By Kelsey Durham
Fifty years after jazz legend Louis Armstrong performed at the 1964 World’s Fair, hundreds of people came out to honor his memory at the inaugural Louis Armstrong International Music Festival Sunday at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The festival, organized by the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, brought a full day of events to the park, including live music performances, a photography exhibit and a food truck rally.
Throughout the day, crowds could be seen gathering to watch musical performances and dancing on the grass as they enjoyed the day in the sun and soaked up the history of a Queens icon.
Jeff Rosenstock, assistant vice president for external affairs at Queens College, said everything about the festival was meant to honor Armstrong and what he stood for.
“His famous saying used to be, ‘A note is a note in all languages,’” said Rosenstock, who produced last weekend’s festival. “He wanted to break down the barriers and that’s our goal here: to break barriers.”
Rosenstock said the idea for the festival first came to him a few years ago when he was giving a tour through the Louis Armstrong Museum in Corona, where the musician lived for nearly 30 years before his death. He said a member of the tour group suggested he start a festival dedicated to the positive changes Armstrong had on society by using his music as a message for peace.
“We decided it shouldn’t be just jazz or just Armstrong because he believed in all kinds of music,” Rosenstock said. “He traveled the world as a musical ambassador and, I think, to some, Queens is an ambassador to the new ethnicities and people coming to America.”
Planning for the festival began about a year and a half ago, Rosenstock said, and the events he was able to schedule encompass the diversity that Armstrong stood for. The festival’s only indoor event of the day was the photo exhibit that showed never-before-seen images of Armstrong at the 1964 World’s Fair June 29, a day that was declared Louis Armstrong Day by the fair organizers.
The series of photos, taken by Armstrong’s close friend Jack Bradley, provided a glimpse into how the trumpeter spent a historic day at the park that was just blocks from the home he cherished.
“He loved the neighborhood,” Rosenstock said. “He had the money to move to Manhattan or to anywhere, but he wanted to stay here in Queens.”
Rosenstock said the college plans to make the festival an annual event, and he envisions the celebration growing into a two-day, multimillion-dollar festival in the future.
Jon Faddis, one of the festival’s performers who played trumpet in a quartet, said after his performance that he was glad to see people come out and celebrate Armstrong’s legacy. He said it was about time there was a festival dedicated to what he stood for.
“You know, his music was once so powerful that it was able to stop a war in Africa,” Faddis said, referring to the strife right before the Congo became independent in 1960. “We could all use some of that now.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.