Local jazz musicians greet Airtrain statio commuters and visitors

By Juan Soto

Every Thursday until Nov. 20 jazz will make a delightful sound in the mezzanine of Jamaica’s AirTrain station. After all, jazz is to Jamaica and Queens as Elvis is to Memphis.

Jazz musicians will perform at the busy station as part of the AirTrain Jazz Festival, a music program organized by the nonprofit A Better Jamaica and others.

“The music is basically for the people traveling and passing by the station,” said Greg Mays, president of A Better Jamaica. “It’s a cultural greeting, something like the calypso bands greeting you at airports in the Caribbean.”

Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, among others, had strong ties to Jamaica and Queens. Their names appear in the wall and on the kiosk located in the first floor of the station.

“This is about bringing back to life all those names in the wall,” Mays said.

The series was inaugurated Oct. 2 by one of the local bands, The Eric Lemon Trio.

“This is an spectacular idea,” said Freddy Dugard, leader of the local Freddy Dugard’s Hit Squad, “This keeps jazz music alive, it keeps alive all the great masters.”

Dugard grew up in Cambria Heights, one of the so-called Jamaica funks neighborhoods. “Music is the best relief from a day of work,” he said.

Freddy Dugard’s Hit Squad will be performing with Dugard on drums, Yayoi Ikawa on keyboards along with Japanese saxophonist Yaz and bassist Dave Pelligrino.

“Jazz is the American music,” the Queens drummer said. “But jazz is universal, all cultures enjoy it.”

Dugard invites everyone to enjoy the performances.

“One should take 10 or 15 minutes, have a drink or a soda, and listen to some music.”

Other locals bands that will be featured in the music series, among others, are the Bills Jacobs Ensemble and the Bayo Fayemi Group.

“Both Jamaica and the rest of Queens are steeped in jazz history,” Mays said. The AirTrain Jazz Festival “gives us a chance to share some of this rich history with folks traveling to and from New York City.”

The music series is also organized by the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District, the Port Authority and the Jamaica Arts Council.

“Bringing to life the rich history of jazz in Queens just made sense,” said Simone Price, executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard BID.

“It is a nice program,” said Mays.

The performances will be live every Thursday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., some of the busiest times at the AirTrain Station. Each band will play two sets, with a break in between.

“There is nothing better than listening to jazz music from the neighborhood,” Mays said.

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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