On the morning of August 12 1958, a gaggle of musicians gathered in front of a brownstone in Harlem. There wasn’t enough space for all 57 of them on the stoop, so many spilled out onto the street. Among them stood Thelonious Monk, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. Art Kane was behind the camera. The picture the young photographer snapped that morning was for a cover story about Harlem’s jazz scene for Esquire Magazine. It was a great day in Harlem.
Harlem’s jazz history is rich and long. Many of the significant venues from that time still exist today and the new ones popping up pay great heed to the cultural treasures of their neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater
Ella Fitzgerald became Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theater. She was the trepid 17-year-old girl that stood up on Amateur Night and belted out Connee Boswell’s “Judy,” winning the first place prize. For those who want to try their luck at following in the footsteps of greatness, the Apollo still hosts Amateur Night on Wednesdays and they take applications. Otherwise, tickets for audience members start at $19.
The Red Rooster
Marcus Samuelsson’s homage to the 138th Street speakeasy that was once a regular haunt for Nat King Cole, bursts at the seams on weekday nights. In its current guise on Malcolm X Boulevard, community, diversity and music come together over artisan mac ‘n’ cheese and an extensive cocktail list. For those in need of a digestion aide, the Rooster recently openly a club – Ginny’s – in the basement.
The Corner Social
Testament to the reinvigoration of Harlem’s music scene is the opening of the Corner Social directly opposite the Red Rooster. Far from an alternative watering hole when you can’t find a seat at the Red Rooster, the Corner Social is a destination unto itself. More laidback, and with an exposed brick design that nods more to the bars of downtown Manhattan, it pulls in a bustling local crowd.
The Lenox Lounge
Like the Apollo, the Lenox Lounge is one of New York’s legendary music establishments. Behind the velvet curtain at the back of the art deco bar is its infamous Zebra Room. It was here that John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra and Miles Davies would perform. Sit at the bar, sip bourbon and soak up the dim chatter of the regulars. Or book a table in the Zebra Lounge and catch a performance that will take you back to a bygone era.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
The Harlem Jazz Museum on East 126th Street is dedicated to showcasing the role Harlem played in nurturing the national jazz scene. Under the direction of Loren Schoenberg, the museum puts on a packed schedule of events. It also houses the Savory Collection, a set of over 1,000 recordings made during the swing era of the 1930s.
There is no better start –or indeed end – to a night of dancing than with a plate of soul food. The understated interior of Sylvia’s is a humble setting for this culinary heavyweight. The Malcolm X Boulevard institution has been serving up their famous BBQ ribs, smothered chicken and collard greens since the sixties. It’s one of the few places in New York you can find collard greens made in the traditional Southern style – cooked in fatty, salted meats.
Header image courtesy of http://harlem.orgGoogle+