Performances include LA Blacksmith & Jazz Plus on August 15 and Cheryl Pepsii Riley on August 22. Both shows start at 7 p.m.
Jazz Thursdays is the brainchild of Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. Brown coined a mission statement she refers to as the “3 C’s”: commerce, community, and culture.
“By promoting culture in the Forest Hills community, it boosts revenue in local shops and restaurants, and raises awareness of all of what Forest Hills has to offer,” said Brown. “It takes place in the heart of the business district, and I don't know of any other community that offers this.”
This season’s major sponsors include the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, HSBC Bank, and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, and is made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional sponsors include Ridgewood Savings Bank, Queens County Savings Bank, and Title Boxing Company.
The chamber’s goal is to feature world-class performers, and the community has witnessed some memorable concerts over the course of seven seasons. The George Gee Orchestra offered big band and swing, and the Cab Calloway Orchestra featured C. Calloway Brooks, who is the grandson of the late great Cab Calloway.
Another notable act was Bruce Wayne, also known as Big Daddy, who is a routine Sunday evening performer at B.B. King’s. He was also an attraction at the chamber’s Forest Hills Festival of The Arts, which is held every June.
“We hear all kinds of stories about how much audiences look forward to jazz in Forest Hills,” Brown said. “One recent story was how an entire family attends Jazz Thursdays, dines in one of the restaurants along 70th Road, and celebrates the grandfather’s birthday with jazz and dinner.”
Looking ahead, the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce envisions staging more musical events. In addition to Jazz Thursdays, Jammin’ Thursdays may become a new tradition, offering audiences the opportunity to enjoy artists representing other musical genres.
LA Blacksmith performed with his seven-piece band for an audience of 400 people at last summer’s Jazz Thursdays.
“We were right in the middle of Forest Hills, and had access to people in the street and to those dining outside,” said Blacksmith.
Blacksmith began playing in bands in junior high school, and today he is a vocalist who plays the saxophone and flute. His horn and background vocals can be heard on singles including “I’ll Do Anything For You” by Denroy Morgan, “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown, and “Gonna Get Over You” by France Joli.
The Brooklyn-based musician can also be spotted monthly at the Forest Hills Care Center on Yellowstone Boulevard.
“Performing for the elderly brightens their day and also brightens mine,” he said.
Blacksmith said he would like to perform more in Forest Hills, including restaurants, in addition to his globetrotting. He recently returned from London after working with Crown Heights Affair, and in Ethiopia he experienced one of his most inspirational moments.
“I took out my flute and started entertaining a village of many children,” he recalled. “Spontaneously, they took out their wooden flutes and stated playing. It was unplanned.”
The August 22nd show featuring Cheryl Pepsii Riley will be her first time performing in Forest Hills.
“My audience can expect to hear wonderful, classic standards, which will make them reminisce,” she said. “There will be many favorites with some twists.”
Riley has recorded backing vocals for Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez and Angie Stone, and has toured with Mary J. Blige, Chico DeBarge and Patti Austin.
Also a Brooklyn native, her name may sound familiar. She had a number-one single, “Thanks For My Child,” from her 1988 album “Me, Myself, and I.” A couple of more albums followed, including “Chapters” and the single “How Can You Hurt The One You Love” that addressed domestic violence.
“I strongly believe music is healing, and is a beautiful way to unite us as people, as well as provide an escape from the everyday issues we all face,” Riley said.
Riley has also worked with Tyler Perry in his productions and films, and with her band Hot Chocolate she hosts the popular Black Velvet Mondays at The Village Underground, featuring a jam that attracts international talents.
“It’s such a beautiful fellowship and safe place for musicians and singers to shed and hone their craft,” she said.