Considering hip-hop got its start during the 1970's in block parties and in various parks in the Bronx, it is more than fitting that the man credited with creating the genre, Jamaican transplant DJ Kool Herc, will be headlining this evening's free concert in Crotona Park in the Bronx. During the 70's and 80's many pioneering hip-hop figures performed at informal hip-hop jams and several scenes for the seminal hip-hop film Wild Style were filmed back at the park in the day. Tonight's show in the "Boogie Down" Bronx park is just one countless (mostly free) outdoor concerts in the wonderful SummerStage concert series produced by New York's City Parks Foundation. Each year in June, July, & August the foundation stages an impressive 100+ musically diverse concerts plus theater and dance performances in various parks in NYC's five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Many days there are two or three events happening simultaneously in different parks & boroughs, so it is impossible to catch everything, but there are still oodles to choose from. This summer shows include acts such as The Specials, Public Enemy, EPMD, The Metropolitan Opera, Gil Scott Heron, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jimmy Cliff, Pharoahe Monch, Doug E Fresh, and the two-day Charlie Parker Jazz Festival featuring such acts as James Moody, Jimmy Scott, and McCoy Tyner.
A few days ago I talked with DJ Kool Herc, who said that it is "a nice feeling" to be DJ'ing in Crotona Park in the Bronx again all these years later. And as for the music he will be spinning? "I'm playing music to reminisce [about] then and now, extremely then and extremely now." Herc emigrated to America from Jamaica and took the Jamaican sound system style of DJing with him to the Bronx, where essentially created hip-hop itself by being the first DJ to isolate the "breaks" parts of records and play two versions back to back to extend these "breaks." Of this pioneering act he says, "I'm like a shepherd. I'm watching my flock. I'm watching my audience, and I like to dance and I would notice that people who liked to dance would wait for particular parts of the record to come up and play before they would start to dance and I am always observing. So one day I thought I would put all these parts, these breaks, that I have together and I am going to call it the merry go round. All the good parts -- get right to the yolk and everybody just ran with it."
Now in its 25th year, the SummerStage manages to cover all tastes in music and entertainment including the second annual Istanbulive Festival on Saturday (July 3rd) in Central Park which showcases several of Turkey's best known pop, rock and jazz performers including Kenan Dogulu, Duman and Ilhan Ersahin's Istanbul Sessions. Also in Manhattan's Central Park is a recital in conjunction with The Metropolitan Opera featuring Met regulars Nathan Gunn, Susanna Phillips and Michael Fabiano on July 12th. Latin music fans will enjoy La Orquesta de la Gente (formerly known as Hector Lavoe’s Orquesta) along with 8 y Más, who will jointly present a Hector Lavoe tribute show at St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx tomorrow, Thursday, July 1. Most concerts run until 9pm and nearly all, with the exception of a few SummerStage benefit shows, are free to the public. For full information on the summer long series, visit the SummerStage website or follow the concert series, which is is accessible to the mobility-impaired, on Twitter.