all the acts, the headliners—D’angelo and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings—shined particularly bright.

Beyond the musical foreground, the festival featured a variety of underground as well as overt cultural elements that help make Brooklyn one of the most invigorating places to live. Live graffiti painting and a BMX park brought accents of the borough into focus, directing participants’ attention to many facets that surround them on a daily basis.

Within the park grounds, vendors ranged from skate shops to head wraps to political calls for actions. In order to maximize space, food was primarily outside the main gates of the festival and consisted of many ethnic offerings; a plate of chorizo, Oaxaca cheese, and arepas was particularly pleasing for this festival-goer.

Shabazz PalacesAlthough alternative beverages were a bit expensive, with the cheapest beer at “$7 plus tips,” the true outdoor Brooklyn booze purveyors—the ambitious men with “nutcrackers”—managed to find their way into the festival. When the sun shined on Sunday, the crowd grew and the presence of $5 multi-colored boozy plastic punch bottles was unmistakable.

Fortunately for the borough, Afropunk seems to be in a music festival sweet spot: it’s been around long enough that it attracts a sizable crowd and great artists, but it isn’t big enough to fall victim to a corporate festival organization. In turn, the festival maintains an organic, and extremely Brooklyn élan, leaving us with eyes and ears open to what the event brings next year.

-Jacob Tupper

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 Volume 3, Issue 6
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 Volume 3, Issue 4
 Volume 3, Issue 3
 Volume 3, Issue 2
 Volume 3, Issue 1
 Volume 2, Issue 3
 Volume 2, Issue 2
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Brooklyn, I Hardly Know Ya

Carole Montgomery
To me, nothing explains the Brooklyn I grew up with than the iconic opening of the film, Saturday Night Fever. The shots of the Brooklyn and Verrazano Bridges, the noisy subway and, of course, John Travolta strutting his stuff down 86th street while eating two slices together. All this while the song Staying Alive is playing. Now, when the movie came out in 1977 I was into punk. Disco was my enemy.

But as I’ve aged I look back at that film as musically, a simpler time.

Fast forward to 2014. Brooklyn is nowhere near what it was when I grew up. It was a borough you couldn’t wait to get out of. To hear live music, you had to take the train into “the city.” My clubs of choice were The Ritz on 14th and Hurrahs on the UWS. I remember seeing The Shirts and The Ramones at those places.

Now try to get on the L line to Brooklyn at 10 p.m. on a weekend. Itʼs like rush hour, only for hipsters. You get off on Bedford Avenue and there are sounds coming from everywhere in the neighborhood. And itʼs not just in Williamsburg--it’s there in Bushwick, Crown Heights and Bed Stuy. All types of music, something for everyone. Why do I know this? My son plays in a band. He’s part of the DIY scene that has sprouted all over my beloved Brooklyn.

I have been to shows at bars, beer gardens and even a loft, which looked like it had a billion fire violations. It’s a different time musically in Brooklyn; I look forward to seeing where it goes.

-Carole Montgomery

Carole Montgomery is a standup comedian, writer, producer, director and actress. She was born in Brooklyn, where she lived until she moved into "the city" (a/k/a Manhattan) and has been featured on Showtime's Comedy All Stars 6 with Don Rickles, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen and TV Guide Network's Standup in Stilettos. She joined forces with Armed Forces Entertainment to bring comedy overseas to the US military and has been to over a dozen countries including Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Haiti, Honduras, Djbouti and Kosovo, where the troops fondly know her as their National Mom. She’s also a featured blogger for Huffington Post 50 and Brooklyn Roads is pleased that were able to convince Carole to share her take on the BK music scene. You can follow Carole on Twitter @national mom.

A UK Musician's BK Take

Sally Mason

This summer, I traveled across the pond from Manchester (England) to dip my toes in the New York music scene and I could instantly feel the musical history that surrounds NYC. Even though Manchester is historically an older city, New York City felt like Manchester's streetwise uncle. Manchester's Northern Quarter looks up to Brooklyn, it wants to be like Brooklyn, but there's just not enough room. There's a lot more happening in NYC than in The Northern Quarter for new musicians, almost too much to take in.

In Williamsburg, I found Pete's Candy Store to be a good starting point. With intimate surroundings, and an eager-to-listen audience it was a perfect way to start my musical trip. Towards Bushwick was Goodbye Blue Monday, a beautiful little rabbit-hole. I felt right at home in the junk shop surroundings, unfinished walls and cheap beers. I played straight after the Va Va Variety Show, which was full of burlesque, comedy and storytelling. The audience were warmed up a treat and I felt like I was in the world's coolest living room.

The Make Music New York gigs I had in Brooklyn were outside Owl and Pussycat Salon, where the hair and beer were flowing! And a jazz jam at Il Porto Pizza Restaurant. It was a delight to play with a real NYC jazz backing band. I felt like I'd been playing with them for years, they were amazing musicians and were very forgiving of my lack of jazz guitar skills.

I found Brooklyn the best place to be when starting out as a British musician in NYC, where there seems to be a lot of like-minded people. It's impossible not to interact with strangers, something that doesn't happen a lot in England. We seem to like our anonymity, whereas New Yorkers seem to use the fact that they live in such a diverse city as a connection, a branch to talk to other people from. It was a joy to be part of it and I look forward to crossing the pond again in October.

-Sally Mason

Sally Mason is a pop folk artist from Manchester, England, who told Brooklyn Roads at the Shovels and Rope performance at Celebrate Brooklyn! this past July that it was her first-ever visit to Brooklyn. After a bit of pleading, she was kind enough to share her thoughts on her BK music experience with us after she made the jump back across the pond. She performs as a solo artist and also as part of Taylor and The Mason. Check out Sally Mason’s video of “Alice” on You Tube. Sally plans on a return visit to BK in the fall.

Vince Giordano: Brooklyn, Victrolas, Scorcese and All That Jazz

Vince GiordanoWhen he’s not pursuing his mission to help restore the smokestack at the site of former Vitagraph Film Studios in Midwood, Brooklyn-bred musician and arranger Vince Giordano is leader of the Nighthawks Orchestra. He sat down for a conversation with Brooklyn Roads, just before the premiere of the final season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

When the jazz age was in full swing in the 1920s, music came out on hard, 10-inch discs that could be played on a Victrola or similar phonograph at a dizzying 78 rpm. It was this medium and technology that led a very young Vince Giordano to discover what would become a lifelong passion, culminating in a Grammy Award for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks’ work on HBO’s Prohibition-era drama, Boardwalk Empire.

I was first exposed to 1920s and ‘30s music via my grandmother’s wind-up Victrola,” Giordano tells Brooklyn Roads. ”She had 78s ranging from Caruso to Yiddish music to jazz and big bands. From the time I was 5 years old, I loved this great historic music. At 12, after listening to a scratchy 78 rpm, I said: ‘I want to play THAT music in MY lifetime!’”

And he has done just that--as a jazz musician, arranger and bandleader--for more than 40 years now. It was truly a revelation when he realized that he could make a living doing what he loved. “As a kid, I worked in a music store, an antique shop, had a paper route and did all sorts of odd jobs” to make a buck. When he started playing gigs, he not only enjoyed it much more than those other jobs, but, to his delight, he discovered that “I made more money, too.”

Giordano was born in Brooklyn, moved to Smithtown, L.I. when he was 2, but returned to his home borough in 1979. As he tells Brooklyn Roads: “Living in Brooklyn has made my life easier because I live in a nice neighborhood and I’m closer to gigs.”

The NighthawksRegarding Brooklyn’s reputation for inspiring and nurturing great musical talent, Giordano says, “I think Brooklyn has always been a great place to live and grow up…a real melting pot of many talented people. We know George Gershwin was born here, [pianist/composer] Eubie Blake lived his last years here...Barbara Streisand…just to name a few.” He also points out that Mel Brooks started as a drummer (“He took lessons from Buddy Rich!“) and that for Woody Allen, the clarinet came first.

Of course Woody Allen is best known as a filmmaker, and it was a string of his films, beginning with Zelig in 1983, that launched Giordano’s, and eventually his band's, movie career. He credits jazz keyboardist and composer Dick Hyman (himself no stranger to Brooklyn) with getting him involved in Allen’s movies, which led to soundtrack and on-screen work in other films, including The Aviator.

“Martin Scorsese directed The Aviator, and when he took over Boardwalk Empire, I was chosen to do the music for this series,” Giordano says. And that, as noted earlier, netted Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks a Grammy.

While the band can be seen and heard Monday and Tuesday evenings at Iguana NYC in Times Square, Giordano tells Brooklyn Roads he has a soft spot for a certain venue in Gowanus. “We’ve done a few private parties at The Bell House,” he says. “That would be a neat place to play regularly.”

If he could go back in time, the list of artists he’d like to collaborate with “would be endless,” he says, adding that among artists of his own era, “It would be great to back up Bernadette Peters or Tony Bennett.”

Artists on the Horizon

Jazzman José James: A Dreamer Grows in Brooklyn

José JamesJosé James’ distinctive style of jazz is built on a lifelong appreciation of diverse musical genres. “When I was growing up my mom played a lot of folk and ‘60s protest music,” he tells Brooklyn Roads. Later he got into Prince, became “a huge Michael Jackson fan from Off The Wall on,” and then, in high school, “I discovered hip-hop – A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, The Beastie Boys, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde.” He also dug the Breeders, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Boyz II Men – “basically all the dope ‘90’s-‘00s music,” he says.

James, whose current album, While You Were Sleeping, was recorded at The Motherbrain in Sunset Park, ended up singing jazz because “I had a baritone and all the male jazz singers are baritones – and because I didn’t have a rap voice.” He was first exposed to jazz through samples in hip-hop songs, “and got into that pretty heavy from Louis Armstrong on.” While he acknowledges the likes of John Coltrane and Billie Holiday as strong influences, he tells Brooklyn Roads, “I try not to think too deeply about who influenced what because I don’t enjoy thinking about music that way.”

Likewise he says he doesn’t care if anyone ever covers his songs (“I’m like Prince, I guess; I like my own versions”), although there are a few he wishes he had written: “Something like Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together or Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands. Real society music. “

The Minneapolis-born James relocated to Brooklyn in 1999 because “by that time Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Jay-Z and everyone was making Brooklyn seem like the cultural center of the world, which it was. I felt like I was in the middle of something really special. I got to see Dead Prez and people like that and it was really inspiring,” he says. He feels that it was Black artists such as these, along with Spike Lee, who “put Brooklyn on the map culturally.”

James has lived in three neighborhoods here – first Crown Heights, then Park Slope and now Fort Greene. “So I’ve seen some different sides of [Brooklyn],” he says. “I walked through a drug raid in my first apartment building and then years later watched them build the Barclays Center. The change has been just incredible.”

In Brooklyn he found “a neighborhood vibe… laid back and strong," as well as great diversity, which is why he feels our borough is such a rich breeding ground for creativity. “There are people from all over the world here and it rubs off on you. Brooklyn has a rep and people of color are still pushing against so many things – poverty, police brutality, social injustice. You feel that no matter what. The desire to transcend the street can be found all through Jay-Z’s music, through rap.”

To his fellow artists looking for a great venue to play James says: “Brooklyn audiences are the best. I’ve performed at Littlefield, Music Hall of Williamsburg. BAM, Prospect Park Bandshell, Galapagos, The Brooklyn Museum, and of course Weeksville, which was just fantastic. I don’t think there’s a better, more informed and more stylish audience than in Brooklyn.”

It was in front of one such audience on his birthday this past January where James enjoyed “a personal career highlight--I performed at BAM for Martin Luther King Day.” Fittingly for the occasion, he sang The Dreamer, the title track from his first album. The experience, he says, “was amazing.”

Brooklyn Music Milestones

Angélique KidjoOct. 3, 1967: Woody Guthrie, who lived for much of his later life on Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue, dies after suffering from Huntington's chorea disease at age 55. Thankfully he lives long enough to see the release of his son Arlo’s first album, Alice’s Restaurant, a few weeks earlier. (You can read about Woody’s musical legacy, including reflections from Arlo and his other children, Nora and Joady, in Brooklyn Roads Volume 3, Issue 1.)

Oct. 5, 1974: Clap for the Wolfman, The Guess Who’s tribute to legendary radio personality Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith), peaks at number six. Wolfman, a self-described “Brooklyn boy who learned to hustle,” is not only the subject of the song, but his signature raspy patter can be heard throughout the record, most prominently during the chorus.

Oct. 10, 1935: After a brief tryout in Boston, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess debuts on Broadway. The run is disappointingly short, but a successful revival in 1942 firmly establishes the East New York native’s “folk opera” as a classic of American theater. It has been revived six times since, most recently in 2012.

Oct. 16, 1992: Lou Reed’s rendition of Foot of Pride and Richie Havens’ classic take on Just Like a Woman, along with Al Kooper’s iconic Hammond B3 organ work on opening number Like A Rolling Stone (sung by John Mellencamp), are Brooklyn’s contribution to the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden.

Oct. 30, 1990: Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Big Daddy Kane continues his chart success with the release of his third album, Taste of Chocolate, destined to hit number 37 on the Billboard 200 and 10 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts. Exactly one day shy of a year later he scores again with Prince of Darkness, featuring a guest appearance by East Flatbush’s own Busta Rhymes on Come on Down.

Nov. 1, 2008: Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and current Brooklyn resident Angélique Kidjo makes her Carnegie Hall debut.

Nov. 4, 1986: Led by longtime Brooklynites John Flansburgh and John Linnell, They Might Be Giants release their eponymous debut album. They have since released more than two dozen studio albums, live CDs, and compilations, including the Idlewild retrospective, issued this past March.


ShenandoahCongrats to local indie pop-swing band Lake Street Dive. Their Bad Self Portraits album reached number two among Billboard’s Independent Albums and number five on the Top Rock Albums chart. The foursome wowed the crowd at Celebrate Brooklyn! this summer…TV on the Radio has announced that their new album, Seeds, will be released in November. It is their first full-length release since the death from lung cancer of bassist Gerard Smith in April 2011. One track, Happy Idiot, is already available online…Shenandoah and the Night (profiled in Brooklyn Roads Volume 2, Issue 2) recently issued 100 Wants, Part One, the first in a series of quarterly digital releases that will culminate in a vinyl compilation. The group kicked off a promotional tour with a September gig at Friends and Lovers in Prospect Heights…Black Hours is the debut solo studio album by The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser. It features bandmate Paul Maroon and guest appearances by Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, among others. Earlier this year the group’s organist/bassist Walter Martin released his second solo effort, We're All Young Together, via Family Jukebox…Bad news: Grizzly Bear guitarist/vocalist and longtime Greenpoint resident Daniel Rossen is moving to L.A. Good news: During a recent solo tour, he hinted tReal Estatehat the Brooklyn-based band may regroup next year, “if it feels natural”...Mark Allen Berube, whose quirky, humorous songs have made him a darling of the folk-fest set, will be releasing a new CD, Sticky, this fall. Also in the works from Berube: a new “Folkin’ the ‘80s” show with Brooklyn ex-pat Sharon Goldman that will be streamed live via Concert Window…Among the other current releases we’re listening to at Brooklyn Roads are Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady, Real Estate’s Atlas, folk duo Wool & Grant ’s eponymous CD and Roosevelt Dime’s Full Head of Steam.

Notable Quotes: “Joan Rivers made me realize a Jewish girl from Brooklyn could actually play with the big boys. She made it look so easy while it was very tough for her. Even at 81, she was still breaking down doors for the rest of us who followed her.” --Carole Montgomery

Editor’s Note: When Joan Rivers’ The Late Show began its all-too-brief run on the fledgling FOX network on Oct. 6, 1986, it opened the doors for edgier musical acts that would never get late-night exposure on Johnny Carson’s more mainstream Tonight Show. On any given night her viewers might be treated to the likes of Husker Du, Psychedelic Furs, Oingo Boingo, Poison and Duran Duran.

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