While Queens is not thought of as one of the centers of jazz, quite a large number of jazz artists have lived in the New York borough since the mid-1920s. Among its former occupants were such greats as Clarence Williams (who moved there in 1925), Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, and apparently countless others.
Clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, who has lived in Queens for the past decade, has been a busy part of the current New York trad scene. On Just Cross The River, he pays tribute to Queens by debuting nine originals having to do with Queens and performing four standards (“Someday You’ll Be Sorry,” “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” “Squeeze Me,” and “Cake Walking Babies From Home”) from such early Queens residents as Armstrong, Waller, and Williams. He also revives “Just Cross The River From Queens” which is apparently the only song written before 1940 that has Queens in its title.
For a special concert and his Just Cross The River CD, Lichtman put together the Queensboro Six, a fine sextet comprised (with the exception of drummer Rob Garcia) of musicians who either live in Queens or were originally from the area. Lichtman is joined by trumpeter Gordon Au, trombonist J. Walter Hawkes, pianist Dalton Ridenhour, bassist Nathan Peck, and drummer Garcia plus a few guests: singer-guitarist Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, violinist-singer Mazz Swift, vocalist Terry Wilson, and guitarist Nick Russo.
The music, which includes such colorful titles as “For Bix,” “I’d Rather Remember Having Met You,” and “23rd Between 23rd and 23rd,” could mostly be considered small-group swing circa 1940 with a touch of Raymond Scott and the John Kirby Sextet. There are hot moments from the soloists, tight ensembles, some excellent vocals (Blind Boy on the very obscure “Just Cross The River From Queens” takes honors), plenty of hard-swinging moments, and some excellent new compositions that mostly utilize original chord changes. All in all, this set makes for an enjoyable listen.
Just Cross The River (Triple Treble Music TIM-007, 14 selections, TT = 53:45) www.dennislicthman.com