I joined the Creative Jazz Organization in 2010, which was coincidental. My partner Rodney was a member about four years prior, and he asked me to accompany him to the club. At the time, they were playing at what is known today as Manhattan Proper or The Proper. I was not a Jazz enthusiast but had a massive appreciation for the art, and I am slowly being converted. However, now I can say that I can’t wait for Wednesday nights to come back to see everyone again. The American Legion Post 483 is our new home; we have bonded and become a family.
Being a part of CJO for over 12 years, I have met and become friends with many musicians that live solely to play music, mainly jazz. Their conviction and dedication to this art form are intoxicating. Musicians are a unique group of individuals. I have developed such an appreciation for their sacrifices to keep Jazz music alive. They are DEDICATED.
We are working diligently to own someday our building dedicated strictly to music. Also, soon the organization hopes to be live streaming our music internationally.
My motto is we must come together as a movement to induce, inspire, influence, encourage and motivate each other.
My name is Julian Middleton; I reside in Queens, New York. I am the Creative Jazz Orgnaization, Inc vice president, a 30-year veteran of the New York Police Department, and a United States Army Veteran. I enjoy various music, from rock and roll to jazz and sports. I have been a member of CJO for many years, and I enjoy being a part of an organization with a 47-year history in "Keeping Jazz Alive." Unfortunately, since the Pandemic, it has not been easy to come together and celebrate this original art form due to health restrictions. I am, however, looking forward to 2022 to getting the Creative Jazz family up and running again.
My love of Jazz comes from my dad and the radio station WRVR which was the only jazz station in NYC if you were lucky enough to get it on the dial. I also had music-loving neighbors who brought the jazz mobile to our block each year. Growing up in St. Albans/Hollis area for over 50 years, it was common to hear bands practicing throughout the neighborhood and attending dances given by various organizations. Live bands like Bartlett Contemporaries constantly entertained you. In addition, a nightclub on Hollis Avenue and 200th Street had live jazz bands we could hear from the street. I became interested in Creative Jazz Organization, Inc. after receiving an invitation to come down to Manhattan Proper on a Wednesday night from Gail Robergeau at least eight years ago. I enjoyed the music, musicians, living legends, and people, so I joined CJO. Now I serve on the Board as Recording Secretary. I am retired from the NYC Department of Transportation. I served on various planning committees for the agency's ceremonies and holiday parties; music was also a large part of those presentations. I am honored to serve on the Board and continue working on "Keeping Jazz Alive."
My journey in Jazz, which ultimately led to my involvement with Creative Jazz Organization, Inc, began as a child growing up in Harlem on 129th Street in the St. Nicholas Housing Projects. It was 1963, and I was ten years old, helping my mother get dressed for her singing engagement at The Baby Grand, one of the hottest jazz clubs at 319 West 125th Street next to the Apollo Theater. This engagement was to be her comeback after a hiatus. She had to look just so, donning a Christian Dior dress, peau de sole shoes dyed to match her dress, and her Quo Vadis hairstyle. She talked about how the legendary jazz composer, arranger, and pianist Tadd Dameron had heard her sing, telling her she had a unique voice. He composed special arrangements for two popular jazz songs just for her, "Almost Like Being In Love and "He's Funny That Way," which she was to perform that night at the Baby Grand. I remember going with the family to the Baby Grand that night and being heartbroken because I couldn't go in. Another fond memory is of my Uncle Jesse Adams, who lived with us and had an extensive collection of LP vinyl jazz albums, many of which I inherited and have in my collection at home. My mother often said he could write music and "sing circles" around Nat "King" Cole. Another influence in my appreciation of Jazz was my stepfather Arthur Thomas Daniels, known as "Junior Parker" because he admired Charlie Parker and was always called "Bird." He sang with Charlie Parker's Band at the tender age of 19. Having grown up in the business, being a child radio star, he always talked to me about Jazz's importance, especially "dug" the Blues. I moved to Queens from Harlem in 1975. Since then, I frequented venues with live Jazz shows like Carmichaels Diner and The Skylark, where I enjoyed the Walter Perkins Trio, among other fine jazz artists. The African Poetry Theater was another legendary jazz venue. Over the years, I began covering and writing about many Jazz and Blues performances. My involvement with Creative Jazz Organization, Inc (CJO) began in 2017 when CJO Lifetime Member Leona Shaw Crummell, known affectionately as "Lee," told me about it. I was elated to discover that CJO was an extension of Carmichael's Jazz after the diner closed in 2005. In 2019, CJO President Gail Robergeau warmly welcomed me as the new Corresponding Secretary. A position that I am honored to serve in. I am all in and truly dedicated to "Keeping Jazz Alive," as our motto aptly states.
REUBEN BANKHEAD CHAIRMAN OF SCHOLARSHIP COMMITTEE
Reuben Bankhead, eighty-eight and still going strong, was born on 01/12/1930 in Alabama, South Carolina, then onto Brooklyn, New York, and now resides in South Richmond Hill in Queens. He married his dutiful wife Alice, and together they have five children, four boys and one girl. In addition, he has a younger brother and an older sister.
So, sitting down with Reuben at my home, I asked him what his favorite kind of music was, and as you may have guessed, he quickly responded Jazz. He said he gained an appreciation for this beautiful art form at age five; he knew then there was something extraordinary about Jazz music. If anyone knows Reuben, you may see his warped sense of humor. I asked him if he played an instrument, and he said the radio was adequate. With that satisfied look on his face, I just made a funny. On a more serious note, he mentioned as a child, his parents paid for piano, drums, and violin lessons, neither of which he plays today. However, it is in the genes because his son Keith plays the drums and the piano. Curious about the influence that led him to jazz music, he wasted no time and belted out big bands, bee-bop, dizzy, Charlie Parker, Monk, and Lester Young.
I asked if he got to see any of them in concert; he smiled and said I saw Dizzy, Parker, Monk, and Roy Haynes, who coincidentally came to Carmichaels regularly. Often, Roy just wanted to sit out and be convinced to play. For many years, Carmichaels was the home of CJO (Creative Jazz Organization) for those who might be novices to the jazz world. It was in South Jamaica Queens on Guy Brewer Blvd and Foch in the basement of the Carmichael's diner. I would be remiss if I painted a picture of CJO buried somewhere in a restaurant's basement. Oh, no. The organization was looking for a new home, and the Carmichael brothers extended generosity to the group. The unofficial organization's name became Carmichael's, home to some of the most excellent local and well-known Jazz artists, such as Roy Haynes and Walter Perkins.
I digressed. At the start of Reuben's professional career, he worked at the post office for 11 yrs. Then, he joined NYPD and stayed there for 23 yrs. I asked Reuben, who was currently the President of Creative Jazz when he joined the organization, and to the best of his memory, he said around 1996/1997. The excellent news is that a woman was the first President of CJO, and then the reins were passed to him. Reuben became President in 2000. I asked Reuben if he thought he would be doing it this long, and the answer was a resounding No, but I love the organization. He went on to say that throughout the year, many organizations have come and gone, and there was a time he thought that CJO would have to close. Why? I asked, and he mentioned for lack of participation. You see, most of our members are now older and can't get around as well, moved away, or passed on.
As I mentioned earlier, the Carmichael brothers, 4/5 brothers, owned a bank, liquor store, garage, and diner in the neighborhood. They opened their doors to us and gave us a tremendous opportunity that changed the newly formed organizations into an institution of greatness. However, their business began to decline as one of the brothers was shot, and the companies began to suffer and lose money. The writing was on the wall, and the time came when the business would be sold, so we had to find another home. Throughout the many relocations, the organization had to go through. Did I ask Reuben if any original members still attending the sessions at Thomasina's? Yes, we do. We have quite a few, George Callendar, Wilbur and Daisy Hutchinson, Alice Brown, Edsel Lindsay, Eve Henderson, Al Raines Pat Hartwell, Joe Katz, Shirley Doig, Mildred Williams (backup singer for Cooty Williams), Ann Batson, recently deceased, and Jeanne Ottley recently deceased.
I asked Reuben if he could tell me his favorite performer from the day; he immediately said, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Then I wondered who it is today; he took a moment to narrow down his list and said Charles and Carl Bartlett, along with Elijah Shiffer; he is a young man that came to us at the age of 16 and has developed into quite an accomplished musician. So, I asked him, if anyone alive today did not know about Jazz music, what would you like them to know? It was birthed as slave music, and then we had the blues with the humming and singing. So, I asked whether you have to like Jazz to appreciate it, and he said of course.
Reuben, St. Albans, has been the home to many Jazz artists. Do you still see that strong influence today? Only so many Jazz clubs are left, and they don't teach music in many schools today. So as a community organization, what do you do to help promote the history of Jazz? Well, we have several affiliations with surrounding schools. We advertise through emails; we have a music scholarship program; we support our youth with school supplies and Christmas gifts to remind them of our presents. What plans do you have for CJO in the future? Oh, that's easy. We will continue to do everything we can to "keep Jazz Alive" and educate the youth about Jazz music. Now, you traditionally hear about men in Jazz; what about the women of Jazz? Is there any today? Oh yes, Jazmine Horn, Terry Wilson, Madam Pat Tandy, and others.
Who would you like to see if you had one person to come back to perform a concert? I would love to enjoy Bross Townsend on piano. He went blind overnight, but it didn't stop his career. John Abraham tenor sax frequented Carmichael's. Bob Cunningham is a fantastic bass player for CJO, Bill Wurtzel's best guitar player I have ever heard, and Lou Vega is an incredible guitarist.