Mining Brooklyn’s Jazz Legacy

 Brooklyn had more jazz clubs and related venues than Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s.  So say Randy Weston and numerous other observers and historians of the bigger, brilliantly-multi culti, undeniably colorful and richly historic borough across the East River.  This and other fascinating facts of Brooklyn’s storied jazz history are becoming clearer by the day through a rewarding new research project I’ve just begun in Central Brooklyn.  As they say in radio land… stay tuned!

Weeksville Heritage Center is a historic site of great national significance.  Weeksville is one of the only African American historic sites in the Northeast on its original property and the only African American historic site in New York that teaches post enslavement history.  During the 19th century, the village of Weeksville was a vibrant and independent African American community.  The history of self-sufficient African American communities dates back centuries, long before Brooklyn was incorporated as a borough of New York City. 

Houses from the Weeksville legacy, circa 1904

A major part of the 20th century cultural legacy of Brooklyn was a very vibrant jazz scene, significantly different from Manhattan in particular because many of those venues were African American owned or operated and — with the notable exception of Harlem — quite different from Manhattan in that respect.  The Weeksville Heritage Center has long recognized the importance of jazz in the cultural history of Brooklyn, particularly the Central Brooklyn area the settlement occupies.  So I’ve been engaged to conduct a research project, including significant oral history interviews with key musicians and historians, as a Lost Jazz Shrines of Brooklyn development.  This project will eventually be a cornerstone of the Weeksville Heritage Society’s archives as well as the public programs component of the new center which is being constructed on its Bergen Street site.

Weeksville residents back in the day

I’m interested in connecting with anyone who has information or memorabilia they’d like to share to shed futher light on the vibrant history of jazz in Brooklyn, particularly Central Brooklyn.  Please contact me through The Independent Ear (Comment below) or via email at  Stay tuned to this site for further updates on the development of this exciting Weeksville jazz project.

Jazz presentations today at Weeksville Heritage Center



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