Updated: Aug 27, 2019
On Sunday June 23, 2019, Amsterdam Ave was shut down between W.138th and W.143rd St. But why would one of the busiest boulevards in the Village of Harlem be shut down? Welllll for the Debut of the 1st annual Amsterdam Ave Neighborhood Jazz Festival. Who conceived of this Festival, and why they chose Amsterdam Ave for its focal point is a mystery to me. However I am prepared to share with you listening and reading audience what I saw on that hot Sunday in June. Coming from the Northern approach of the Avenue I saw the M-100 and M-101 buses rerouted down 145th Street to Broadway and then rerouted from Broadway to 135th Street resuming travel schedule southbound on Amsterdam Ave while mystery between W.138th and W. 143rd Street on Amsterdam had yet to be revealed. As I ventured forth I saw police barricades blocking the way for any wayward cars or other errant vehicles seeking egress to the streets on the other side, lightly teeming with people and the activity of little children with painted faces playing on portable toys and blow up balloon things as the heat of the day beamed down from the blaze of the sun above. Then I heard it, the sound of a Brass band playing off to the side New Orleans style. With the Boomff and brassy tones of metal instruments they announced their unwieldly presence to the surrounding crowd.
It was a modest heralding of the festival's arrival on the scene, the Bombast which the band played with lent trepidation to what would follow while in the background of the crowd a strange man with a bow-tie and straw hat seemed to survey the surroundings with a dispassionate calculating eye, assessing the event as if to condemn with a baleful eye, caustic comment or wreak havoc in some other fashion. Suddenly a breath of brightness and fresh air in the form of two angels of mercy and recovery to one of the Neighborhood Gardens of Harlem appeared. Ivy and Daisy, two who always bring the sunshine and the growth of life to a situation.
As they made their appearance there was the hope that things might improve for this fledgling festival moving further south in the crowd, and then there it was a mainstage bandshell set up at the far end of the Festival boundaries. There was a much more pleasant and professional vibration musical energy exuding from the stage. A nice easy energy of an unknown saxophone player. Just as I was about to depart for other avenues and venues,.... a surprise sighting!
Coming up to the Stage was the enigmatic Sistah Zock.
Adorned with her very close cut natural accenting that well shaped black woman head, and attired in an African printed whose colors and patterns cried out to all that Zock is here! Sistah Zock born Zakiyah Modeste is a renaissance woman. She ran track at Tennessee State in the days when it was a track powerhouse. She is a dancer of note subscribing to the many genres of dance including modern, african, jazz, some tap, and some of the forms of ballet. She is a physical trainer, playwright, hustler and a business-woman of numerous pursuits.
Zock came on stage acting as a moderator/MC for the next act that was getting ready to come on The Fabulous Lady Cantrese and her band. Lady Cantrese is a frequent collaborator with Sistah Zock, so it made sense that they would align together and support each other in this particular Festival.
Cantrese's band was hot and they performed with the passion and electricity that they normally do. The saxophone player was sublime with a power and subtlety only seen among the rarest of the very good players. All of the band exhibited a competence that lifted up and supported the velvet tones of Lady Cantrese. When she concluded, Sistah Zock took the stage once more. I initially thought she was doing some more hosting, but she surprised the crowd and myself by launching into this fiery rendition of "Four Women" the classic track by Nina Simone. Sistah Zock KILLED IT! Going into this longstyle Poem-Rap accompanied by Lady Cantrese's band telling the stories of Sarah, Sophronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches with a wit, passion, irony, and power not many have captured since the original by the great Ms. Simone herself. Sistah Zock took that song and made it her own! The crowd applauded enthusiastically and appreciably to the artistry that was presented to them that day.
Thus while the Amsterdam Ave Jazz Street festival was still seeking it legs, the show given by some of its performers like Lady Cantrese and Sistah Zock lends hope for the growth and development of this fledgling festival. Sistah Zock Rocks! Lady Cantrese melodically pleases!