Next Monday, May 15th, we at The Jazz Gallery are excited to host our annual honors gala, where we celebrate the vital contributions of jazz-world leaders from both on and off the bandstand. This year, our honorees include pianist Chucho Valdes, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, producer Michael Cuscuna, and administrator-philanthropist Arthur H. Barnes. This week at Jazz Speaks, we will be featuring stories about these luminaries and their work.
Arthur Barnes’s contributions to the life and culture of New York City have spread far and wide—from Gramercy Park to Police Athletic League ball courts and beyond. But as a life-long New Yorker, Barnes knows full well that jazz is one of the city’s cultural lifebloods. He has served on the Board of Governors for the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program at the New School and as chairman of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, helping spread the art form to new generations of players and listeners alike. Hank O’Neal, chairman of the Gallery’s Board of Directors, offers the following appreciation:
Arthur Barnes is a guy who gives a lot of himself and gets things done. On time, with as little bother as possible and in the process helps a lot of people and spreads good will, helping young people, jazz musicians and other civilians. I remember one day I was walking past the neighborhood police station on 12th Street that masquerades as the headquarters for the Police Athletic League. There were a couple of burly guys with heaters on their hips loading up a truck with something for a PAL event. I stopped to talk for a minute and asked what they were up to and one thing led to another and I mentioned I had a friend on the PAL Board. They looked at me suspiciously and said, “Who?” I said, “Arthur Barnes” and suddenly it was all smiles and “he’s the best” and things like that. I know what PAL does, but still don’t know what he did for them, but he must have done it well because those two guys knew all about it.
I first met Arthur in the 1990s when he joined the Board of Governors for the Jazz and Contemporary Music program at The New School. He didn’t just join it, he ran it for a few years and with him at the helm we had some our best Beacons In Jazz events. He turned the Board over to me and I tried, but he was much better at such things. We served on another Board together: the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. He ran that one as well, for about a decade. He didn’t turn that one over, thank goodness. It was far too complicated. Maybe even for him.
In early July 2003, I was in Los Angeles working on a documentary film and one segment featured Clint Eastwood and Ray Charles. It was shot at Charles’s RPM Studio and I still vividly remember Ray making his entrance. He had a lit cigarette in each hand. It was a tough interview because Ray was coughing a great deal, there were few takes that lasted more than a minute or two but the was still great energy and good feeling. A month or two later Arthur told me he’d hired Ray to take part in the HIP music festival he was organizing. I told him to make sure he had a sub because even though Ray sounded good and was playing well, he seemed a little fragile. He did and neither of us was surprised when Ray was unable to perform and died a couple of months later.
In 2008, I was finishing up the English language edition of my book The Ghosts of Harlem. I always try to get interesting or unexpected but appropriate people to write introductions for my books and one night it occurred to me the perfect choice was Representative Charles Rangle, who had represented Harlem in Congress for forty years or so. It took two phone calls, me to Arthur and Arthur to his high school buddy, who wrote a terrific introduction. It was so good that if you look up the book on Amazon it says the book is by Hank O’Neal and Charles Rangle. Maybe not, but it doesn’t bother me.
A couple of years ago Arthur celebrated his 85th birthday with a fine party at The National Arts Club, where he’s also on the Board. There were 85 guests and I was proud to be included. To say that Arthur is well connected is kind of an understatement. I was solo that night and found myself seated at a table with Mayor Dinkins and Congressman Rangle, who were not. A little latter we were joined by Governor Paterson and all three had a great time poking fun at Arthur and suggesting he shouldn’t get married at such an advanced age. Governor Paterson is Arthur’s godson; Congressman Rangle is his closest friend from high school. I don’t know exactly where Mayor Dinkins fits in; maybe he was or is a tennis partner. But if you want to get anything done uptown, clearly Arthur should be your first call.
Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Barnes and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/