By Stephanie Meditz | [email protected]
Flushing Town Hall house band leader Carol Sudhalter defines jazz music as “life itself.” As she enters her 80s, she is as full of life as ever.
On March 24 at 8 p.m., Sudhalter will lead a quintet of octogenarians to celebrate her 80th birthday with an eveningof jazz music at Flushing Town Hall.
Although she did not pursue music seriously until college, Sudhalter has been surrounded by jazz for most of her life.
“I was a late starter. I grew up in a family of musicians and I knew traditional style jazz, not modern jazz, specifically Chicago style…and I studied piano as a kid,” Sudhalter said.
When she was in college to become a science writer, she picked up the flute and started to play jazz.
“I grew up in this jazz family and we had jam sessions at my house and all that. I loved the whole jazz community and the music,” she said. “The energy in jazz just seems like life itself, so I’ve always loved it. I would go to hear groups and I would hang around groups. And then…a lightbulb went on in my head. I could just play jazz.”
She said that this unexpected career change made her years in music more meaningful to her.
“I think you face a lot of opposition when you start late like that. And then also being a woman at that time, it wasn’tso common in the jazz world. You didn’t have that many role models,” she said. “I didn’t let it discourage me, but I thought to myself, why do people offer these opinions when I haven’t really asked them?”
Despite people’s doubt about whether she could make a career out of jazz, Sudhalter forged her own path in the music industry and as a private music instructor.
She was the first graduate of Smith College to have a career as a jazz musician.
Her first inspiration came from Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke, a major cornet player in Chicago style jazz from the early 20th century, in addition to Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt and Frank Sinatra.
She played in Madison Square Garden as a member of the first all-female Latin band, Latin Fever.
Since 2002, Sudhalter has traveled to Italy at least once a year to perform and teach a course entitled “English Diction for Singers.”
An Astoria resident, she is also the founder and baritone saxophonist of the Astoria Big Band, which has received more than 20 performance grants.
This year, she got invited to Indiana University to play baritone saxophone for the premiere of a piece composed by Mickey Tucker for both jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra.
“It was just thrilling from start to finish. The orchestra was great, the jazz ensemble was great, the conductor was amazing” she said. “It really was like an 80-year gift.”
Sudhalter has been the house band leader of Flushing Town Hall’s Louis Armstrong Legacy Monthly Jazz Jam since 2016.
She still performs regularly at Flushing Town Hall, and she is grateful to bring jazz music to the Queens community.
“It doesn’t feel unusual or anything like that at all. In the jazz community, we’re kind of used to seeing people going right into their 90s playing, and sometimes even over 100,” she said. “It feels great, and the only difference is that…the instruments are starting to feel a little bit heavier.”
Sudhalter invited musicians who have truly devoted themselves to jazz music to join her onstage for Octogenarian Women of Jazz.
She quickly thought of some of her first friends since she moved to New York in 1978 — pianist Bertha Hope (86), vocalist Keisha St. Joan (84) and drummer Paula Hampton (87).
Bill Crow (95) will play bass in the quintet, and Sudhalter will play the flute and baritone saxophone.
The quintet will play a mix of standards and original works composed by band members.
They will also hold a Q&A session to discuss their favorite memories from their years as musicians.
“[Flushing Town Hall] is a real state of the art place to play. It’s like a well-oiled machine, it just works beautifully,”she said. “I love working on that monthly jam, and I will hopefully keep collaborating with them on different concerts.”
Tickets for Octogenarian Women of Jazz are available for $15/$10 for Flushing Town Hall members, seniors andstudents with ID at https://flushingtownhall.org/octogenarian-women-of-jazz.
“We see music now healing people in a world that’s becoming very dark and negative and death-oriented,”
Sudhalter said. “We see when we go to nursing homes and senior centers, people just cry when they hear songs they love, and they can’t stop thanking us and expressing how happy it makes them…Music is very, very deep in people’s souls.”