This evening we took the G train four stops to Court Street and then walked a long way through the very pretty Hunters Point section of Long Island City to see and listen to the great African music of the Kimati Dinizulu Organic Duet at the stunningly beautiful Gantry Plaza State Park.
This was part of the park's Live at the Gantries Tuesday evenings, which is, according to the website,
a series of free, outdoor performances featuring some of the borough’s most celebrated entertainers, from site specific modern dance to Afro-Peruvian pop, from traditional Chinese theater to anarchic street brass marchers, there is something for people of all ages.
Live at the Gantries starts Sunday June 14 and continues every Tuesday from June 23 through August 18. Every show starts at 7 o’clock and ends with a spectacular sunset at Gantry Plaza State Park, a 2.5-acre waterside oasis between 49th and 50th Avenues along the East River.
We're embarrassed to admit that although this neighborhood is about half an hour away - getting off at Court Street, we probably should have taken the 7 train back one stop to Vernon Boulevard/Jackson Avenue just before it goes into Manhattan to avoid the long walk - we hadn't been there ever.
Nor did we ever suspect that this neighborhood was so appealing or that Gantry Plaza State Park is such a hidden gem. Quite simply, it's the most beautiful waterside park in all of New York City, and that's saying a lot.
We really couldn't shake the feeling that we'd died and gone to paradise as we walked through what seemed like an idyllic setting, like something out of GM's utopian Futurama ride at the 1964-65 World's Fair.
Here's something from the park's website:
Gantry Plaza State Park is a 4-acre riverside oasis that boasts spectacular views of the midtown Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State Building and the United Nations. Enjoy a relaxing stroll along the park's four piers or through the park's manicured gardens and unique mist fountain. Along the way take a moment to admire the rugged beauty of the park's centerpieces - restored gantries. These industrial monuments were once used to load and unload rail car floats and barges; today they are striking reminders of our waterfront's past. With the city skyline as a backdrop and the gantries as a stage, the park's plaza is a wonderful place to enjoy a spring or summer concert or to enjoy the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks display.
As a New York Times Streetscapes article observed,
Anyone who grew up with the mid-20th century parks of the Robert Moses variety may weep on walking through Gantry; it's not that the Moses-era parks were so bad, it's that Balsley's inspired design shows how little extra it would have taken to make them so much better. There are four new finger piers reaching out into the East River. One, the most southerly - it's called the fishing pier - has a stainless steel fish-cleaning table in the shape of an amoeba. It also has a 100-foot-plus-long wooden slat bench, a "wave bench" that rises and falls through its entire length like mid-ocean swells.
Another pier is called the stargazing pier, with soft lighting and, screened from the shore lights, reclined seating - "stargazer chaises." The park goes down to the shoreline, and it is possible to pick your way through the wild grasses and washed-up timbers to poke a toe in the water - a possibility unthinkable half a century ago.
The two float bridges at Gantry have been painted and spruced up, with big red letters spelling "Long Island" legible from across the water. Neither bridge has its original decks with rails, but on one the great, bolted steel hangers extend all the way down to a new wooden deck - but from the side it is obvious that the hangers do not support it but are just tacked on. . .
At Gantry Plaza State Park, the spiffed up ironwork and fresh paint seem in accord with the spacious, open-sky site, partly raw industrial landscape and partly the two handsome neo-1940's apartment houses put up in recent years at the adjacent Queens West development.
There are more buildings now than when that appraisal was written, and more people, too. In a conversation with our dad in Arizona, he asked us what kind of people were in the park. We'd probably say affluent-looking people of all races.
The show had just started when we arrived. Although we enjoyed walking through the neighborhood, we were a little sweaty, as it was a warm and humid night. The peaceful rhythms of the music, along with the waterside breezes, the splendid view and the lulling sounds of the water moving against the shore when we went onto one of the piers and watched the performers from the back, soon blissed us out.
Especially by the water, we felt like we did during our last massage at a day spa.
Kimati Dimizulu is a well-known Ghanaian musician, long familiar to New York audiences. For example, twenty years ago, he closed the Celebrate Brooklyn! 1989 summer performances. He's also worked with Judith Jamison at the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and performed at the 2000 production of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. He's a composer as well as a performer and has hosted TV specials on Kwaanza and African music.
We wish we'd learned the name of the extremely talented man who played the sax and other wind instruments so beautiful. It was the perfect compliment to Kimati Dimizulu's persuasive percussion.
Here's the promo material from the Live at the Gantries website:
Renowned drummer Nana Kimati Dinizulu makes a rare Stateside appearance with an intimate show. The study of drumming and African culture is a lifetime process for Dinizulu. His encyclopedic knowledge of drums, percussion, and the art of drumming comes from his worldwide travels and studies of the music of other cultures as well as his heartfelt love for music and learning.
Whether performing for dignitaries, patrons, students or children, the high-spirited music of Dinizulu is always completely infectious. His presence, positioned over his eight-foot carved drum with numerous other instruments hanging off of his body is one of the most fascinating images in contemporary music.
Here is a rare drum solo, taken in Japan in the 1990s, of Nana Kimati Dinizulu:
And here's Kimati Dinizulu & His Kotoko Society performing live at the Congo Square stage at the New Orleans Jazz Festival:
There was a quiet but celebratory mood among the crowd. At one point, we plunked ourselves down on the clean concrete close by, next to a mom and dad and two little boys out in their pajamas and slippers.
The only thing we regretted about going to this evening's wonderful performance was that it ended at 8 p.m. But we'll back at the gantries for sure.