About 50 people gathered on the front lawn of Maple Grove Cemetery this past weekend to sway to the music of the Lew Picardi Big Band.
On Saturday, July 17, the dulcet tunes of the1930s and ‘40s filled the air in Kew Gardens.
The first-ever outdoor concert, made possible by the Queens Council on the Arts with funding from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, included music such as Benny Goodman’s lively “Don’t Be That Way” and Billy Eckstine’s sentimental “I Apologize.”
Andrew Joseph Koslosky played a double role as conductor and singer to Bing Crosby’s “Pennies from Heaven,” with help from the audience, who were happy to sing along while tapping feet and clapping hands.
“They are a full-throated band, good sound” said one listener to another.
The audience, some in chairs and others spread out on the lawn, enjoyed listening to the skilled musicians on the clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, keyboard, and drum under the darkening sky and half-moon.
“I wouldn’t call myself a jazz fan, but I enjoy the music. It works so well with the evening,” said Diana L. Shaman, who came to see the band and has lived in Kew Gardens since 1967.
“What I like about [this event] is that it’s a cemetery, but they have adapted it to living. It’s not only a place of burials, but also for people who want to enjoy life. It’s a beautiful concept,” she said.
Mindy Erdman, a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 99, agreed.
“The quality of this concert is equal to anything you would see in Central Park, but it’s right here in Queens,” said Erdman.
The event was organized by Carl Ballenas, not only to honor the swing music of an era past, but to pay homage to many of the musical icons interred at the cemetery, which include Vincent Youmans, Jimmy Rushing and La Vern Baker.
“This is a historical cemetery, and we want to honor and pay tribute to our musical treasures,” said Ballenas.
“There’s an Egyptian proverb that says, ‘If you say their name, they come back to life.’ Sometimes the stories of the past are forgotten, and we don’t want to forget them.”
He hopes to make the outdoor concert an annual event, and is looking forward to a Christmas concert this year as well.
Maple Grove Cemetery, located at 127-15 Kew Gardens Road, opened a new center last September that boasts a spacious celebration hall and community room, among other facilities designed for public use. To take part in upcoming events from the Friends of Maple Grove, visit www.friendsofmaplegrove.org.