New York City is a world mecca for tourism and entertainment. Throngs flock to Times Square every day of the year. Dozens of movies and TV shows are shot in NYC’s streets every week. At any given time, hundreds of musical performances and stage plays are being produced. But some of New York City’s entertainment meccas are little-known. St. George, Staten Island and Bayside, Queens could each claim status as actors’ colonies in the past, and early motion pictures were shot at Brooklyn’s Vitagraph Studios in Midwood.
When you think of jazz, you think of New Orleans, Chicago, Harlem, or even Greenwich Village. Queens doesn’t come immediately to mind. Yet, some of the greatest jazz and big band names were either born, spent a great deal of their lives, or died in Queens. On this page, we’ll show you just a few of them.
Remember, these are all private dwellings; be discreet when you view them. I won’t give exact addresses to protect the privacy of the buildings’ current owners.
Southern Queens’ ascendance as a mecca for jazz musicians began in 1923 when Clarence Williams, a successful musician and entrepreneur from Plaquemine, Louisiana, purchased a home and eight lots at 171-37 108th Avenue. Anticipating the increasing popularity of jazz in the north, Williams moved first to Chicago in 1920 and then to New York with his wife, singer Eva Taylor, in 1923. Desiring open spaces reminiscent of his upbringing in the Louisiana delta, Williams made his home in Queens. He would be the first in a lengthy line of jazz musicians to come to southern Queens.
Addisleigh Park is a small part of the larger St. Albans neighborhood in Queens. Addisleigh is mostly clustered in the named streets (unusual for Queens) located north, south and west of Farmers and Linden Boulevards.
There are precious few memorials to St. Albans/Addisleigh Park’s jazz heritage. This now-fading mural on the northern side of Linden Boulevard as it passes under the Long Island Railroad depicts many of the jazz and entertainment giants who resided here.
In 2004, a new mural was painted replacing the old one, which had been chipping away for some time.
The south side of the overpass depicts St. Albans as it was when the railroad first arrived, with a chuffing steam engine.
The mural depicts baseball stars such as Jackie Robinson who made their home in St. Albans. BELOW: mural credits.
Having grown up in New Jersey, Count Basie arrived in NYC in 1923 and joined Fats Waller’s (see below) band as an organist in 1924. After playing with Benny Moten’s band, forging a new swing-based sound in Kansas City in 1927, he returned to the big apple in 1936 as the leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, which featured Lester Young and Herschell Evans on sax, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry Edison and vocalists Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushingand Helen Humes. Their residence at the Woodside Hotel in Harlem inspired 1938’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.”
Count Basie’s home on Adelaide Road and 175th Street, St. Albans
In the 50s, Basie formed a new band that included the new sound of bebop and more blues-y elements. Basie’s pop hits include “One O’Clock Jump,” “Blue Skies,” and the #1 “Open the Door, Richard!” in 1947; in 1963 he enjoyed a Top Five album with Frank Sinatra, “Sinatra-Basie.”
Count Basie moved to the new neighborhood of Addisleigh Park in 1946.
“Among all of us who sing, Ella was the best”. — Johnny Mathis
“I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”
Ella Fitzgerald performed for 58 years, won 13 Grammy Awards and sold in excess of 40 million records. “The First Lady of Song” was born in Newport News, VA, and was orphaned young in life. She was discovered in an amateur contest sponsored by Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre in 1934 and was soon the featured vocalist in Chick Webb‘s band.
Ella lived on Murdock Avenue between 179th and 180th Street. She moved to Addisleigh Park in the 1950s.
“I was delighted when Ella moved here. I could go up to her bar at her house and drink up all of her whiskey, and then go through somebody’s yard and go home.”Illinois Jacquet
Ella enjoyed her first big smash in 1938 with “A-Tisket, a Tasket” and led Webb’s band for three years after his death in 1939. After enjoying dozens of hits on the Decca label, including “I’m Making Believe” in 1944, “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” in 1946 and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Louis Jordan in 1949, Ella moved on the the new Verve label in 1955 and reinterpreted classics by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Rodgers and Hart on albums featuring Nelson Riddle arrangements.
Ella’s famed ‘scat-singing’ technique is best heard on hits like “Smooth Sailing” in 1951.
Milt Hinton, The dean of jazz bassists, “The Judge” was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and moved to Chicago with his family in 1921. After working through the 1920s a s afreelance musician with such legendary jazz artists including Zutty Singleton, Jabbo Smith, Eddie South, Erskine Tate, and Art Tatum, he joined Cab Calloway‘s band in 1936, remaining with Cab for 15 years.
Milt Hinton lived in this house at 113th Avenue and Marne Place.Hinton was a Queens resident from 1950 until his death in 2000.
Striking out on his own in the early 1950s, Hinton went on to play on thousands of recordings and toured extensively, performing with such giants as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby,Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and even pop musicans such as Bette Midler and Paul McCartney.
Milt Hinton was also an educator and author, teaching at Hunter and Baruch Colleges. He also became an exhibited photographer, having taken over 60,000 images from his years on the road; many were published in his his book “Bass Line.”
Fats appears to be in an enviable position in this undated photo.
His derby tilted rakishly to one side, Fats Waller plinked the 88s and dotted his playful, high-spirited jazz-pop songs with bawdy ad-libs. Waller, one of the 1930s’ consummate crowd-pleasers, was born in Greenwich Village in 1904, was playing piano by ear at age six, and at his reverend father’s encouragement, learned violin, bass violin and organ.
Waller got his professional start at ‘rent parties’ (where admission was charged to help out with rent payments) and vaudeville. In 1927, he collaborated on his first hit show, “Keep Shufflin'”, and his next show, “Hot Chocolates” contained his first big hit, “Ain’t Misbehavin.'”
Waller went on to score and perform in dozens of shows. His biggest hit, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”, came in 1936, and he wrote and performed time-tested classics like “Honeysuckle Rose,” The Joint Is Jumpin,'” and “Lulu’s Back in Town.”
photo: Jeff Saltzman
Fats Waller was reportedly the first African American to live in Addisleigh Park. He resided in this house at Sayres Avenue and 174th Street. His home had a built-in Hammond organ and a Steinway grand.
Waller suffered from drinking and overweight problems his entire life. He also considered himself a serious musician, but racism in the period prevented him from realizing these ambitions. Soon after finishing work in “Stormy Weather” in 1943 he collapsed and died of bronchial pneumonia.
Speaking of “Stormy Weather”…
Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn in 1917 and has been performing since she was a teenager. She danced and later sung at the Cotton Club beginning in 1933 and made her first recordings in 1937 with Teddy Wilson’s orchestra. She joined Charlie Barnet‘s orchestra in 1940, and while Barnet’s behavior was exemplary (he was one of the first white bandleaders to hire African Americans) she tired of the draining segregation and racism that was such a constant durng that time. Upon signing with MGM in 1940, she shrewdly had a clause written in that prevented her from depicting domestics, in a jungle native role, or other cliché images. Her appearance in 1943’sStormy Weather was a sensation; her rendition of the title song was her biggest hit and remains her signature song. Lena Horne left Hollywood in the early fifties to concentrate on her singing.
178th Street between 112th Avenue and Murdock Avenue. Like many of her contemporaries, Lena Horne resided here beginning in the 1940s.
During the Joe McCarthy era, she was blacklisted for her left-wing associations, but in 1956 she was taken off the list and resumed her career. She found great success during the sixties and seventies. In 1981, she appeared on Broadway in her own show,Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which became the longest-running one-woman show in the history of Broadway. She continues recording to this day. Lena Horne lives in New York City.
Before we move on to other parts of Queens, let’s mention other artists who have also made St. Albans and Addisleigh Park their home…
Saxophonist John Coltrane(left), who along with Charlie Parker is regarded by many fans as the greatest jazz performer in history, lived on Mexico Street near Quencer Road; Mercer Ellington, Duke’s son, who took over the Ellington Orchestra after his father’s death and wrote Duke’s biography, lived on 175th Street near 113th Avenue; saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Foch Boulevard near 171st Street; saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and his brother, trumpeter Russell Jacquet, in nearby houses on 179th Street near 112th Avenue; and saxophonist Earl Bostic, pianist/organist Wild Bill Davis, bassist Slam Stewart, trumpeter Cootie Williams, saxophonist Oliver Nelson, drummer James “Osie” Johnson, saxophonist Lester Young, and singer Rose Murphy also lived in St. Albans.