A Band Plays Tribute

It was cold in the street outside The Bottom Line – hardly 10 degrees – but nobody inside the GreenWich village music hall wanted to go anywhere anyway.

Instead, they stayed past midnight, clapping, stomping and singing along with the band of funk musicians that played beneath a portrait of Weldon Irvine, a fixture on the Queens music scene before he died last year.

“Jamaica funk, that’s what it is. Funkin’ for Jamaica!”.

“Kiss-FM” disc jockey Fred “Bugsy” Buggs, the evening’s emcee and himself a product of the streets of Jamaica All-Star Reunion Band.

You don’t see that on BET, do you? Buggs asked the crowd. “MTV either!”

Most of the band had known each other since childhood, having grown up together on the streets of Jamaica. They had learned to Jam in each other’s basements and front parlors.

They dreamed big and would refer to each other as “the Jamaica Kats and Kittens”

Donald Blackman learned the keyboards playing at Christ Pentecostal Temple across from his home on 157th Street.

On summer afternoons, he and friends often jammed ini his living room – the windows thrown open wide so passerby could feel the love.

It was just to let the world know where the funk came from” Blackman said of the two-set performance at The Bottom Line. “Because before there were the Funkaleics there were the Jamaica Kats, Weldon decided it was time the world knew.

Irvine, who is the best known for penning the 1968 hit “To be Young Gifted and Black” with Nina Simone, had gotten to know Blackman and other musicians from the neighborhood.

Blackman met him at a Jazzmobile concert in the early 1970s, and Irvine, who had worked with music notables from Miles Davis to Aretha Franklin, persuaded Blackman and gis friends that they could crack the music scene, too.

“He would always sit us down and teach us the music business”, said Blackman who organized the tribute to the fallen music guru.

Jamaica has long been infused by music talent. James Brown lived St. Albans, as did John Coltrane.

As kids, most members of the band peeked through the fence at Court Base’s house in the Addisweigh Park where sax legend Illinois Jacquet still lives.

By their late teens and early 20s, man of the precocious musicians had earned a few dollars a night sitting in at local juke joints such the Village Door on Baisley Boulevard and the Skylark at Merrick and Farmers boulevards.

But as the years passed, many in the old gang went their separate ways.

By 1978, drummer Lenny White had gone to San Francisco to cut an album with Return to Forever. In 1980, the sumpter Tom Browne blew his way to the top of the charts with the youth anthem “Funk” For Jamaica”

Marcus miller, a 21-year-old bassist from from Richdale Village, backed him on bass guitar.

Miller – who had graduated from the LaGuardina High School of Music and Art with South Ozone Park keyboardist Lessete Wilson – hooked up with Miles Davis, they won a Grammy 11 years later for co-written Luther Vandross.