Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wednesday Night in Brownsville: Roy Ayers with DJ Jon Quick at Betsy Head Park

Everybody loves the sunshine, but tonight in Brownsville we appreciated it that much more at a brilliant concert by the legendary Roy Ayers at Betsy Head Park.

It was a gorgeous evening and the trip from Williamsburg was quick via the L to Livonia Avenue

and a short walk on the overpass over the the old LIRR Bay Ridge line tracks

to the Junius Street el,

where we got the 3 train to Saratoga Avenue,

just by the park's southwest entrance.

Betsy Head Park, or Memorial Playground, was first built in 1915 and named for the British lady who left the money for the park (she disinherited her daughter who married one of the servants).

It was considered state of the art in recreational facilities in its day, with a swimming pool, wading pool, school vegetable garden, "rest pavilion," and other amenities, but since it was the only park in Brownsville for miles, it was overcrowded the day it opened.

The swimming pool was made into a giant Olympic-sized one during the WPA era in the 1930s.

Our great-grandparents the Cohens lived across the street on Livonia,

and our Saretsky great-grandparents were two blocks away. We were born 59 years ago this week just four blocks south of here, at Beth-El Hospital, renamed Brookdale in 1963, two years after our youngest brother was born here. (Back then, they kept new mothers in the hospital for a week, so we and our other brother stayed with each of our grandmothers, who one afternoon walked us down Church Avenue so we could wave to our mom at an upper story window).

Here's a pic we took exactly 40 years ago on the other side of the park at Blake Avenue, where in June 1970, Howard Samuels was campaigning in the Democratic primary for governor (he lost).

Around that time and in the '80s, the park and pool were usually considered neutral turf for neighborhood gangs.

The crowd was small when we got there around 6:45 p.m. but it quickly got bigger and bigger.

Roy Ayers and DJ Jon Quick appeared courtesy of the wonderful City Parks Foundation, whose neighborhood SummerStage concerts began last night in Red Hook Park with Jay Electronica.

Tonight Roy Ayers and his band filled Betsy Head Park with the most incredible sounds. About a year and a half ago, Entertainment Weekly wrote of him,
Roy Ayers could very well be the best jazz/R&B artist you don’t know.

In his 40-plus years as a vibraphonist, he has produced a string of soul and funk classics, like “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” and “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” that has arguably made him the second-most sampled musician in hip-hop, after James Brown. You may have heard snippets of his music in songs by 50 Cent protégé Tony Yayo (“Fake Love”) or A Tribe Called Quest (“Bonita Applebum”). But while the exposure of his extensive catalogue is enough to boost any man’s ego, the 68-year-old Ayers remains humble and busy.

Just last year, Ayers and Kanye West were enlisted to produce “In the Mood,” a modish jazz cut off Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli’s seminal CD Eardrum, and Ayers continues to tour and work on an album due to drop in 2009, which he says may feature the exhilarating, highly underrated jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. Meanwhile, Verve has reissued three of his albums from the 1970s, which highlight some of his best work.

The crowd was really appreciative, and it seemed as though some of them were big Roy Ayers fans because we heard them speak about him with an authority we certainly don't possess.

Ayers' versatility is what's truly amazing; he makes you see what a malleable instrument a vibraphone can be in a number like "The Woodpecker."

His band was also superb.

Our favorite was "No Stranger to Love," written by William Allen.

Unfortunately, we're in the middle of teaching an intensive five-day-a-week summer session class and we had to go home early to grade papers, so we didn't get to see much of DJ Jon Quick.

But he'll be at some later shows this summer, and we're really grateful the City Parks Foundation has gotten around to bringing SummerStage to Brownsville.

We're (originally) from the Ville -- never ran, never will.

Returning from "New York," I would take the longest routes home from the subway, get off a station ahead of our own, only for the unexpectedness of walking through Betsy Head Park and hearing the gravel crunch under my feet as I went beyond the vegetable gardens, smelling the sweaty sweet deampness from the pool in summer and the dust on the leaves as I passed under the ailanthus trees.
- Alfred Kazin, A Walker in the City

- courtesy magicalparadise

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