Residents of West Philadelphia and surrounding areas can now enjoy the sweet sounds of jazz outdoors at Malcolm X Memorial Park, 52nd and Pine streets, which started its 2016 West Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Series.
The summer music series has become a staple for residents and visitors since it first began some 18 years ago and every two weeks, weather permitting, guests flock to the park to enjoy live performances in the park.
“We try to have the best jazz music around and we have been doing it for 17 or 18 years,” said Greg Cojulun Jr., president of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park which maintains and organizes events at the park.
“We have a few people who have been around for a while who knows their music and knows what’s going on,” said Cojulun about the performers who play there.
The park was once a place known for crime and vice until concerned residents stepped in and began the process of transformation.
“A group came around and changed the name [of the park] from Black Oak Park to Malcolm X Memorial Park and then there was a lady who lived on 51st and Pine who used to bring students from Huey Elementary School and they used to do some planting of flowers and everything,” he said.
The park also had help from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society who gave a substantial grant to help improve the park.
The transformation from the former crime-ridden Black Oak Park to today’s family-friendly Malcolm X Memorial Park was the result of collaborative efforts between various individuals, groups, businesses and legislators.
“We worked with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society trying to get it together, we worked with Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, we worked with Parks and Recreation and the police department,” said Cojulun.
“We’re trying to have the best park in Philadelphia.”
Today the park hosts weddings, provides space for outdoor organizations who hold events there and creates space for the community to fellowship.
About the Friends of Malcolm X Park, Cojulun says that the group consist of approximately 10 dedicated members doing their best to make the park a place in which the neighborhood could be proud.
“We have a fantastic crew, some have been here from the beginning, others came aboard and they are a fantastic help. Everyone in the organization is tremendous and I really do appreciate them,” Cojulun said.
The park has several key supporters and one of them is Blackwell who can often be seen at the park during its jazz and oldies night events.
“When we first came to her in the 1990s, all we wanted was one little tot-lot for the kids because when I was growing up in the area in the '60s we only had one little area in the park to play in,” said Cojulun.
With Blackwell’s help, the park now has a much larger playground area for children to play.
Since that time, Blackwell has been one of the park’s biggest advocates. And, yes, she even gets out on the dance floor from time to time and dance to her favorite oldies.
The 2016 West Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Series began May 26 with keyboardist Glen Bryann and will continue every other Thursday until its conclusion Sept. 15 when Angel Baby is scheduled to perform.