Jazz: “San Juan Hill,” composed by Etienne Charles @ the new Geffen Hall, NYC
San Juan Hill was a neighborhood that seemed emblematic of New York at the turn of the 20th century.Its residents were mostly African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Puerto Rican, (although G who is of Italian origin was born and spent his early years there, and my maternal grandmother who is of Spanish descent lived very close by.)
Under the guise of “urban renewal” (a PC term for slum clearance), the tenements that made up SJH were bulldozed in the late 1950s to build Lincoln Center. The neighborhood disappeared but its spirit lives on in Etienne Charles’ “San Juan Hill,” a symphonic jazz suite that served as the opening concert of the splendid and altogether new-and-improved David Geffen Hall.
Performed by Charles, his ensemble Creole Soul and the NY Philharmonic led by Jaap van Zweden, “San Juan Hill”’s 10-part suite pays tribute to such neighborhood fixtures as Hannah Ellis, “The Neighborhood Enchantress”, who was the sex worker that became the world’s richest Black woman; and “The Charleston”, the Roaring 20s dance which was invented by Black migrants from South Carolina. The “Rent Party” for my money was the most satisfying piece as it incorporated the Latin and Black rhythms that influenced SJH so deeply.
Oh yes and about the acoustics. Great! The six-piece Creole Soul that kicked off the evening had all the intimacy of a jazz club. A good excuse to go back and hear the NYP take on the giants of music. Come up and see them sometime.