In Manhattan, the elegant Upper West Side is known for its opera arias and New York ballet: but more than half a century ago it was home to a lively neighborhood of artists and immigrants, where jazzman Thelonious Monk grew up.
It is to revive this memory that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra inaugurates the new life of its David Geffen Hall, a 2,200-seat concert hall, opulent and with renewed acoustics, on Saturday with “San Juan Hill: A Story from New York “.
A delicate mise en abyme, because this neighborhood of San Juan Hill was razed to the ground in the middle of the 20th century to build the Lincoln Center, the gigantic art complex where the famous opera, ballet and philharmonic orchestra of the American cultural capital are performed .
Located near Central Park, San Juan Hill was home to thousands of African American and Puerto Rican families and was teeming with small businesses, jazz clubs and nightclubs. It was at the Jungle Cafe that pianist James P. Johnson popularized the Charleston. It is also in San Juan Hill that the jazz composer Thelonious Monk grew up, to whom we owe the fame of bebop.
But in 1947, famed urban planner Robert Moses declared the neighborhood a slum, paving the way for its destruction as part of a major “urban renewal” program that transformed New York and is still debated today.
– “Ville future” –
“What happens to this neighborhood is what happens to many other neighborhoods: it hinders a certain vision of the future city”, explains the historian Julia Foulkes, who collaborated with Etienne Charles, composer and trumpeter at the head of the Creole Soul group, to write the new philharmonic show.
Eighteen blocks were razed and thousands of people displaced when the Lincoln Center project was born.
“What has been lost is not just specific buildings and residences, but the very substance of an entire neighborhood,” says New School Professor Julia Foulkes.
Etienne Charles’s work is nourished by ragtime, jazz, calypso, funk and hip-hop, but the multimedia show also features oral texts, visual projections and testimonies that document the history of the neighborhood and pay homage to the music and culture, brought by migrants from the south of the country and the Caribbean.
“We need to start evaluating people for more of where they live and the quality of the property they own, and start looking at their culture, lineage, heritage and history they are building,” explains the musician originally from Trinidad and Tobago and who himself studied at the Juilliard School, a conservatory at Lincoln Center.
– “Dominant tale” –
For Lincoln Center Artistic Director Shanta Thake, the commission is part of a reflection on “what it means to keep the stories of the city and what it also means to have interrupted the stories of the city”.
“For a long time, there has been a dominant narrative that Lincoln Center was the best thing that could have happened to this neighborhood,” he continues, saying the show helps “unravel that story.”
“San Juan Hill: A New York Story” also helps Lincoln Center deal with criticism of an offer aimed primarily at upper-class white audiences.
Tickets start at $ 5 and some admissions will be free.