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James Reese Europe Concert Event in NYC 

By Betsy Sheppard
Staff Writer, United States World War One Centennial Commission

NY Jazzharmonic trad jazz sextet photo credit Mihyun Kang copyNY Jazzharmonic, the musical ensemble that will be performing the tribute to James Reese Europe on June 8th at the Symphony Space NYC. Ron Wasserman is second from right.In 1918, James Reese Europe took the Harlem Hellfighter's band to France as part of the Allied Expeditionary forces, introducing jazz to the continent. In the next few weeks, New York City will play host to a couple of amazing tributes to this famous 369th Harlem Hellfighters Regimental Jazz Band. One of these two remarkable shows will be the James Reese Europe Memorial Concert on June 8th at Symphony Space NY. This tribute event is co-sponsored by the New York Jazzharmonic, the New York Veterans Alliance, and the National WWI Centennial Commission. We talked to Mr. Ron Wasserman, principal bassist for the NY City Ballet and founder of the New York Jazzharmonic and its Traditional Jazz Sextet, to hear more about the show, and about the origins of the music that they will play.

How did you become involved in the James Reese Europe Memorial Concert?

I became involved after I put a few JRE tunes on my recent CD. All of a sudden people thought of me as an expert. I realized that he needed attention. Then, my cousin, Edwin Fountain, of the WWI Centennial commission suggested I do some kind of event, and here we are.

What effect do you hope this event will have on the public viewers?

I hope that it will serve as a much needed public honor for the great man, especially since this is the 100th anniversary of him going to the War.

Why and how, in your opinion, did James Reese Europe make an impact in World War I?

James Reese EuropeJames Reese EuropeWell, as is pretty well known, his most important contribution was with his orchestra, which is credited in bringing American jazz music to the European continent. It is still very popular there to this day. Also, he was one of the first African Americans to lead troops into battle as a commissioned officer.

How have you worked to bring music and World War I history together?

This concert will be music oriented, as opposed to lecture or history oriented, but we will try to put his many other accomplishments into perspective. In order for him to get such a prestigious commission, he had to have already proved himself to be a gentleman of great accomplishment:

A. He was the most important society musician of his day.
B. He started the first union of Black musicians in New York.
C. He was the first person of any color to conduct non-classical music at Carnegie Hall.
D. He was one of the first African Americans to integrate as a music director for a white act, Vernon and Irene Castle, the super popular dance team.
E. This is all in addition to his work as a composer and early proponent of American Jazz.

Betsy Sheppard is a Spring 2018 Intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

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