Weeksville Heritage Center (Brooklyn, NY)

The Weeksville Heritage Center, based in the historic Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Central Brooklyn, documents and preserves the history of the free and intentional 19th century African American community of Weeksville.  The historic Hunterfly Road Houses, dating from 1840-1880s, are original domestic structures of the historic community.  Weeksville Heritage Center provides innovative programs that engage audiences of all ages with 19th century history through modern and relevant applications.

Through a grant from American Express, Open Sky Jazz is realizing one of those “modern and relevant applications”.  We have been engaged to conduct a two-year research project into the Lost Jazz Shrines of Central Brooklyn, and the vibrant jazz history of Central Brooklyn in general.

During the 1940s and running through much of the 1960s Brooklyn actually had more jazz venues per capita than the storied borough of Manhattan; the majority of those venues were based in Central Brooklyn in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district.  And the great majority of those venues were African American owned and/or operated.  When Thelonious Monk lost his cabaret card after being arrested taking the fall for a fellow artist, where did he find a welcome home to perform?  The jazz clubs of Brooklyn, of course.

During the same storied period many of the quintessential jazz artists lived in Brooklyn, ranging from Eubie Blake and Eddie Heywood to Max Roach, George Russell, Miles Davis, Wynton Kelly, and Randy Weston, to Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Barron, on up to a healthy cross section of some of today’s most vital young jazz artists.  For many of the great migration of jazz artists from the south and the Midwest, Brooklyn was the place with affordable housing and a vibrant community of musicians and venues.

Our project includes conducting oral history interviews with many of the artists, club owners, presenters, journalists, scenesters and fans that are still around from Brooklyn’s jazz heyday of the 40s, 50s, 60s & 70s to those who continue to perform and present jazz in the Central Brooklyn community (ala the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium).  We are also gathering valuable research materials from libraries and archives.  Eventually these archival materials and interviews (the majority both audio & video) will be housed as a prominent component of Weeksville Heritage Center’s new building, slated to open in 2011.  A series of live Lost Jazz Shrines presentations are also anticipated for Weeksville’s forthcoming new facility.

If you have materials relevant to this project that you would like to make us aware of, or persons with knowledge of Brooklyn’s 40s-50s-60s-70s jazz heyday, or who are currently presenting jazz in Brooklyn please be in touch.

Email link: For further information on this project or to contribute information or resources please contact Willard Jenkins or Jennifer Scott.

Certain interviews, excerpts, and commentaries from this project will begin appearing in The Independent Ear starting in September 2010.  Randy Weston and other observers tell a hilarious story of a harrowing night when Monk was playing at a Brooklyn club during his period of forced exile from Manhattan clubs.  A substitute doorman unknowingly let members of a rival neighborhood gang into the club.  A brawl broke out and amidst flying beer bottles, chairs, and mass slugging, Monk coolly and calmly just kept right on playing as if oblivious to the melee surrounding him!  Look for that urban legend and more in The Independent Ear.

Visit the Weeksville Heritage Center website