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Makanda Project taps into Roxbury's roots in jazz

Posted by Your Town  April 8, 2011 02:24 PM

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(Photo courtesy of Makanda Project)

Roxbury was once home to an abundance of jazz clubs with music that would spill out of windows and onto the streets.

Now, many jazz clubs have closed down, and a musical silence hangs heavy over the neighborhood. Famous clubs like Hi Hat, the Savoy and Louie’s Lounge have come and gone through the years.

But Roxbury still holds onto its rich jazz culture and history, through its annual September jazz festival and summer outdoor concerts -- and organizations such as the Makanda Project, dedicated to bringing jazz back to the community.

“Roxbury used to have a thriving jazz scene,” said John Kordalewski, a member of the Makanda Project, “Clubs have closed, and there isn’t much money in the community to support musicians. But we don’t believe that jazz isn’t here; it’s just not being presented in the right circumstance.”

The Makanda Project is a local ensemble that is dedicated to performing the late Boston native Makanda Ken McIntyre’s jazz compositions that were never performed or recorded.

“Part of the goal is so Makanda’s music will be heard, and the sort of jazz world at-large will recognize him as one of the great jazz composers,” said Kordalewski, the pianist for the Makanda Project, “There is very little jazz in urban African-American communities.”

The Makanda Project has a free concert coming up on Saturday, April 23, at the Dudley Branch Library, 65 Warren St., at 7 p.m.

Last month, Makanda also performed at the branch library: Rumbling drums, piercing horns and smooth bass filled the auditorium, which was full of residents passionate about jazz.

“I think of jazz as an expression -- something you really have to listen to,” audience member and resident Patsy Williams said, “I think it is important because it allows the musician to express his or herself. It is a great art form.”

Organizers noted that there was a noticeable lack of young people at the concert – a group they hope to attract into the jazz world. The disinterest of youth in jazz may be hindering its spread and growth, Kordalewski said.

“I’m concerned about the younger generation,” he said, “In the summer, we have youth groups perform at the concerts. They perform, and I think that’s the kind of multi-level community involvement that we try to make happen.”

Eric Jackson, a professor of African-American music at Northeastern University, thinks it will take effort to get young people jazzed about jazz.

“[We need to] take their iPods away from them!” Jackson said, “In the past, radio has been important to get people to listen to music. A few semesters back, I asked the class about radios. Most of the students said that they didn't own a radio unless they had a radio in their car. If they don't put any jazz on their iPods, then they won't hear any jazz today.”

Audience member Joyce Cheatham said that the younger generation does not have enough exposure to jazz. “I think if the younger audience was educated about the roots of jazz, and if it was taught in schools, they would appreciate it,” she said.

Resident Dorthea Keeling agreed that jazz needs to be presented in a way that appeals to younger generations.

“I think we should try to infuse some of the younger music into jazz, try to cross over into mainstream, like gospel did, to get younger folks out here,” Keeling said.

Despite the lack of younger audience members, the crowd was mesmerized and grateful for the night of music.

“I think [concerts like this one] are important,” Professor Jackson said. “I think it's important to have music that is inexpensive and conveniently located in the community.”

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Alexandra Legend Siegel, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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