Director of Mix n Match Music and Astoria Big Band/Astoria Jazz Band Director Carol Sudhalter plays flute, baritone and tenor sax. A resident of Astoria, Sudhalter was the first graduate of Smith College to become a jazz musician. She played with the first all-female Latin band, Latin Fever, at the Salsa Festival at Madison Square Garden alongside Tito Puente. She founded, and plays baritone saxophone in the Astoria Big Band, which received 20-plus development and performance grants, played at Mary Lou Williams Festival, Kennedy Center, and presents many concerts of works by women composers.
Sudhalter placed 9th for Best International Jazz Flutist in Down Beat Magazine’s 77th Annual Jazz Readers’ Poll 2012.
For 15 years Sudhalter played the Cajun Restaurant Sunday Brunch, with Jimmy “The Face” Butts; and Al “Doc” Pittman. She has performed in New York at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (Lincoln Center), Trumpet’s, Birdland, Danny’s Skylite Room, Iridium, Flushing Town Hall, JVC Jazz Festival, and numerous jazz festivals. She regularly tours Italy, UK and Switzerland.
Wednesday, May 18, 7:30 pm – Sudhalter will be Guest Jazz Artist (on flute, tenor sax and baritone sax) with Jackson Heights Chamber Orchestra Symphony. St. Mark’s Church, 34th Avenue and 82nd Street, Jackson Heights. Works by Ettore Stratta, Jorge Calandrelli, Michele LeGrand.
Saturday, May 28, 6 pm – Flatted Fifth Jazz Vespers Series – Memorial West United Presbyterian Church, Newark, NJ – Carol Sudhalter Quartet with pianist Patrick Poladian, Motoki Mihara (bs); Wayne Henderson (dms). Feat. vocalist Kym Lawrence.
Saturday, June 18, 7 pm – Astoria Big Band Concert at Sunnyside Reformed Church, 48- 03 Skillman Ave., Sunnyside: “Women Composers of Popular Music.”
She pioneered several jazz series here in her home borough of Queens: the Athens Square Park Jazz Mondays; Astoria/LIC Waterfront Jazz Festival; Sunset Jazz Concerts at Ralph DeMarco Park.
QG: Have you been interested in a musical career from childhood? Where did you get your education in music?
CS: I definitely never thought of a music career when I was a child. I played piano in those years, and sang in choir throughout junior high, high school and college. I was interested in biology. Birdwatching and insect collecting were my passions. I became a biology major at college, and planned to become a science writer in the tradition of Rachel Carson, explaining scientific problems in lay terminology for the public, and raising awareness about alternatives to pesticides.
I always loved jazz, but never thought about playing it. I could hear the jazz ideas in my head since a very young age. When I started playing flute in my last year at Smith, it was because I was overtaken by a sudden desire to play jazz – whether professionally or not, I didn’t ask myself at the time.
Most of my “education” in music was from growing up in a musical environment in my house. My dad was an alto saxophonist, my brother played cornet, my uncle played tenor sax, and so forth. We constantly had jam sessions at the house, attended by folks who went on to become illustrious musicians. Nevertheless, I had some catching up to do, and began to take music courses at University of Massachusetts and New England Conservatory during the years following my college graduation. Ran Blake and Phil Wilson were among some of my very influential teachers.
QG: Why did you choose to play the piano, saxophone and flute? Do you have a preference among the instruments?
CS: Piano was something that our parents had all three of us study as children. I’m not really a performing pianist, but I teach piano up to a certain level. I chose flute because I wanted to play jazz and it seemed like an instrument that a woman could play. Twelve years later, when my father died, I realized that I wanted to play sax too! So I got hold of one and began studying.
QG: Who were your biggest musical influences, among family members, and who were some famous musical artists you followed as a fan?
CS: My father, Al Sudhalter! He had a beautiful tone, and perfect delivery; Louis Armstrong (especially his singing); Frank Sinatra for his great phrasing and the way he delivered the words so meaningfully; Billie Holiday; Django Reinhardt for the love in his playing; and Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.
QG: You were the first Smith College graduate to become a jazz musician. Did you perform jazz, in addition to perhaps taking music classes, while attending this upscale school for women? Have there been other grads after you who chose to be jazz musicians?
CS: I took private flute lessons for a few months in my final year, when I first started playing. I did perform locally, sitting in with bands in the pubs in Northampton. Nothing formal. Yes, naturally now Smith has a real jazz department and I believe some of the women go into jazz.
QG: Describe how audiences in other countries react to jazz improvisation performances vs. Americans.
CS: Speaking just from personal experience, I find the audiences in Italy, UK and Switzerland very receptive to me. I heard that in Japan they are absolutely wild about jazz. But I often find great, attentive audiences here in New York, especially in intimate settings with no distractions, such as house concerts. In these concerts (different from parties!) a trio performs for a group of from 15 to 30 guests who have paid admission and come specifically to hear the concert. It’s a wonderful feeling.
QG: You reside in Queens, and you’re a widely traveled jazz artist who appears at so many jazz festivals around the country, Europe, and several jazz series you’ve established here in Queens. How would you rate jazz appreciation among your hometown audiences – in what is now called the World’s Borough?
CS: I’m actually a native of Boston, MA. I moved to New York in 1978 to join the first all-female Latin band, Latin Fever. What a blast! We played the salsa festival at Madison Square Garden, for 10,000 people!
Queens has always received our Astoria Big Band with great enthusiasm. When there was a budget for it, in the old days, they would call us to play at the street fairs and community events. I remember the tribute we played for Pam Smith, a wonderful photographer/reporter from the Gazette, when she became ill. We have loved playing in all the waterfront parks, including Gantry State Park, Ralph DeMarco Park and even a whole series at Athens Square park. We were the first band to play at the Forest Park Carousel, and I still have video footage of this.
QG: When you are not touring and performing, where do you like to spend time in Queens? Where do you like to go to eat great food in Queens?
CS: I love food shopping in Queens: Mediterranean Deli on 34th Street at 30th Avenue is amazing! I’m very attached to Costco, because of their great attitude and the wide variety of organic products they sell at great prices. Many of the supermarkets now have salad bars, and that’s something we’ve needed for a long time. I love all the food shopping. The variety of olives, cheeses, grape leaves and other specialty dishes is wonderful and affordable.
I love the diners in Queens. There’s nothing like ‘em! My favorites are Bel Aire and Buccaneer.
The restaurants I like in Astoria are Agnanti, Greek Captain (Psari), and Paper Mill Factory Hotel. The latter is too noisy for me to eat at very often, but the chef is excellent.
Things I love to do in Queens: take walks. Swim in Astoria Park Pool. Look at the view by Socrates Sculpture Park and on Shore Blvd by Astoria Park. Walk in Gantry State Park.
This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.