Thursday, August 25, 2011

Harlem Travel Guide sheds new light on New York's newest "find"


Review by Dwight Casimere

Photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

1. "Restaurant Row" on Malcolm X Boulevard in the "new" Harlem

2. A collection of renowned poet and Harlem resident Maya Angelou's personal letters and artifacts which she recently donated to the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem

3. Chef Marcus Samuelsson at the helm with his culinary staff at Red Rooster Harlem

4. Harlem Travel Guide Co-author Valerie Jo Bradley (c) with Chef Marcus Samuelsson (r) and Manager Derrick Fleming(l) at Opening Night of the Red Rooster Harlem

5. Celebrating Mothers' Day in Harlem 2011

6. A mural on a 125th Street storefront

7. The world-famed Apollo Theatre with Hotel Theresa in the background

8. Statue of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in front of the State Office Building in Harlem named in his honor

9. A sign outside Ebenezer Church on Malcolm X Boulevard

10. Church Ladies and their regal "Crowns"

11. The statue of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman by African American artist Alison Saar at Frederick Douglas Blvd. and St. Nicholas Avenue, the only statue of a Black woman erected in New York City

12. The famed Lenox Lounge on Malcolm X Boulevard remains a jazz favorite. It originally opened in 1939 and was home to Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, the Ink Spots and Dakota Staton among other music greats

13. Harlem is home to many international cultures

14. All decked out in his "Sunday Best"

15. An impromptu pause for prayer

16. The monument at Duke Ellington Circle at the north entrance to Central Park is the first monument in New York City dedicated to an African American and the first memorial in the United States honoring the jazz music giant

17. St. Martin's Episcopal Church on Malcolm X Boulevard

18. Street sign commemorating Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

19. The famed Hotel Theresa on 125th Street in Harlem

20. Co-authors Carolyn D. Johnson (l) and Valerie Jo Bradley at a summer street festival in Harlem


Authors: Carolyn D. Johnson

Valerie Jo Bradley

Published by: Welcome to Harlem

Copyright© 2010 Welcome to Harlem

All rights reserved.

NEW YORK-Harlem is renowned throughout the world as the birthplace of the Black Renaissance, from the black repatriation movement of Marcus Garvey, the founding of the NAACP by W.E.B. Dubois through the black empowerment speeches of Malcolm X and the political power broking of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. What most people don’t know is that Harlem is inextricably tied to the cultural and political growth of our nation. From its humble beginnings as a Native American seasonal settlement and a Colonial-Dutch outpost, it later became the headquarters of General George Washington in the dawning days of the Revolutionary War. Once New York City’s first suburb, it became a safe-haven enclave for a succession of European immigrants. It is preeminent today as the epicenter of African American and Latino culture.

Tired of the narrow focus of previous travel guides, authors Carolyn D. Johnson and Valerie Jo Bradley set out to create an authoritative and authentic guidebook that fully explored the 400-year history of Harlem, USA. The authors are a latter-day mirror image of the ambitious settlers that have come to call Harlem home. Carolyn Johnson is Harlem born and bred and is owner of Welcome to Harlem Tours. Her collaborator and editor is Harlem activist Valerie Jo Bradley. Together, they have created a first of its kind travel guide, which uncovers the hidden treasures of the most unique urban community in the world.

Harlem Travel Guide is a one-of-a-kind tour book, which deals with Harlem exclusively. It is organized in to distinct sections that highlight each of its unique districts, Central Harlem, where African Americans settled in the early 1900s, East Harlem, which is home to the Latino population, to West Harlem, home to a diverse population of African Americans, Africans, West Indians, Latinos and whites. With clubs, restaurants, art galleries, theatres, libraries, churches, places to shop, landmarks, parks and monuments, it offers one of the richest experiences anywhere to a visitor. Harlem Travel Guide gives an “insiders” view that can’t be found anywhere else!

Co-author Valerie Jo Bradley said she and Carolyn Johnson decided to write the Travel Guide because of the lack of information in previous publications.

“Most of the travel guides in New York only devote to or three pages to Harlem and they only mention a few of the attractions, such as the Apollo Theatre, Abyssinian Baptist Church and Sylvia’s restaurant, which most people already know. What they don’t include is all of the sites in the rest of Harlem. They only do Central Harlem, not even mentioning attractions in East Harlem and West Harlem.”

Most people will be surprised at the information revealed in the book’s 250 pages. East Harlem, which is now predominantly Latino, was also home to a rather large Italian community. A few vestiges of that community still persist, including several popular restaurants and an annual celebration that brings many former Italian residents back to their old community.

In East Harlem there is the Dance of the Giglio and Feast,” Bradley recalled, “ which is a tradition established when East Harlem was Italian. Imagine 125 men carrying a five-ton, five-story, hand-sculptured tower and a twelve-piece brass band on their shoulders and dancing through the neighborhood in tempo to Italian folk songs. Italian families return every August for this event that began in the late 1880s in Brusiano Italy to honor Saint Antonio.”

There’s also a “new Harlem” emerging that is racially diverse and upwardly mobile. “Harlem has undergone a housing boom and a massive dose of economic development. Newly renovated properties are coming on the market and new businesses are being opened at a rapid pace. “

Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) near 125th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard (8th Avenue), have become virtually “restaurant rows” with new cafes, cabarets and coffee shops popping up like spring flowers. One of the most notable and celebrated is Red Rooster Harlem, the creation of Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, a Harlem resident. A reincarnation of the legendary Red Rooster restaurant, which was known as the virtual office of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, the new Red Rooster is the place to see and be seen in New York, with celebrity sightings, such as those of Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Tom Brokaw and Danny Glover, are an almost nightly occurrence. The wait can be up to an hour and a half, even with a reservation. But no one seems to mind. They’re usually happily dancing the night away to the live Salsa band in the massive curved cocktail lounge, especially on a Tuesday night!

Photos and memorabilia from the earlier Red Rooster line the walls, most of them donated by former patrons of the original restaurant. I’m sure somewhere at a corner table, Adam himself is saying “Keep The Faith Baby!” while chomping on one his favored Cuban stogies!

There are several places where the book can be purchased:

on-line at and

Also, the book is formatted for the kindle, Ipad, and android and can be purchased at the Amazon website.

People can also visit the Welcome To Harlem Visitor Center located at 2360 Frederick Douglass Blvd., between 126th and 127th streets in Central Harlem.

Monday, August 22, 2011

MOVIES: God Bless Ozzy Osbourne traces tumultuous life of Black Sabbath founder


Reviewed at the TriBeCa film festival World Premiere, April 24, 2011

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK—For 90 minutes, audiences in 400 movie theatres around the country will have an unprecedented opportunity to delve into the mind of one of most absorbing personages of the modern 20th and 21st century music scene. GOD BLESS OZZY OSBOURNE is a three-year-in-the making documentary on the tumultuous and often controversial life, loves and attitudes of undoubtedly the most ‘in your face’ musical icon. Lionized as the founder of Heavy Metal, with the pioneering British band Black Sabbath, Osbourne single-handedly embodied everything that characterized the heavy metal genre. Considered the “Godfather of Heavy Metal,” he is known as the “Prince of Darkness,” and for good reason. After all, he’s the man who showed up at an audition for one of the most powerful record producers in the business and introduced himself by biting the head off a real bat. “I didn’t know it was real at the time,” Osbourne told an assemblage of press reviewers at a post-screening news conference at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring. “If I’d known that, I don’t think I’d have done it. The rabies shots after were painful as hell!”

GOD BLESS OZZY OSBOURNE tells the life story of Ozzy, as seen through the eyes of his youngest child, producer/filmmaker, Jack Osbourne, who worked alongside directors Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli. “I know it sounds cliché,” Jack told the audience,” but this truly was a labor of love. You have to understand, I wasn’t really all that close to my dad growing up. He was just this person who would drop in and out of my life. It wasn’t until I became an adult, that I began to know him for who he was and came to realize that he was really someone special who should be admired. There’s no one else like him. He’s truly one of a kind and that’s what we tried to show in the film.”

“God Bless…” traces Ozzy’s life from his humble beginnings as the son of a laborer in the hardscrabble world of Birmingham, England. The fact that he came to love music and wanted to become a musician, although influenced by blues, r &b and rock ‘n roll legends of his youth, was considered an oddity in the ‘school of hard knocks’ world in which he was reared.

“When I was a kid in school, I had dyslexia. I had a hard time making it in school. The kids could be so cruel. I eventually dropped out. I started turning more and more inside myself. Thank god for music!” Ozzy heard he Beatle’s first single and became a fan of the group. The rest, as they say, is history.

“If it hadn’t been for music,” Osbourne said, candidly, “I’d have been digging a ditch somewhere.”

That was hardly the case, though. Over the course of his 40-plus year career, Ozzy Osbourne has sold over a hundred million albums worldwide, been featured in countless television shows and films and has been the subject of media controversy since the day Black Sabbath hit the ground running.

The film recounts the band’s whirlwind beginnings. The drug-infused, bash ‘em and trash ‘em early days, which found them banned from the major five-star hotels around the world. “We used to just take the plumbing in the bathroom and just rip it apart,” Ozzy recalled. It all fell apart and Ozzy’s world went into a catastrophic tailspin when he was kicked out of band in 1979 for his excessive drug and alcohol abuse. The subsequent death in 1980 of one his dearest friends, collaborators and fellow band member, former Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads, who plane crashed while the pilot was trying to buzz Ozzy’s tour bus as a practical joke that, obviously, backfired.

In 2002, Ozzy Osbourne became a household name with the premiere of the hit MTV reality TV show, The Osbournes, one of the first successful programs of the genre. Osbourne and his wife and powerhouse manager Sharon founded the Ozzfest tour, a physically draining, but financially lucrative franchise for the oddball genius.

Ozzy has been awarded several times for his contributions to music. In 1994, he was awarded a Grammy for the track “I Don’t Want to Change The World” from the album Live & Loud. In 2005, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In true Ozzy fashion, he mooned the crowd!

“I’m just amazed that I’m still alive,” the 63 year old rocker said, responding to a question from this reporter. “I think I just have a drive, a will to succeed and to do something better all the time. I’m always trying to reach for something better and to create just a little more excitement. It’s just something inside me that keeps me going!”

We should all share in that same spirit. Thank God for Ozzy Osbourne.

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne plays in theatres August 24 with an encore performance August 29th. Check local listings and for theatres and showtimes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cisne Negro: Fiery dance from Brazil at Joyce Theatre NYC

Cisne Negro at the Joyce Theatre:

From “Black Swans” to Red Firebirds

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Matthew Murphy

  1. The entire ensemble in Calunga
  2. Morvan Teixeira and Harrison Gavlar in Abacada

NEW YORK—Cisne Negro (Black Swan) of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is one of South America’s premiere contemporary dance companies. In a long awaited return engagement to New York’s Joyce Theatre in the trendy Chelsea district, the company showed why.

The most dazzling piece, Flock (2007), from the company’s Chevalier of France Order of Arts and Letters choreographer Gigi Caciuleanu, the company displayed its unique ability to mold its dancers, in groups of two and three and as solo performers, into a series of geometric shapes that change in rapid, kaleidoscopic succession. “Michelangelo come to life!” is how my neighboring dance enthusiast described the visual experience. With music by Igor Stravinsky, the company vividly portrayed the choreographer’s symbolism of transforming motion and color into pure energy. The Lighting Design, by Raquel Balckian further underscored the kinetic movements of the dancers.

The gifted young Brazilian composer Andre Mehmari composed the score for Abacada, choreographed by the company’s Assistant Director Dany Bittencourt. The piece was a study in contrast, in which the dancers, improvising in solo or duo displayed their ample strengths. The word ABACADA is similar to a Brazilian term that stands for an Amazon fruit or a little bird. In this piece, it actually represents the composition’s Rondo structure of A (the main theme and ensemble/chorus dancers) and the contrasting B.C. and D themes featuring the dancer’s improvisations. The piece draws heavily on Brazilian folk tradition, which embodies ancient rituals and dance from Africa and India with the influence of European aesthetics throughout its history. It is a visual immersion in all that is the cultural fusion of Brazilian life and art. Each of the dancers literally threw themselves into their performance and danced with abandon!

Calunga, was the most visually stunning of the evening. A new work, in its New York Premiere, it featured choreography by the company’s Rui Moreira, regarded as one of Brazil’s premiere dancers. It was truly a tour de force with brilliant costumes by Gustavo Silvestre.

Cisne Negro has performed in countries around the world and is considered one of the most important modern dance companies in Brazil. Its repertoire mirrors the culture of its native city, Sao Paolo and its mix of cultures and races, with a style that explores the diverse elements of black culture and folk tradition and integrates them into a unique style of presentation. Their dancing is highly technical and virile with an earthy authenticity that is breathtaking.

Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart presents Juho Pohjonen, Piano

NEW YORK—Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall was brimming to capacity with seats lining the perimeter and rear of the concert stage in unprecedented fashion. The anticipation of the crowd for Lincoln Center Presents Mostly Mozart Festival was satiated with a scintillating performance by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, under the baton of British conductor Jonathan Nott.

The festival program, which featured Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, with the brilliant young Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen at the Steinway, contrasted the music of Stravinsky and his Symphonies for Wind Instruments, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 with that of the world’s greatest composer of all time.

Maestro Nott proved himself particularly adept at executing Stravinsky’s shifting tempos and rapidly changing themes, particularly the elegiac coda and alternating pastoral themes that echoed his famous opening to The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s musical ideas, while boldly modern, looked back to the uncluttered clarity and beauty of Mozart’s musical ideas. Nott and the festival orchestra brilliantly captured Stravinsky’s sonorities, with Nott elevating the brass far beyond its normal bombastic reaches to become a contemplative choir of an elegant nature.

Juho Pohjonen slipped almost unobtrusively on stage and eagerly perched himself on the Steinway’s bench. His no-nonsense approach hurled him directly into the dance-like opening passages of one of Mozart’s most inspired pieces. Pohjonen’s playing captured all of the youth playfulness and inventiveness of Mozart’s fertile creative genius. Each note in his flurry of lengthy and difficult passages was delivered with clarity of tone that allowed each golden note to reverberate on its on strength, with little affectation or showmanship. Pohjonen used the pedal only sparingly, letting the strength of his supple fingers and the surety of his spot-on attack deliver the goods. It was a bravura performance that certainly must have had The Master smiling somewhere in the firmament.

Maestro Nott brought out the best in his orchestra with his handling of the tricky dance rhythms of the Allegro. His handling of the contrasting pianissimo and the sudden crescendo that followed was masterful. The timpani, with its ringing pronouncement, framed the piece in the majestic splendor it deserved. Nott used his considerable skill to present the theme of the closing scherzo that mimics the theme introduced in the first movement. The device is a clever one on the part of the composer. Nott and his crew kicked it up a notch with a lively surge of syncopation at the end. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought that Beethoven had a little jazz lurking in his veins!