By Mark Hallum
Jon Batiste, band leader of Stay Human, hosted a world-class line-up of musicians Saturday to pay tribute to the legend and Corona native himself, Louis Armstrong.
The fourth annual Louis Armstrong Wonderful World Festival kicked off in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on the hot weekend afternoon with free admission for jazz fans to enjoy some of today’s best talent. Batiste, a New Orleans-based musician whose band is featured on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” hosted the event, which was sponsored by Queens College and the Kupferberg Center for the Arts.
“Louis Armstrong was a God-gifted cultural amalgamation of all the best that America has to offer: He was an artist and humanitarian of the highest order,” said Batiste. “Armed with visionary, interpretational genius, and an irrepressible charisma, he broke down artistic, racial, social and cultural barriers. Using his nonpareil trumpet ability, he reinvented American music. This festival is a celebration of what his legacy means to me. I couldn’t be more excited to light up Queens, his home away from home.”
Batiste joined band leader Vince Giordano and his group, The Nighthawks, for a set showcasing some of Armstrong’s early work.
“Louis joined the Fletcher Henderson Band in New York City in 1924,” Giordano said as he introduced a tune titled “Copenhagen.”
“He came right in front of King Oliver’s great Creole jazz band and really changed the whole style of the Henderson band, and he also changed all the musicians in New York when they came down to hear him.”
Giordano’s set doubled as a lecture on the history of Armstrong’s work with bands and music in Queens. It also explained how no jazz lover’s visit to the borough is complete without spending time at the home Armstrong shared with his wife at 34-56 107th St., in Corona. Armstrong lived in the house from 1943 until his death in 1971.
Stay Human followed Giordano on stage with members of the Dap Kings joining him. Jon Batiste is a Louisiana-born musician who leads Stay Human and plays an array of instruments. He has composed music for film and music audiences which have been featured on the Stephen Colbert’s show.
Jeff Rosenstock, executive director of the Kupferberg Center for the Arts, said Queens is relevant to Armstong’s legacy to this day and the physical footprint left behind still resonates in the borough.
“We could not think of a more appropriate site to host our annual Armstrong Festival than Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and we know Louis would have invited the entire neighborhood to an event like this,” Rosenstock said. “The park is not only the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, but also a gathering place for multiple cultural and ethnic communities who represent Louis’s vision of ‘What a Wonderful World.’”
Batiste returned to the stage to close the festival with the The Havana Roots Collective late in the day as the heat waned. Havana Roots, a new project headed up by led by Grammy-winning producer Andrés Levin from Yerba Buena, features Cuban musicians Cucu Diamantes, Alain Perez and Kelvis Ochoa.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall