All That Jazz
A spotlight on the American Jazz Museum in Harlem, New York City.
Tucked away in East Harlem, just off the main drag, the Jazz Museum is located at 104 E 126th St., Ste. 2D, New York, New York, 10035 (the Visitors Center is at Ste. 2C). The Jazz Museum is a bit of a hidden gem but worth the search. Close to 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 trains to 125th Street, it’s a cinch to find by subway or by cab. Call them at 212.348.8300.
What You’ll Find
Tons of jazz memorabilia, including photos, books, magazines, recordings and documentaries, a rich schedule of free events, guest speakers, musicians, classes, lectures, comfy couches and a charming, homey atmosphere. An ultra-friendly staff will enlighten you on anything you want to know about jazz, jazz history and especially as it pertains to the area. Not only will they answer all of your questions, find you the magazines you never knew you were looking for and play you the CDs, records or DVDs of your liking, but they’ll even point you to upcoming jazz shows at the Village Vanguard (touted as the "Carnegie Hall of Jazz" by some) and other venues about town.
Make Sure You
Meet Burt. "He’s our number one volunteer and he knows so much. All of our visitors are so impressed when they meet him," says Tracy Austin, the museum’s administrative assistant.
Also, check out the Savory Collection—nearly 1,000 previously coveted discs of radio broadcasts from Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Count Basie and the like made by audio engineer, William Savory. In fact, the collection holds the first-ever recording of Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit."
Aside from viewing the current exhibit and experiencing the visitors center, attend one of their programs, like Harlem Speaks, which honors individuals who work currently to keep jazz alive today, their many panels and lectures, their courses with guest instructors like Jazz for Curious Readers and Jazz for Curious Listeners, and their several concert series. Plus, locations sometimes vary so, if you’re just visiting, the event of your choice may lead you to a new area of the city you had yet to discover.
On your way out, visit one of the neighborhoods eateries. Red Rooster Harlem (212.792.9001), named in honor of an old neighborhood speakeasy, offers creative comfort food (think Jerk bacon and egg, Harlem chowder, smoked corn Succotash and "Fried Yard Bird") reflecting Harlem’s diverse population. Silvia’s, founded by Sylvia Woods, the "Queen of Soul Food" provides visitors just that—between their regular menu and "Gospel Sunday" menu of classics like stewed chicken and dumplings, oxtail, short ribs, collard greens, okra and tomato gumbo, catfish and other smothered, stewed, fried and barbequed meats.
Harlem is arguably second only to New Orleans in terms of communities rich in jazz history so make sure you soak it all in.
Also, Executive Director, Loren Schoenberg, and Co-Director, Christian McBride, are planning on moving the museum to a new Upper Manhattan location in the near future, across from the Apollo Theater. They haven’t set a specific date but make sure you double check to see if the move has happened yet.
Remember that the Jazz Museum offers most things for free and while it’s great to have free entry into the exhibits, the visitors center and the many programs they offer, visitor donations will help keep the place running for generations.
All you need is an open mind, time, curiosity and a little cash.