In the East Village, there are a whole lot of community gardens – 39, at last count. In a city that has a total of 550, that represents a big chunk. Luckily, the caretakers of these lovely oases take the “community ” part seriously, sharing their well-tended spaces with their neighbors and frequently hosting events that range from art workshops to poetry readings to composting events to concerts. Last week was a perfect example, with two of the more active spaces lending their plots to some wonderful performers.
On Aug. 25 El Sol Brillante, an extremely lush garden at 522 East 12th St., partnered with Ariana’s List and the Jazz Foundation of America to present Willie Martinez and His Latin Jazz Collective in a free show as part of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Parker lived a few blocks away on Avenue B and there is traditionally a day-long concert in his honor in Tompkins Square Park, but COVID concerns canned that event.
Introduced by Ariana Hellerman (of the eponymous List) and Maddy Feldman of the City Parks Foundation, Martinez’ band – consisting of veteran players Steve Gluzband (trumpet), Ben Lapidus (guitar), Bernardo Minoso (bass), Renato Thomas (percussion) and Martinez on drums and vocals – put their own spin on world-class renditions of tunes associated with Parker such as ‘Night In Tunisia’, ‘Caravan’ and ‘Body and Soul’.
The night was hot, space was limited and the mosquitos were in attack mode, but the garden thoughtfully provided bug spray and the music was so good that those left standing stayed until the end. All in all, a perfect East Village summer evening.
The following night La Plaza Cultural, at the corner of East 9th St. and Avenue C, hosted the final evening of a series titled ‘Garden Variety’, presented by TWEED TheaterWorks and HOWL Arts in various gardens in August, including the 9th St. Community Garden and Park, De Colores Community Yard and Garden and the 6&B Garden. Curated by Tweed’s Artistic Director Kevin Malony, the evening was hosted by esteemed drag performer Flotilla DeBarge, who also sang a few numbers and left no doubt that “When You’re Good to Mama, Mama’s Good to You.”
Other performers included the Off The Bar Brass doing instrumental versions of tunes by Dua Lipa, Katy Perry and Amy Winehouse, who probably rolled over once or twice as the combo stomped through their version of her hit ‘Valerie’ with a drum, a sax and a tuba. Joseph Keckler, a performance artist who employed his operatic voice to tell the tale of having sex with a ghost, was definitely the outlier. The Tenement Tenors came from Lawrence, MA armed with their own tunes, but also demonstrated what it would sound like if Peter and Paul dropped Mary in order to cover Patti Smith’s ‘Free Money’. Cleo Berlin used the opportunity to debut her new band, Cleo and the Heartbreak and it was absolutely an auspicious start.
Closing the show was a solo gig from local fave Claudi of the Pinc Clouds, fresh off a west coast tour. The rest of the band may have needed some rest, but the group’s indefatigable leader – in their trademark dress and wig – turned the remainder of the evening into a dance concert with joyous renditions of older tunes such as ‘Soul In My Body’ to originals from the brand new Spanish only LP ‘La Atomica’.
While the free space in front of Claudi filled up with hopping and gyrating Pinc Louds fans, Miss DeBarge surveyed the scene and pronounced the event a success.
“The evening went fabulously,” she declared. “A great garden, an eclectic crowd and beautiful people enjoying their lives in the age of the Rona and the Delta.”
If you’d like to help any of these non-profit entities continue their work, you can:
Donate to HOWL Arts: https://www.howlarts.org/give/
Buy a t-shirt at https://elsolbrillante.org/ and then attend their fundraiser on 9/18. Also, check them out on Instagram at @elsolbrillantegarden
If one t-shirt isn’t enough (and it never is), check out the website www.laplazacultural.com for their merchandise.