African American Studies
The session begins with a quick recap of the questions asked in the first interview. From there, Robert discusses Freemen Theater. The theater was small and in walking distance from his house. During the day, the theater played movies and in the evening housed concerts. The audience was mainly African American and Jewish.
Dave Womack was one of the first artists to have an impact on him. When he was in High School, he started a jazz music appreciation day. Students would bring in a variety of artists’ albums, many of which he liked. The first jazz club he went to was The Birdland and saw Bud Powell. If he heard a musician he liked, he would go buy their record. In addition to being exposed to Jazz, he also listened to Latin music at Hunts Point Palace.
He and his friends considered themselves more culturally advanced than their friends and would dress in Jazz style clothing, continuing the distinction. He and his friends would also go to Greenwich Village to the different clubs there. They felt very comfortable there. His lifelong hobby has been building his jazz record collection. He mainly bought records of artists he saw in person or who he heard on the radio.
When he was in high school, two of his friends started a Jazz Arts Society. They would meet every Saturday and plan concerts that would occur on Sunday afternoons. Most of the members were from their high school. When they would go to the various concerts in the cities, they would befriend some of the artists who would then come and perform at the concerts their society was putting on. Sometimes they would be held at Club 845. They were able to pay the artists from the money generated from entrance fees. Because most of the members of the society were graphic artists, they were designed flyers to hang around the Bronx in order to attract an audience. Their concerts provided one of the only ways for residents of Morrisania to hear Jazz. One event, which attracted very popular artists, was a concert and Barbeque held at the International Park Inn.
Eventually they changed their name to the African Jazz Society. They had an office near the Apollo in Harlem. It was at this time that they were exposed to Harlem Politics and the Garvey movement. They created a fashion show called The Naturalist Show, similar to the Miss Standard of Beauty Contest. This was very successful and even traveled to do shows in Chicago. Through some of the other members he was able to meet Malcolm X. The group was able to showcase artists who were not only renowned jazz musicians, but also were interested in expressing their political opinions.
He tells different stories regarding the musicians who lived in his neighborhood, one of which deals with Elmo Hope’s first wife. When he was growing up, his family listened mostly to Caribbean style music, like Calypso. He and his family would go to dances with this style of music was played.
When he was older he went to other clubs in the Bronx like Sylvia’s and Freddy’s. Freddy’s was small and more of a bar, though it did have a stage. Eventually, it became a Jazz club.
In the fifties he began to notice a change in the neighborhood. People were leaving for a variety of reasons, which was a new phenomenon. When he was in the army, he received a letter saying that his family was moving.
Gumbs, Robert. Interview 2. April 18, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Gumbs, Robert Interview 2.mp3 (95769 kB)