The Great Hill is an open hilltop meadow with picnic tables, a three – quarter mile soft surface oval path (good for a jog), and green grass under stately American elms. The site has become known recently for "Great Jazz on the Great Hill," an annual summer music concert sponsored by the Central Park Conservancy that features jazz musicians and their music. Late on a summer afternoon 300 to 400 people gather to listen to legendary players like Billy Taylor, Max Roach, Gloria Lynne, Roy Hargrove, or Wynton Marsalis.
Although the jazz seems a natural in this setting, Olmsted and Vaux originally had a much different use in mind for their landscape. They designed the Great Hill, the third highest elevation in the Park, as a carriage concourse where passengers could enjoy commanding views of the Hudson River and the Palisades.
But with the passing of time, and the growing of trees, the view slowly disappeared. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Great Hill was turned into a recreation area with bocce, tennis and volleyball courts, and horseshoe pits. By the 1980s, it was an abandoned and dilapidated ruin. The restoration of the landscape in 1993, as a place for community leisure, finally gave the Great Hill the contemporary identity it needed. It now is the site of family and church picnics, Frisbee games, running or race walking on the oval track – all within the surrounding woods of magnificent American and English elms.
And then, one late afternoon each summer, jazz takes over. People stretch on the lawn, prop their heads on their hands, shade their eyes from setting sun, and let music do the rest.
Pictures of Great Hill
Snow on Great Hill. 4 December 2005.