[JPL] Jazz Museum in Harlem Celebrates Women in Jazz

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Apr 4 23:32:38 EDT 2006

Article Courtesy <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php//index.html>AllAboutJazz.com

Jazz Museum in Harlem Celebrates Women in Jazz

The Jazz Museum in Harlem
104 East 126th Street
New York, NY 10035
212 348-8300

Jazz Museum in Harlem Celebrates Women in Jazz

Harlem Speaks Brings in Spring with Producer Cobi Narita

Cobi Narita, Producer: April 13, 2006
Delilah Jackson, Historian: April 27, 2006

Nobuko Cobi Narita, guest of Harlem Speaks on Thursday, April 13, 2006, has 
been a steadfast volunteer in the NY jazz community since 1969. Married to 
Paul Ash, her partner of 32 years, at 80 she remains quite active, 
producing special events while publicizing the activities of her more than 
600 individual and organization members-- without remuneration.

In 1976, Cobi founded a jazz service organization called the Universal Jazz 
Coalition. From 1983-1988 she had a place of her own, the Jazz Center of 
New York, Inc., a large loft space, funded by Paul Ash of the Sam Ash Music 
Stores, where she presented daily concerts and events featuring artists, 
great and less-known, who loved the space. Her smaller current space is 
"Cobi's Place," at 158 W 48 Street, part of the Jazz Center of New York.

Cobi, in 1995, founded the International Women in Jazz, Inc., serving as 
president for its first three years, board chair for the next three, and 
now on its Advisory Committee.

She produced 16 annual New York Women's Jazz Festivals from 1978, with 
music, workshops, jam sessions, and conferences, spotlighting women 
leaders, both renowned and emerging. During the first few years the 
festivals took place outdoors on the stage at Damrosch Park, Lincoln 
Center, and later at venues such as Saint Peter's Church, Harlem School of 
the Arts, UJC's Jazz Gallery (in the 1980s), and UJC's Jazz Center of New 

At her Jazz Center of New York, Cobi presented great artists, including 
Dizzy Gillespie, Randy Weston, Phineas Newborn, Jr., Ahmad Jamal, Dakota 
Staton, Monty Alexander, George Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Melba Liston, Bill 
Barron, Al Grey, Lou Donaldson, Maxine Sullivan, Houston Person & Etta 
Jones, Mingus Dynasty, Harold Mabern, Billy Harper, Philly Joe Jones, Ricky 
Ford, Horace Tapscott, Harlem Blues & Jazz Band, Idris Muhammed, Major 
Holley, Harold Mabern, Benny Powell and many others.

As director of the Universal Jazz Coalition and the Jazz Center, Cobi has: 
presented, produced or assisted over 5,000 concerts; provided free 
technical assistance services to musicians; spearheaded tributes and 
fundraisers to benefit ailing musicians, among those a special one 
co-hosted by Max Roach and Jamil Nasser, which gifted Papa Jo Jones with 
$15,000; presented free weekly "hands-on" Workshops for Musicians, courtesy 
of the Sam Ash Music Stores; published since 1976 a monthly jazz 
newsletter/calendar and a 32-pager, Cobi's Music News (Aug 2000-Sept. 
2002); hosted "Jazz USA", on WBAI-FM for four years; and developed and 
directed a year-round vocal jazz workshop series, "UJC Discoveries," which 
presented more than 350 new voices in concert over 10 years.

The April 27, 2006 guest, cultural historian Delilah Jackson, has worked 
with Cobi Norita to co-produce numerous tap concerts and film showings at 
Cobi's Place. She is founder and artistic director of the Black Patti 
Research Foundation (named after Sisseretta Jones who organized the most 
prestigious group of touring black troubadours at the turn of the century), 
and has amassed one of the most extensive collections of African American 
expressive culture anywhere-- more than 1000 rare slides, photos, and 
vintage films documenting the performances of musicians, singers, actors 
and dancers of Harlem during he 1920s and 1930s.

Pianist, Hammond B-3 organist and vocalist Sarah McLawler was the Jazz 
Museum's Harlem Speaks guest on March 30, 2006.

She discussed being born in 1926 in Kentucky to middle-class parents who 
met at a Baptist Convention. Naturally, then, McLawler was raised in the 
church with gospel music.

After her mom died, her family moved from Louisville to Pittsburgh, where 
she began attending an integrated school. Her grades began to drop, and she 
told her father, a minister who had a church there, that she wasn't happy. 
Her father sacrificed his church and moved the family to Indianapolis, 
Indiana to a "close-knit community."

She began taking organ and piano lessons with her father's church organist, 
Lizzie Gordon, while learning about European classical music at Crispus 
Attucks high school. She was also a member of the school's glee club and a 
capella choir. (The Montgomery Brothers--Wes and Monk--used to play at the 
school, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard went there too.)

McLawler, while in Texas to bury her grandmother, was overheard playing the 
piano by Lucky Millinder, who took her on the road with him for the summer. 
Panama Francis, drummer with Millinder, and other band members watched over 
her and exposed her to the art and craft of professional jazz performance. 
Thereafter she continued her education at Fisk University, where, she says, 
"they had an excellent music department with great teachers."

She also studied organ at the Indiana Conservatory. Soon she formed an 
all-woman group, the Syn-Co-Ettes, who performed as the house band at 
Chicago's Savoy Ballroom. An opportunity arose for the group to come to New 
York, and they grabbed it.

After meeting Richard Otto, a classical violinist who also performed jazz, 
at a residency at a Brooklyn club, she married him and the two spent many 
years touring and recording together. "Richard was a virtuoso who won four 
national violin competitions at Carnegie Hall. The renowned Nathan Milstein 
gave him the last gold medal. We were ahead of our time, we were 
unorthodox." The two won fame by "jazzing up the classics," and were 
beloved by Cab Calloway, who brought his entire group to hear them at the 
Capital Lounge in Chicago, and Duke Ellington, who adored their version of 
"Flamingo" on the hit recording "We Bring You Love." They played all over 
the world, and headlined at the Apollo Theatre.

"Clifford Brown used to come to the Mansfield Hotel in Chicago to play 
Richard's violin concerto books, which had music by Liszt and Rachmaninov. 
He would then adapt those runs during his solos. And we helped him pack the 
car before he and Richie Powell left on that tragic trip." The husband-wife 
team opened performances for the legendary Art Tatum, and integrated Miami 
clubs along with Errol Garner when Morris Levy and Oscar Goodstein opened a 
Birdland club there.

She is especially proud of being chosen to play at Count Basie's wake at 
the Benta Funeral home in Harlem. Her second husband, William Kimes, a 
guitarist, used to give lessons to George Benson, who served as best man at 
their wedding. You can hear her sing and swing on the piano at the Chez 
Josephine restaurant in midtown Manhattan every Saturday evening.

The bi-weekly Harlem Speaks series is produced by the Jazz Museum in 
Harlem's Executive Director, Loren Schoenberg, Co-Director Christian 
McBride, and Greg Thomas Associates. The series occurs at the offices of 
the Jazz Museum in Harlem, located at 104 East 126th Street, between Park 
and Lexington Avenues, from 6:30pm-8:00pm.

This discussion series is free to the public. To view the photo archives of 
Harlem Speaks go to: http://www.jazzmuseuminharlem.org/ hs_photos.html

Dr. Jazz
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24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
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