The year was 1999. George W. Bush announced his candidacy; Bill Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial ended in acquittal; a Columbine, Colorado high school suffered a massacre; Amadou Diallo, an innocent 24-year-old immigrant was slaughtered by a barrage of police bullets, and the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival was launched.
“We have to honor and represent this genre in some fashion where everybody respects and supports it!…I have to discuss with Mary, Alma, Sam and Viola a way to create a base, a tour, a company that will engage the community and put this music out front” pondered Torrie McCartney.
The brainchild and birth of the festival was implemented by the coordinated efforts of three women who were responsible for forming the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium (“CBJC”). Torrie, who organized her own band and recorded a CD accompanied by baritone sax man Hamiett Bluiett; Viola Plummer, creator of Sista’s Place, a jazz café located in the heart of central Brooklyn since 1995; and Alma Carroll, a community organizer, jazz enthusiast and widow of famed vocalist Joe ‘bebop’ Carroll, co-founded the organization.
The three would later be characterized by soon-to-be Consortium chairman, Jitu Weusi, as starting a war on Brooklyn with jazz as the sword. “A weapon,” deemed Viola… “culture is the weapon,” as Sista’s Place became the vanguard emporium for the cutting edge when jazz was labeled “Music of the Spirit” – the eternal theme as this festival moves into its 20th year.
The Call was made and a meeting was held in 1999 at the Bed-Sty Restoration Corporation. Leadership filled the room and the Festival was created.
Saddened by its early losses between 1999 and 2002, Deacon Leroy Applin (Sofocus), Rosalind Blair (Jazz the Women’s Viewpoint) and Torrie McCartney (co-founder), responsible and committed leadership, (Jitu, Alma and Viola),coupled with consistent meetings and increased membership, the goal of keeping jazz alive ushered in the new decades.
Torrie’s vision and impetus probably started when Dr. Sam Pinn, a history professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey and Founder of the Ft. Greene Senior Citizens Council in Brooklyn, asked her to create a weekly concert series at their flagship center, 966 Fulton Street, in 1990. The room would launch as Jazz 966, now nearing its 30th year.
In 1995 she was asked by Dr. Mary Umolu, a tenured professor at Medgar Evers College, to develop a weekly summer concert series on the campus grounds. These Friday summer concerts continue today.
That collaboration evolved into an international production as artists and passengers trekked to the W.E.B. DuBois Center in Ghana, West Africa from 1998 to 2000.
Late bassist, Bob Cunningham, Torrie’s mentor in the early years, also sought to return jazz to its former heyday as central Brooklyn feted at clubs like The East, Putnam Central, Monterrey, Berry Brothers, Baby Grand and, of course, the legendary Blue Coronet. He worked closely with Torrie and her husband, Mike Howard, as they developed the format for Jazz 966 and Jazzy Jazz at Medgar Evers.
Viola, Alma and Torrie’s dream of a jazz initiative based in central Brooklyn prompted club owners, clergy, jazz aficionados, musicians, community activists, and politicians, to get on board. They hit the ground running. Their mission and mainstay is to galvanize audiences, maintain affordable admission prices, seek new jazz venues, and create a vibrant jazz circuit.
CBJC has since installed a youth jazz competition, a Hall of Fame, jazz instruction at public schools, a jazz events calendar, and a Borough Hall concert featuring the mentally challenged. Details on these components and other accomplishments will follow in subsequent articles…stay tuned!