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John Broven

A Brit Reviews the UK’s Eventual Withdrawal from Europe

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Part 3 of 3

By John Broven

When I started this series in March 2019, I wanted to give U.S. readers a Brit’s inside view on Brexit. The term has now become such common currency over here, rather like the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” that all I need explain is that Brexit refers to Britain exiting the European Union, which it duly did Jan. 31 of this year. On the same date the U.S. Senate rejected further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R). It was hardly a red-letter day for western politics.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

After publication of the first two articles, I was approached by residents of all age groups at the Stony Brook railroad station, in a deli, at a mall, in a coffee shop, at a party, even at an outdoor art show. Everyone expressed an intrigued interest in Brexit and, it’s fair to say, concern for my English home country. What on earth was going on? Why indulge in such potential self-harm?

When I left you with my June article, the United Kingdom and EU had agreed on another revised exit date, Oct. 31, but with no parliamentary majority the way forward was still far from clear. “Will there be a general election, second referendum, another EU extension or a hard no deal?” I asked.

It came to pass there was a general election Dec. 12 and a further EU extension to Jan. 31, with no second referendum or precipitous hard deal (to date). With the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, what happened in the interim?

A third prime minister in three years

For a start, on July 24, Boris Johnson achieved the prize he had wanted from his days as a privileged aristocratic youth at Eton College and Oxford University: the prime ministership of the U.K. After being elected as leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), he took over from the hapless Theresa May (C) who was unable to deliver on her promise to leave the EU after three years in the hot seat.

Brexit had thus claimed another victim, making Johnson the third prime minster since David Cameron (C) fell on his sword after a dismal and inept Vote Remain campaign during the June 2016 referendum.

Without a working majority, Johnson was confronted by a parliament determined to ensure that if Brexit happened there would be no hard deal. The new prime minister even tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend parliament for five weeks in an effort to stifle debate and ram through the withdrawal agreement by Oct. 31. Queen Elizabeth II was inadvertently embroiled when she dutifully signed the prorogation request of Johnson, who made the flimsy pretense of needing time to prepare for the Queen’s Speech, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. I suspect Her Majesty was not amused. 

There was clearly a power battle being fought between parliament and the prime minister, reminiscent of the current war of attrition between Congress and Trump. 

The generally pro-Brexit Tory Party, with its band of rabid hardliners, was armed with the 52-48 percent Voter Leave victory of the 2016 referendum. Amid calls from the Brexiters for “democracy” to be respected and with a definite all-round war weariness in the nation, it was clearly going to be difficult for the main opposition parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens — to overturn “the will of the people.” 

At one time, the charismatic speaker of the House of Commons, John Burcow, even invoked an arcane 1604 parliamentary principle to stifle a government motion. (Think about it, that’s 16 years before the Mayflower landed on our shores.) However, the opposition could not find agreement among themselves for a unified approach, even with voting support from 21 Tory rebels. This rump included former Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. Incredibly these respected establishment figures were thrown out of the Tory Party in petulant retribution. You see what I mean about parliamentary drama.  

With time running out, the EU begrudgingly extended the Oct. 31 deadline to Jan. 31 after a last-minute fudged agreement with Johnson over the vexatious Irish border backstop question.

December general election

Parliament was still in deadlock, but eventually a general election was called for Dec. 12. Campaigning on a resonating “Get Brexit done” ticket, Johnson won a huge working majority of 80 seats to break the parliamentary impasse. His Conservative Party brushed aside the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, also Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour, in its worst general election result since 1935, ignominiously saw the demolition of its “red wall” in the industrial north of England, the traditional home of socialism. The Lib-Dems, under Jo Swinson, went all out with a remain message. Yet this bright young leader couldn’t articulate on the stump the benefits of staying in Europe and she even lost her own parliamentary seat. 

The main opposition winners were the Scottish Nationalist Party, under Nicola Sturgeon, which swept Scotland. Watch out for a possible future referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. and become a member of the EU. 

Richard Tapp, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, added in an email, “Besides the Scottish Nationalists, the pro-EU parties in Northern Ireland also did well, at the expense of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party whose leader in Westminster lost his seat to the nationalists of Sinn Fein who campaign for a united Ireland — and so remain in the EU.” 

Johnson had targeted the disaffected, forgotten part of the nation — the provincial middle class as well as the working class — with a Trump-like populist message, just as the new prime minister had done beforehand with the referendum. The general election was a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both for his far-left policies and his “sit on the fence” approach to Brexit. 

Interestingly, there are concerns in the U.S. about the Democratic Party following the Labour/Corbyn route to self-destruction in the next election with a progressive socialist agenda. James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1992 election-winning strategist, was particularly animated on the subject in the Financial Times and on “Morning Joe,” referring to the unelectable Corbyn by name.

Brexit is done

And so, with no obstacles in his way, Johnson “got it done” by signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU, meaning Britain officially left the union at the end of January after almost a half-century of membership. Brexit is now fully owned and controlled by the prime minister and his Conservative Party, with the background help of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign’s victory in 2016. 

The coverage on BBC World News in Brussels revealed genuine European regret at the loss of Britain as a vital contributing member to the EU, including politicians from Poland and Sweden. Yet the expected party atmosphere in the U.K. didn’t materialize because the country was still split right down the middle — and it was raining on Farage’s celebration parade outside the Houses of Parliament. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper had a perverse explanation for the low-keyed reaction: “On Jan. 31, many Brexiters spent their ultimate moment of triumph attacking elitist traitors instead of celebrating.” This revenge, he said, “is so much of the point of populism.” 

Those Brexit voters expecting a brand-new dawn, with a return to the glory days of the British Empire free of the EU yoke, will have to wait until at least Dec. 31 this year for all kinds of trade, security and legal negotiations to be agreed before the cord is cut. 

During this transition period the U.K. will continue in the EU’s custom union and single market, while still complying with EU rules (but without any more say in the lawmaking process in the European Parliament). Johnson has indicated there will be no extension, leading to the nightmare scenario of a possible no deal commencing Jan. 1, 2021. It will not be an easy negotiating ride.

I’m still of the view that a people’s referendum should never have been considered by Cameron on such a critical and complex matter, which will affect generations to come. His irresponsible bet was compounded by the Brexiters never explaining the downsides — and dangers — of leaving Europe, including diminished influence on the world stage. Already China is waiting in the wings.

Michael Hanna, of Hassocks, West Sussex, echoed my thoughts in an email on the night of Jan. 31: “In about two hours time Boris and his Gang will tear us out of the European Union on the say so of just 17.4 million, a mere 37 percent of the electorate. This is politically the saddest day of my life. For the last 47 years we have been members of the great European family of nations to which we should naturally belong. This has given us huge benefits which the Tory government is knowingly throwing away.”

With thanks for their on-the-spot observations to my British friends Roger Armstrong, Chris Bentley, Mike Hanna, Martin Hawkins, John Ridley and Richard Tapp. 

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books and is currently editing the first book on New York blues.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

By John Broven

Part two of three

I’ve been waiting patiently to write this second part of my personal Brexit overview (see part 1, “Brexit: To leave or not to leave, that is the big question,” TBR News Media’s papers and websites, March 14). There has been an interested response from TBR readers, although as expected not everybody agreed with my Europhile stance or interpretation of events. An apt New York Times description was “fractured Britain.”

Even now, there is no resolution to the terms for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to leave the European Union as determined by a national referendum June 23, 2016, almost three years ago — the vote was 51.89 to 48.11 percent. The March 29 deadline went by, so did one on April 12. Now the departure date has been extended begrudgingly by the EU until Oct. 31. That’s Halloween, as many wags have pointed out. Still the drama continues.

Prime Minister Theresa May resigns

On May 24, Prime Minister Theresa May (Conservative, known as Tories) announced her forthcoming departure in tears for failing to deliver Brexit. Never a team player, she was rapidly losing support among her Brexit-leaning party. The withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU was criticized from all sides even as May tried to soften her parliamentary bill by including environmental measures, workers rights and even the prospect of a second referendum — anathema to Brexiteers in her own party. With no majority in sight for her deal, she will formally resign on June 7, immediately after the state visit by President Donald Trump (R).

She is now the second prime minister to be felled by Brexit in the footsteps of David Cameron (Conservative), who was responsible for calling the 2016 referendum. Indeed, the Tory Party’s neurosis with Europe had previously ensnared former prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Tory leadership battle

Now, the Brexit process has been put on hold while the ruling Conservative Party elects a new leader, expected by the end of July. That leaves four short months to finalize leave arrangements. Understandably, the EU is running out of patience and has indicated it will not renegotiate the deal on the table, including the controversial Irish backstop.

The number of Tory prime minister candidates currently stands at 11, still well short of the tally of U.S. Democratic presidential candidates. At the time of writing the bookies favorite is the self-serving former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the New York City-born member of parliament of British parents who dealt a fatal blow to Cameron’s 2016 Vote Remain campaign by treacherously joining the Vote Leave team. The covertly ambitious Michael Gove and hardliner Dominic Raab are also in the running. Just as the U.S. Democratic candidates are in a quandary over presidential impeachment proceedings, so the U.K. Tory leadership candidates are scrambling for Brexit answers.

Our president has caused local controversy by favoring Johnson. If the former mayor is elected as prime minister by the Conservative Party and his pronouncements are carried out, he could lead the country into the worst of all possibilities on Oct. 31 — a hard no deal. It is chilling to think that such a chaotic scenario could happen to the fifth largest economy in the world, with an impact far beyond the borders of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As Will Hutton described it in London’s The Guardian, the Brexiteers view is of a blissful but flawed image of “sunlit uplands of immigrant-free, global free trade.” Sir Elton John, also in The Guardian, was more blunt: “I’m ashamed of my country for what it has done. It’s torn people apart … I am sick to death of politicians, especially British politicians. I am sick to death of Brexit. I am a European. I am not a stupid, colonial, imperialist English idiot.”

EU elections shock

The British government had hoped to avoid taking part in the recent EU elections, but as the country was still formally one of the 28 member states the people went to the polls on May 23. In keeping with the unpredictable Brexit mess, what a shocking result it turned out to be. Former UKIP leader and an elected member of the European Parliament since 1999, Nigel Farage, who has been described by his Euro colleagues as a “one-man wrecking ball,” had formed the new Brexit Party only six weeks previously and topped the polls with a 30.8 percent share of the vote. The two leading parties in British politics for almost 100 years, Labour (third place) and Conservatives (fifth), managed a meager 23 percent of the vote between them, beaten by second-place Liberal Democrats with their remain message and fourth-place Green Party with an urgent climate-change agenda.

Tellingly, the Tories suffered their worst election result since formation in 1834 and registered only 8.8 percent of the vote, with no seats won in London. May’s party had also taken a shellacking in the earlier county council elections. That’s the current governing party, don’t forget. As The Washington Post noted, coalition governments and a genuine multiparty system may be the future of British politics.

In effect, British voters were giving a severe kicking to the government and lead opposition party under arch-socialist Jeremy Corbyn for their inept handling of Brexit. Intriguingly, Scotland and Northern Ireland still balloted majority votes to remain candidates. The MEPs term will end if and when Brexit occurs. Taking all the parties into account, the respective total leave and remain votes were very close, which is where we came in — a divided nation with a divided parliament and parties internally divided.

The cross-Europe vote showed a fragmentation of parties, with the establishment center-left and center-right bloc losing power. The populist parties in Britain, France and Italy showed gains but surprisingly little elsewhere, notably in Holland. There was a general message that the EU needs to address growth, security, immigration (again) and climate change (the U.S. please note). Still, with a turnout in excess of 50 percent, there are indications the Europeans still see their union as the future. In the wake of the Brexit debacle, it seems the other Euro populist movements are determined to fight for their cause from inside the EU, not on the outside with little influence.

Incidentally, I was impressed by the BBC World News TV election coverage Sunday, May 26, and its first-class presenter Ros Atkins. I learned a lot about the EU, its procedures, the debating arguments and how countries from Germany to Latvia voted. If only Brexit voters had been educated likewise.

Where the UK stands

Embarrassingly, Britain’s pragmatic standing in the world seems to be falling by the day. I’ve lost count of the number of barbed Monty Python jokes I’ve seen in print. As my good friend John Ridley, of Hildenborough, Kent, told me, “I can’t recall any other democratic country committing an act of such extreme self-harm ever before.”

The Brexit fiasco shows on a macro level that elections do matter and do have consequences — in this instance, for an entire nation and its future. And the dangers of putting such a critical issue to an ill-informed public by way of a loosely worded referendum have been fully exposed.

If there is a lesson for us all, it is a message that TBR News Media carries at every election: Your vote counts, please vote — and do understand what you’re voting for. That applies from presidential elections to the local fire departments, libraries and schools (the turnout for the recent Three Village Central School District budget vote was abysmal).

With Brexit still unresolved, I am readying myself for a part 3 Your Turn article but further patience may be required on the part of myself and TBR readers. Will there be a second referendum, general election, another EU extension or a hard no deal?

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books. An updated edition of his second book, “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous,” has just
been published.

From the view of a Brit, drawing parallels to elections in the U.S.

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By John Broven

Part 1 of 2

After 46 years, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is due to leave the European Union March 29 in an exercise that has been labeled Brexit. You may have heard the term on BBC World News, C-SPAN2’s “Prime Minister’s Questions” and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” (HBO), or read about the ongoing saga in The New York Times or The Washington Post. Still, in general the United States media coverage has been relatively muted in what has been a complex, often hard-to-understand process. Yet there are enough parallel circumstances across the pond to warrant making it a big news event over here in the U.S.

John Broven. Photo by Diane Wattecamps

It certainly matters a lot if, like me, you were born in England and are not happy with the Brexit decision. Before I proceed with my personal observations, let me give a brief backdrop to the Brexit scenario.

Brexit is a crude abbreviation of “British exit” from the European political and economic union of 28 countries that allows seamless movement of goods and citizens between each member state. Britain’s withdrawal was determined by a referendum held June 23, 2016, in which the “leave” voters outpointed the “remain” side by 17.4 to 16.1 million. In percentage terms it was 51.89 to 48.11. The turnout was some 33.5 million voters out of a possible 46.5 million, 72.1 percent of the registered electorate. As I’ve been living over here for more than 15 years, I was not allowed to vote along with an estimated 700,000 expats and some 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Gerrymandering, anyone?

The UK referendum

I well remember the day when Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) announced there would be a referendum for Britain to leave the EU after he was re-elected in the general election of May 7, 2015. He had been the country’s leader since 2010 in a coalition government with the pro-European Liberal Democrats, but against all expectation the Conservatives won the election outright. At the time I asked myself, “Why call a referendum?” What I didn’t know was that Cameron wanted to quell once and for all the rebellious EU leavers in his own party and thwart the rise of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.

To my mind, Cameron compounded his disastrous decision of placing party politics on a national stage by agreeing to put the referendum to the people in the simplest of terms:

• Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. Yes or No.

The openness of the referendum wording gave voters, fed up with years of austerity, a chance to kick the government without understanding the full consequences of their actions. The many dire economic warnings of a precipitous EU exit, ranging from the Bank of England governor to President Barack Obama (D), were riposted as fearmongering.

England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not. London voted overwhelmingly to remain, but the industrial North — the equivalent of our rust belt — predictably went to the leavers. Not surprisingly, the majority of the 50-and-overs, with their rose-tinted memories, voted to leave. On the other hand, the younger generation was largely in favor of remaining, feeling more European and with less attachment to the days of the British Empire. Interestingly, the peak share of any sector came from women between the ages of 18 and 24, with 80 percent voting to remain. Yet too many millennials, as over here in the last presidential election, did not bother to go to the voting booths.

As we have seen from the HBO film, “Brexit: The Uncivil War,” the Vote Leave campaign — led by notorious Cameron-backstabber Boris Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump (R)-acolyte Farage, prominent Tory politicians such as the overbearing Jacob Rees-Mogg and double-dealer Michael Gove — were always a step ahead of Vote Remain, led by Cameron himself, future prime minister Theresa May and reticent Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The leave effort was brilliantly masterminded by Dominic Cummings who outflanked his traditionally minded opponents by using computer algorithms devised by Cambridge Analytica, partly owned — whisper it low — by Robert Mercer from our own Head of the Harbor village on Long Island.

With new data available, Cummings understood there was a raft of disaffected voters that had been ignored by politicians of all parties for years. He proceeded to woo them with an appealing slogan, “Let’s take back control,” aided by a red bus carrying the false message that leaving the EU would save the British people £350 million a week (about $450 million), adding, “Let’s fund our NHS [National Health Service] instead — Vote Leave.” Without justification, it was said the country would be overrun by Islamic immigrants should Turkey be admitted to the EU. (It hasn’t.) It was a campaign of distorted facts, appealing to those who remembered the good old days when Britannia ruled the waves and the world map was colored mostly British Empire pink.

Earlier, I mentioned “parallel circumstances” in relation to the U.S. How about disaffected and ignored voters, a fear campaign based on immigration and Islamophobia, protest votes, absent millennials, discarded trade agreements, gerrymandering, a populist insurrection — and, I hate to say it, fake news. Does that sound familiar?

Events of June 2016

I was in England the week before the referendum and was astonished at how the youthful, vibrant atmosphere I felt on my last visit had evaporated into a sour mood. As a confirmed Europhile, I was even more amazed to see how finely balanced the polls were. The omens were not good, especially when state broadcaster, British Broadcasting Corporation, adopted a neutral stance giving equal time to both campaigns. Why did the leave campaign, with no governmental responsibility or track record, deserve the same coverage as the in-power remainers?

I was still in England when staunch remain campaigner and promising Labour member of parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered June 16, 2016, in her native West Yorkshire at age 41 by a right-wing extremist. Had politics become so divisive that a life had to be taken? Surely, I thought, the British people, with their long-held sense of justice and fair play, would rebel against such a dastardly act and vote for the “good guys” out of respect to Cox. The referendum campaign was halted temporarily, but a news blackout contrived to neutralize any widespread outrage at her death.

Referendum night June 23 was covered in full over here by BBC World News. Ironically, with the five-hour time difference, U.S. viewers were more up to date than the sleeping British public. I knew the writing was on the wall when early voting in Sunderland and Swindon went to the leavers. And yet Sunderland, in the relatively impoverished North East, was home to a major Nissan factory (jobs, jobs, jobs), with Swindon in the affluent South West housing a big Honda factory. Both Japanese car companies used their English bases for easy access to the European markets. What were the voters in those towns thinking by voting leave?

The leave campaign was victorious. A distraught Cameron resigned July 11, 2016, to be succeeded by May. It was up to her to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU, with a leaving date eventually set for March 29, 2019 — the end of this month. The protracted negotiations have been rocky, to say the least, and the outcome has still not been resolved at this late hour thanks mainly to a problem that should have been foreseen at the time of the referendum but wasn’t: the Irish backstop. Stay tuned.

Part 2 will bring matters up to date, with crucial parliamentary votes due to be held this week. John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, and has written three award-winning (American) music history books.

TBR News Media proofreader John Broven, left, recently received an award for his work as a rhythm and blues researcher and author. Above, Broven is pictured with Cyril Vetter and Deacon John at the Nov. 16 awards ceremony. Photo by David Normand

The Three Village area is brimming with talented residents, including a renowned music researcher and author who received a prestigious award this month.

John Broven, an East Setauket resident and TBR News Media proofreader, received the Slim Harpo Music Award in the Legend category Nov. 16 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The awards are named after the late musician James Moore, whose stage name was Slim Harpo. The Louisiana swamp blues man’s first song was 1957’s “I’m a King Bee,” which was covered by the Rolling Stones. A few years later, Harpo had hits with “Rainin’ in My Heart” and “Baby Scratch My Back,” according to Broven, and other British bands covered his music including the Kinks and Them with Van Morrison.

“He became quite a figurehead of the British R&B boom in the early 1960s,” Broven said.

A native of Kent, England, Broven is the author of “Record Makers and Breakers,” “Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans” and “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous.” In the latter two books, the author delved into Louisiana swamp blues, and in “South to Louisiana” he went into depth about Harpo’s career.

In the 1990s, while a consultant with Ace Records in London, Broven was responsible for transferring Harpo’s master tapes to CD which resulted in a three CD set release of the musician’s songs. The author said he never had the opportunity to meet Harpo due to the musician’s death at the age of 46 in 1970, a few months before Broven arrived in Baton Rouge to conduct research.

“The thousands of people who have read his books come in contact with Slim Harpo as a result of him and that is one of the reasons we chose him as our legend this year, because he’s been doing this sort of research for 40, 50 years now.”

— Johnny Palazzotto

“He was on the point of becoming an international star when he died in 1970,” Broven said.

The author said he was surprised when he was told that he was chosen for the award a few months ago.

“It’s great that Baton Rouge is preserving its history and keeping Slim’s name alive, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s an honor to be considered for this award,” he said.

Broven added that about 200 people attended the event, that also raises money for music education in schools and included a jam session with legendary rhythm and blues musicians such as Henry Gray, Carol Fran and Deacon John. Broven was introduced by Baton Rouge media entrepreneur Cyril Vetter.

Johnny Palazzotto, who is a member of the Slim Harpo Music Awards committee, said the board consists of nine members and includes Harpo’s stepson, William Gambler.

“We look for and search out people who have shown appreciation for his work, and not just for Slim’s, but Louisiana music in general,” Palazzotto said.

He said Broven was the ideal choice for the award, because the author is both a fan of Harpo’s work and Louisiana music.

“The thousands of people who have read his books come in contact with Slim Harpo as a result of him and that is one of the reasons we chose him as our legend this year, because he’s been doing this sort of research for 40, 50 years now,” Palazzotto said.

Broven is currently working on a revision of “South to Louisiana,” which will be released in 2018. The author said continuing to spread the word about regional roots music is important to him.

“The blues artists came out of the segregated South, and they did it by using their own talents,” Broven said. “It’s great to see this talent recognized not only by established musicians but also by young musicians who can learn so much from these first-generation artists.”

Tom Manuel leads the Jazz Loft Big Band on a bandstand at the loft, constructed from pieces of the original dance floor of New York’s famed Roseland Ballroom. Photo from The Jazz Loft

By John Broven

On May 21, Stony Brook Village reverberated to the sounds of a New Orleans-style street parade to mark the opening of The Jazz Loft at 275 Christian Ave. That happy day brought to reality the dreams of president and founder Tom Manuel.

“In the brief seven months the Jazz Loft has been open we’ve been able to accomplish the goals of our mission well ahead of schedule,” Manuel said. “Our performance calendar has presented some of the finest local, national and international artists; our educational programming has established our pre-college Jazz Institute in collaboration with Stony Brook University; and Our Young at Heart program has introduced wonderful music therapy events to people with memory loss.

“In addition to all of this our lecture series, family concerts, sponsored concert series and acquisitions and installations of jazz memorabilia, art, photography and more are ongoing and ever growing.”

Tom Manuel with children during The Creole Love Song: Operation Haiti! mission. Photo from The Jazz Loft

For establishing The Jazz Loft so quickly and effectively as a community resource, Manuel, a 37-year-old educator, historian and trumpet player, from St. James, is recognized by TBR News Media as a Person of the Year.

“Tom Manuel is a well-deserving nominee for Person of the Year,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “The Jazz Loft is an incredible gift to the 1st Council District. Tom’s passion for jazz has been transformed into a vivid, vibrant, collection of jazz history and a home for local talent, musicians and performances. In a short time, The Jazz Loft has become an incredible community space for art, history, culture and music.”

Visitors are able to view the loft’s museum exhibits featuring greats such as saxophonist Louis Jordan, the biggest African-American star of the 1940s and a massive influence on the ensuing rock ’n’ roll era; heartthrob blues and jazz crooner Arthur Prysock; upright bassist Lloyd Trotman, a prolific session musician who provided the bass line on Ben E. King’s anthem, “Stand by Me”; society bandleader Lester Lanin; and the seafaring vibraphonist and composer Teddy Charles.

Jean Prysock, of Searingtown, donated the memorabilia of her late husband Arthur Prysock, who played the top theaters and clubs from the 1940s onward and recorded for labels such as Decca, Mercury, Old Town and MGM-Verve. Why did she feel Manuel was worthy of support?

“He was young, he was enthusiastic, he was dedicated, he was sincere,” she said. “I first met him at a jazz bar in Patchogue. He led an 11-piece band, which sounded as if it could have played at New York’s Paramount Theatre.”

Apart from conducting bands, Manuel is an expert trumpet player, who credits among his inspirations Chet Baker, Warren Vache, Bobby Hackett, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Roy Eldridge. As an indication of the Jazz Loft’s authentic atmosphere, Manuel said the impressive three-tier bandstand was constructed from the original dance floor of the famed Roseland Ballroom on New York’s 52nd Street, adding, “It was an extreme labor of love, but certainly worth the effort.”

Manuel has directed a full program at The Jazz Loft while holding an adjunct post at Suffolk County Community College and a faculty position with Stony Brook University directing the jazz program of the Pre-College Music Division. If that’s not all, he has recently completed his doctorate, a DMA in jazz performance, at SBU and carried out charity work in Haiti.

“Tom is fully deserving of this award, not only for creating The Jazz Loft and making jazz available in our area, but also because of his remarkable spirit in bettering every community with which he engages,” Perry Goldstein, professor and chair at SBU’s Department of Music, said.

Tom Manuel (white hat at center) on opening day at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, on May 21 of this year. Photo by John Broven

“He motivated seven volunteers to go to Haiti with him after the recent hurricane, where they distributed 200 pairs of sneakers, clothing and school supplies purchased through donations. Tom radiates positive energy in everything he does,” Goldstein said.

Manuel readily acknowledges the help of others in giving liftoff to The Jazz Loft, including board members Laura Vogelsberg and Laura Stiegelmaier, many musicians and sponsors Harlan and Olivia Fischer who “donated our sound system, which is quite outstanding.” Manuel’s philosophy is summarized by the title of his well-received talk at the Three Village Community Trust’s annual celebration, held at The Jazz Loft in November: “Collaboration: The Art of Possibility.”

The jazz facility is housed in a historic building, comprising the old Stone Jug tavern and the former firehouse station, which accommodated the first museum in Stony Brook, founded in 1935 by real estate broker and insurance agent O.C. Lempfert. With the backing of Ward and Dorothy Melville, the museum was formally incorporated as the Suffolk Museum in 1939 before evolving into today’s The Long Island Museum. The renovated building, which was accorded landmark status by the Town of Brookhaven in September, is leased long term to The Jazz Loft by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

“Tom Manuel is a unique individual who was born into a generation of musicians steeped in rock ’n’ roll, rap and new wave,” Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said. “I got to know Tom because of a[n] … article about a ‘young man’ with a house full of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the jazz era. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization owned a vacant building … and Tom had a collection in need of a home. A year later The Jazz Loft opened in Stony Brook, where Tom shares his love of jazz with like-minded musicians and fans. Tom is truly a role model for the concept of accomplishing your dream through passion and dedication. We are proud to welcome The Jazz Loft and Dr. Tom Manuel into our community.”

Guest speakers at LIM’s symposium, from left, Lawrence Samuel, Stephen Patnode, Christopher Verga, Caroline Rob Zaleski and John Broven. Photo courtesy of John Broven

By Heidi Sutton

In conjunction with its popular exhibition, Long Island in the Sixties, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook hosted a symposium last Saturday that focused on how the 1960s affected Long Island in terms of suburban and economic trends such as the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the local civil rights movement, regional architecture and music.

Guest speakers included Stephen Patnode, Ph.D., of Farmingdale State College’s Department of Science, Technology and Sociology; Christopher Verga, professor of history at Suffolk County Community College and author of “Civil Rights on Long Island”; Caroline Rob Zaleski, preservationist and architectural historian and author of “Long Island Modernism, 1930-1980”; Lawrence R. Samuel, Ph.D., independent scholar and American cultural historian and author of “The End of the Innocence: The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair”; and John Broven, music historian and custodian of the family-owned Golden Crest Records and author of the award-winning “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans” and “Record Makers and Breakers.”

According to Joshua Ruff, director of Collections and Interpretation at the museum, the day-long event attracted over 60 attendees and “the audience was very enthusiastic and really enjoyed the day” adding that there was “great audience participation; a few people who attended were actually former band members of prominent 1960s bands on Long Island, and they became involved in John Broven’s talk. All in all, it was a super day and we are just so very thankful for the important support from the New York Council on the Humanities which made it all possible.”

Dresses on display at The Long Island Museum’s current exhibit, Long Island in the Sixties. Photo by Heidi Sutton

On Saturday, Oct. 22 from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will celebrate its blockbuster summer exhibition Long Island in the Sixties with a full-day symposium of the same name.

By the close of the 1960s, although the Long Island region had become more economically prosperous than 27 states, it was experiencing a wide array of social, political and cultural changes that went beyond demographic shifts and industrial development.

Five guest speakers will explore some of the most trenchant developments that occurred across the region during the 1960s. Join them to examine and more deeply understand the lasting impact that suburban and economic trends, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the local Civil Rights Movement, regional architecture and Long Island’s popular music made on this local area and in the United States at large.

Music historian John Broven will be a guest speaker at the symposium. File photo
Music historian John Broven will be a guest speaker at the symposium. File photo

Presenters will include Stephen Patnode, associate professor of history and acting chair of Farmingdale State College’s Department of Science, Technology and Sociology; Christopher Verga, professor of history at Suffolk County Community College and author of “Civil Rights on Long Island,” Arcadia Publishing Inc.; Caroline Rob Zaleski, preservationist and architectural historian and author of “Long Island Modernism, 1930-1980,” SPLIA and W.W. Norton; Lawrence R. Samuel, independent scholar and American cultural historian and author of “The End of the Innocence: The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair,” Syracuse University Press; and John Broven, music historian and custodian of the family-owned Golden Crest Records and author of the award-winning “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans,” Pelican Press, and “Record Makers and Breakers,” University of Illinois Press.

Participants will enjoy Q-and-A sessions with all speakers, lunch break and optional self-guided tour of the Gilding the Coasts exhibition. Admission is $12 adults, $10 for students, seniors and museum members (there is an additional, optional $10 lunch fee). Preregistration and prepayment are required. All fees include general museum admission. For more information, call The Long Island Museum’s Education Director Lisa Unander at 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

Landmark status is granted to The Jazz Loft building in Stony Brook. File photo

The following is an edited Town of Brookhaven public comment presentation made Sept. 1.

Good evening, Mr. Supervisor and town board members.

My name is John Broven, author of three books on American music history. I am privileged to live in a historic district of East Setauket, part of the beautiful Three Village area. My late father-in-law, Clark Galehouse, founded Golden Crest Records out of Huntington Station in 1956 and released many jazz albums among others — I think you know where I’m coming from.

I fully endorse the recommendation of Town Historian Barbara Russell and the Historic District Advisory Committee to accord The Jazz Loft building at 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook, landmark status. I would like to read my historical notes in support of my position.

The Jazz Loft building, in fact, consists of two historic structures: The Stone Jug and the 1921 firehouse. The building accommodated the first museum in Stony Brook, founded in 1935 by real estate broker and insurance agent O.C. (Cap) Lempfert, a keen hunter and taxidermist. At first, the museum was located in the home of Arthur Rayner where Saturday nature talks for children became a weekly event; naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy, of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School, led some of the nature walks.

Originally called the Suffolk County Museum of Natural History, it became known as the Little Museum in the Jug after it was moved to the Stone Jug storage building — a former tavern and social center of the village — with the backing of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville. The museum was formally incorporated as the Suffolk Museum in 1939.

You may be amused by a quote from a history of the Museums at Stony Brook, a later name before it became today’s prestigious The Long Island Museum: “The move was no small task since by that time the collection include a 400-pound loggerhead turtle, an eagle with a 6-foot wingspread, a trumpeter swan, and hundreds of small collection items.”

I am aware that Mr. Lempfert’s granddaughters, Mary and Jane L’Hommedieu, who both now live on the West Coast, are delighted at the town’s potential recognition of their grandfather’s museum building — and thus his pioneering work. Jane tells me he also made and exhibited duck decoys, collected Native American artifacts from his property for the museum and even constructed a wigwam. A major achievement of the museum to this day was to collect and show the fabulous paintings of William Sidney Mount.

It is wonderful that the building has come alive this year after careful restoration as The Jazz Loft incorporating a museum — how appropriate! — live jazz and education facilities. What Tom Manuel, a talented jazz musician, educator and historian, his board and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization have done to date is very impressive, not only for the Three Village area but also for Long Island tourism — and jazz itself. I know Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) attended the opening. By granting The Jazz Loft building landmark status, in effect the town will be protecting and preserving our past, present and future heritage. I trust the town board will support its Historic District Advisory Committee because I consider all the historical and cultural boxes have been ticked.

The result: A unanimous vote in favor.

John Broven is a member of the editorial staff of this newspaper. He gives thanks to Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretation of The Long Island Museum, for providing historical detail by way of “The Carriage Museum” (1987) publication.

The author with famous New Orleans R&B record producers Harold Battiste, left, and Wardell Quezergue, right, in 2010. Photo from John Broven

By Rita Egan

For those who meet John Broven, if they ask the proofreader at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers questions about his past, the mild-mannered Englishman may treat them to stories about the old-time record industry. For those who don’t have the opportunity to meet the music historian, there are his three books: “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans,” “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous” and “Record Makers and Breakers.”

Recently Broven had the opportunity to greatly revise and republish his first book “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans,” which was originally published in the United States in 1978 and under the title “Walking to New Orleans: The Story of R&B New Orleans” in Great Britain in 1974. 

Selling more than 20,000 copies initially and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the book is a comprehensive history of the local rhythm and blues industry filled with information about the careers of icons such as Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and many more. A great deal of the material is derived from interviews that the author conducted himself.

Broven said it was about three years ago when the publisher, Pelican Books, approached him about updating the book. While he kept the paperback to the basic rhythm and blues period of the 1940s to the 1960s, it gave him a chance to update the basic information as well as incorporate several post-1974 interviews. This edition is significantly different from the original publication.

“The book is still very well respected, and I’m very pleased it’s given me the chance to say: Well, this is as up to date and as good as I can get it,” he said.

The cover of Broven’s book. Photo from John Broven
The cover of Broven’s book. Photo from John Broven

Rhythm and blues has filled the author’s life since his early years growing up in England. Broven said he started collecting records as a teenager and was fortunate to go to school with Mike Leadbitter, who launched the publication Blues Unlimited in 1963 along with another schoolmate Simon Napier.

He described Leadbitter as a great visionary, and when he and Napier formed the magazine, he asked Broven if he would like to write for them. The writer said he had no experience at the time and Leadbitter said to him: “You have all these records, write about them.”

It was the first international blues magazine, and Broven said he was in the right place at the right time. When the writer traveled to the United States with Leadbitter in 1970, they discovered numerous American artists who they felt were being forgotten.

Leadbitter said to him: “Why don’t you write a book?” The author said the original edition centered more around Fats Domino, who Broven described as “a great American success story.”

Broven said he is happy he had the opportunity to write about the genre. “In general I find that Americans just don’t realize what an impact their music has had overseas and internationally. Rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues spread from here [to] literally all over the world,” the author said.

The writer explained that, “When I wrote the book in the early 1970s, New Orleans rhythm and blues was considered to be part of popular rock ’n’ roll and very few people saw the link between its jazz heritage, and people saw them as almost two distinct forms. I think one of the things was to show that there was a natural progression from the jazz era into rhythm and blues and soul music. In other words, rhythm and blues is as much a part of the New Orleans heritage as jazz is,” he said.

The author said he was working in banking when he wrote the original edition of the book, and after 31 years in the banking industry, he became a consultant with Ace Records of London, England.

With the record label, he traveled to locations such as New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles. It was during this time that he gained a deeper knowledge of the music business and met and interviewed more renowned recording artists, including B.B. King, together with many pioneering record men and women for the critically acclaimed “Record Makers and Breakers” (2009).

For the New Orleans book, Broven said he feels the interviews have stood the test of time, and the subjects, the majority born and raised in the city, are marvelous storytellers. “I couldn’t have done it without all those great personalities and their stories,” he said. Many are no longer alive, which makes the interviews even more precious, he added.

Broven has many favorite interviewees including Cosimo Matassa, the owner of three recording studios during his lifetime. Broven credits Matassa for giving New Orleans rhythm and blues its sound, particularly the “street” drum sound.

The author said Matassa’s studios provided a relaxed atmosphere for artists, and, in the 1940s and 1950s, “there was not the overdubbing and multitrack recording that you’ve got now. It was almost a live performance. If someone hit a wrong note, that was the end of that take and you had to do it all over again,” he said.

Broven’s musical journey eventually brought him to the United States permanently. While working with Ace Records he met his late wife, Shelley, who he said was very supportive of his record research work. She had inherited the independent label Golden Crest Records, of Huntington Station, from her father, Clark Galehouse.

’In general I find that Americans just don’t realize what an impact their music has had overseas and internationally.’ — John Broven

Broven said he arranged a meeting with Shelley in 1993 to discuss a licensing deal for the Wailers’ “Tall Cool One,” a Top 40 instrumental hit on her father’s label for Ace’s best-selling series, “The Golden Age of American Rock ’n’ Roll.” They were both single and soon began dating. He joked, “I always say we signed two contracts. One was for the record and the other one was for marriage.”

When he married Shelley in 1995, he moved to the United States. The couple originally lived in Cold Spring Harbor but moved to East Setauket after two years.

For the new edition of his book, Broven will be traveling from Long Island to New Orleans for signings and book talks. He hopes that readers, especially the younger generation, will take an interest and learn about this era of American music. He believes the music is just as good today and said, “That’s the definition of classical music.”

“As I said in the book, in the introduction, my one wish is to make people aware not only of this great music, but also to make them rush to their record collections to play all those records — and if they haven’t got the records, to try and seek them out,” Broven said.

For more information about the author, visit www.johnbroven.com or to purchase his books, go to www.amazon.com.

Jazz Loft’s Tom Manuel and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine get ready for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by John Broven

By John Broven

Jazz past, present and future arrived with a blast at Stony Brook Village on Saturday, May 21, with the opening of a new home dedicated to the music: The Jazz Loft at 275 Christian Ave.

Jazz Loft’s Tom Manuel and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine get ready for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by John Broven
Jazz Loft’s Tom Manuel and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine get ready for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by John Broven

The celebrations commenced with an early afternoon street parade, New Orleans-style, prior to a ribbon cutting in which Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented Tom Manuel, the Jazz Loft’s founder and president, with a proclamation from the Town of Brookhaven.

Also in attendance were Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which owns the Loft’s historic building.

Soon the first notes were struck by the LIU Post Big Band performing Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite” under the direction of Manuel to a standing-room-only crowd.

Visitors were able to view the Loft’s museum exhibits featuring greats such as saxophonist Louis Jordan, the biggest African-American star of the 1940s and a massive influence on the subsequent rock ’n’ roll era; heartthrob crooner Arthur Prysock; upright bassist Lloyd Trotman, a prolific session musician; society bandleader Lester Lanin; and the seafaring vibraphonist and composer Teddy Charles.

In the evening, the Jazz Loft Big Band concluded the day’s festivities backing up vocalist Lauren Kinhan, a member of the New York Voices, for a supper-club audience on a stage constructed from the dance floor of the famous Roseland Ballroom on 52nd Street in Manhattan.

From left, Assemblyman Engelbright, Supervisor Romaine, Tom Manuel (holding proclamation), Councilwoman Cartright and Gloria Rocchio. Photo from WMHO
From left, Assemblyman Engelbright, Supervisor Romaine, Tom Manuel (holding proclamation), Councilwoman Cartright and Gloria Rocchio. Photo from WMHO

“Our opening day was so moving to me,” Manuel, of St. James, said in a recent interview. “To parade through Stony Brook with 100 people in tow, a dozen classic cars honking those great vintage horns, cutting the ribbon — there just aren’t words to express my joy. It was a real highlight to have so many people there that helped make the Jazz Loft become a reality. It also was a real treat to look around the building and see some up-and-coming students in the same space as some of the jazz world’s greatest musicians.”

Manuel, an educator, musician and jazz historian, said the Jazz Loft is unfolding plans that “relate to our tri-fold mission of jazz preservation, education and performance. Our performance calendar for spring and summer brings to the Loft and Stony Brook Village some outstanding talent, recognized not just locally, but nationally and internationally. Our education calendar is about to be unveiled and includes some wonderful listening lectures and Jazz 101 classes presented by outstanding educators and performers.”

He added that the Loft is looking forward to displaying new acquisitions including memorabilia from jazz legends such as Dave Brubeck, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Lloyd Trotman and others.

From today, June 2, the Jazz Loft will be open Thursdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children under 12 free. For more information, including upcoming concerts and programs, visit www.thejazzloft.org or call 631-751-1895.

John Broven is a member of the editorial staff at Times Beacon Record Newspapers and the author of three books: “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans” (recently republished), “South to Louisiana” and “Record Makers and Breakers.”

Musicians celebrate the opening of The Jazz Loft. Photo by John Broven
Musicians celebrate the opening of The Jazz Loft. Photo by John Broven