Monday, December 14, 2009

Young in the 1950s - The New York Jazz Scene

Frank Valquez
I attended junior high school ('53-'55) with Ray (Draper). We played in the same school orchestra. Another notable in that class was Louis Abolafia, one of the founders of the hippie movement in NY of the 60's. I'll always remember those days growing-up in the exciting upper-west side of Manhattan.
A few days ago I received a message from Frank Valquez from Houston ( Texas)(USA) who had visited the blog about Ray Draper, I published in October 2007 as Tuba or Not Tuba - Ray Draper . He told me that he and Ray were schoolmates and his comment was so interesting that I asked him to share his remembrances with the visitors of this blog.
Enjoy his story:
Dear Hans,
As I wrote in your jazz blog, I went to junior high school with Ray Draper and we were in the same class and school orchestra for 3 years. With the exception of myself, there were many talented young musicians in the orchestra classes of 1953-1955 at Booker T. Washington Junior High P.S. 54 on 108th street and Columbus Avenue. Ray was a very talented and serious musician. I remember him as being tall with very sad eyes. I was not surprised when I learned that at age 17, he was playing with Max Roach. It was very sad to to hear of his heroin habit which, as I learned very young, is a virtual death sentence.

In the 1950's the upper west side of Manhattan was a dynamic mixing pot of diversity of socio-economic, ethnic and racial groups. Our orchestra class was a microcosm of the neighbourhood, the bass player came from Norway, a cellist's parents were blind newspaper sellers, a french horn player's father was a refugee psychiatrist from Nazi Germany, the first violin was a girl born in Mexico, a trumpet player's family of Sephardic Jews had a flower stand by the 103rd st. Broadway subway station. We had middle class children whose parents were physicians, and working class children whose parents were janitors.
We were a group of precocious children and music was a very important part of our daily lives. We played and listened to the classics, opera, pop, early rock (called R & B, later do-wop), Broadway musicals, mambo, cha-cha, and jazz. For two decades following WW II, New York was the mecca of music in the US (perhaps the world).
By age 17, I had the privilege of attending performances by such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and his big band, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk (who attended my high school years before), Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday in one of her last public presentations, Zoot Sims, Lenny Tristano, Jackie McClean, Mary Lou Williams, Jay & Kai ( J J Johnson and Kai Winding), the MJQ, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, James Moody, a drum face-off between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, George Shearing, Candido, Count Basie and the great latin dance bands of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Unfortunately, I missed Bird and Clifford Brown, both died in 1955.
New York was and is a great city for jazz and other music forms. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing these remembrances of things past with you.
Warmest regards and happy holidays.

Frank Vazquez, Houston, Texas
Thanks Frank for sharing your remembrances of New York in the 1950s.
Hans Koert

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