An evening walking the streets of the Bronx. High rise apartment blocks, community gardens, shops, delis, under the bridge industrial landscape. There is a smell of petroleum hanging and clinging in the throat, and the toxic perfumed vapours of laundry detergent that permeate the air, wafted by the constant roaring rush of traffic down the Concourse. Medical centres on every street corner built in to housing complexes signal high population density, low incomes and a polluted environment? The winter evening darkness, racing car-tyres slashing slush, piles of blackened snow and ice-entombed garbage accentuate the scene; I imagine spring is more pleasant with children playing in blossoming parks watched over by older generations and a beautiful sun.
Overriding impression today is of being the only white stranger among the many sidewalk inhabitants and commuters. Different languages at every turn, Cuban flags, car body shops, Chinese food, Halal shop live animals wander inside neon glare.
The young woman at the College tells me “Folk from Manhattan don't come here much...”, I guess they don't like traveling abroad, so near yet so far, a city divided.
I moved on down to Harlem later and had coffee in a small deli bar that has pictures of Che, Mandela and other advocates of freedom framed on the walls while water hot dripping leak spatters from the ceiling, “Yeah, we have to get that fixed”.
At the Harlem Jazz Museum we are treated to an up close and intimate performance by Jonathon Baptiste and his band opening up the audience with a hand clapping chorus of chants to “FREE - YOUR - MIND, FREE YOUR MIND, EV’RYBODY!” We are IN the groove. Segued numbers subtle transitions leading through phases, paces and moods. Youth now carrying the past into tomorrow making it their own. Strong talents, strong voices address issues of today urban gospel salvation for the metropolitan faithful. Wandering in and out of abstraction, to outer space and back again, breaking down the sound; rhythm section holding the groove down, brass harmony and piano melody in confident improvisation, playing one off one another adding style and colour, leading the assembled through patterns of sound. It was an education and a pleasure for us all to have learned so much about jazz and how to listen, follow, understand... the classical music of New York.