Originally published in Forum.
With the Unisphere hanging over the horizon and the New York State Pavilion standing tall besides the stage, close to 800 people came out to Fresh Meadows Corona Park for the first ever Louis Armstrong International Music Festival.
Artists performed for much of the day Sunday in a celebration of Armstrong’s 1964 Singer Bowl concert and the jazz player’s love for all types of music.
“On the World’s Fair grounds, on the 50th Anniversary of Louis Armstrong performance, we had to do it,” said Jeffrey Rosenstock, the event’s producer.
Rosenstock said the Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts, the events organizers, wanted to honor Armstrong’s spirit, specifically as an advocate of listening and loving all types of music. That spirit was visible in the concerts varied line-up that not only included jazz-bands like David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band & John Faddis Quartet, but also included Cuban-American singer Albita and Pakistani rock band, Junoon.
Salman Ahmad, international rock star from Junoon, said he connected and was inspired with some elements of Louis Armstrong’s biography. His band suffered from political censorship in the 90’s in Pakistan and said Armstrong’s story of perseverance resonated with him.
“Here was an African-American musician, who went through very tough times. Grew up in Louisiana, went to Chicago, was hounded by the mob,” Ahmad said. “His life was threatened. Yet he had the passion to follow his voice.”
Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz also made an appearance praising the events organizers and announcing that the city has set aside over $5 million towards to the restoration of the Queens Pavilion.
“It’s been a long time coming. It still needs a lot more work but at least it’s a start,” she said.
Rosenstock said he hopes to make this concert an annual event, envisioning a full two-day festival with three acts in the afternoon and a major ticketed concert at night. He also said he hopes to attract the diverse community of Queens residents by inviting diverse artists to play on stage.
“That concert would be a combination of really major names, not just from the U.S. but from other countries coming together and doing a big, big concert,” he said.