Leonard Bernstein@100

4 Dec

This year marks the centennial birthday of several jazz luminaries, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Thelonious Monk. Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 but the celebrations are already underway. The worldwide festivities will continue until August 25, 2019.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein had a longstanding appreciation of jazz, blues and spirituals. His 1939 Harvard University bachelor’s thesis was entitled, “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

From LeonardBernstein.com:

From his earliest years, jazz was an integral part of Bernstein’s life, and it made a crucial impact on his own music.

As a teenager in the 1930s, he put together a jazz band, was famous for his jazz piano playing at parties, and directed a swing band at summer camp. Some of the jazz-inflected music he composed in the mid-1930s at Harvard, and later at Curtis [Institute], provided source material for future works. Perhaps most significantly, his undergraduate thesis was no less than an assertion that jazz is the universal basis of American composition. In New York soon after college, he got to know jazz intimately, by day transcribing for publication the improvisations of legendary players like Coleman Hawkins, and playing piano in jazz clubs at night.

About 15 years ago, I first saw this video of Bernstein conducting Louis Armstrong performing “St. Louis Blues” with the composer, W.C. Handy, in the audience. The images are forever etched in my mind.


Last Saturday, I attended the Louis Bernstein Marathon at the CUNY Graduate Center, an eight-hour concert that featured performances of Bernstein’s most popular work. For me, the event was a mash-up of two of my passions: good music and historic preservation. The CUNY Graduate Center is located in the repurposed B. Altman & Co.

B. Altman

For Louis Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, go here.

Boycott Denver’s ink! Coffee

27 Nov

In cities across the country, gentrification is displacing African Americans. In the District of Columbia, for instance, a new study found that for the first time in nearly 60 years, the city’s black population dipped below 50 percent. Historically black neighborhoods are being transformed into “gilded ghettos” for white millennials.

At the same time, gentrification is erasing African American cultural heritage from public memory. In Philadelphia,
the Royal Theater, once considered “American’s Finest Colored Photoplay House,” has been reduced to a façade.

Royal Theater

To raise money to pay for the sins — and crimes — of its priests, the Archdiocese wants to sell St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, the Mother Church of Philadelphia’s black Catholics.

St. Peter Claver Catholic Church

The historic church is listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. So prospective buyers should take note there will be hell to pay if they try to demolish the historic properties.

In Denver, gentrifiers are moving into Five Points, once known as the Harlem of the West. As gentrifiers move in, longtime African American residents are displaced. To rub salt in the wound, a local coffee chain, ink! Coffee, celebrates gentrifying the neighborhood.

Ink Coffee - Five Points

The chain’s founder, Keith Herbert, said it was a “joke.” Well, the joke is on him. The in-your-face sign of white privilege garnered negative headlines from coast-to-coast (herehere and here). In a Facebook post, Herbert apologized for the “joke”:

I have been following the comments on social media and listening to our customers, and I want you to know that I hear you. I have used the last 24 hours to listen to your perspectives, and to better educate myself on gentrification. I am embarrassed to say that I did not fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification, and I want to sincerely apologize to those who understand firsthand the hardship and cultural consequences that gentrification has caused in the Five Points neighborhood, throughout the City and County of Denver and in communities throughout our state.

Hebert said he will “educate” himself about the issue. If he had not closed the Five Points location on Saturday, the hundreds of protesters would have schooled him that gentrification is no laughing matter to those who are pushed out.

Ink Coffee - Five Points - Protest

Community leaders and activists have called for a boycott of ink! If you have family or friends in the Denver area, please help spread the word: #DontDrinkInk.

Don't Drink Ink Collage2
I’m a coffee drinker but I would rather drink muddy water than a drop of the white privilege ink! is brewing.

UPDATE: The creative “genius” behind the ink! Coffee sandwich-board sign, Cultivator Advertising & Design, Inc., has taken its website offline.

Cultivator Advertising

Now that’s funny.

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