The Apollo The­ater, Harlem Stage and Jazzmo­bile, Inc. present


The Harlem Jazz Shrines Fes­ti­val is an annual event cel­e­brat­ing the clas­sic clubs and venues that made Harlem the Jazz Mecca.
While pay­ing trib­ute to the greats of the past, this Fes­ti­val is firmly rooted in the present, high­light­ing today’s top and emerg­ing tal­ent and
show­ing that Harlem really is where it’s at!




An excerpt from “HARLEM SHRINES

By Robert G. O’Meally

Harlem is a dream-place where so much impor­tant cul­tural his­tory has been enacted that as we explore the power of Harlem’s past we also feel its pres­ence. Take the M60-bus along 125th, or emerge from the A-train at 125th or 145th or from the 2 or 3 train at 125th or 135th—you enter a city-within-a-city that is puls­ing with vivid, lived expe­ri­ence. Behind these Harlem doors, some of the best music on the planet is being played.

Guide­books to Harlem’s musi­cal scene could list lit­er­ally dozens of places where music that claimed the atten­tion of the nation and then of the world was shaped and set in motion. Places with names like the Bam­boo Inn, Base­ment Brownie’s, Fatman’s Café, Hot-Cha Bar and Grill, the Hoofer’s Club, the Lafayette The­ater, The Nest, Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, the Savoy Ball­room, and the Yeah Man–every one of them now gone.

But praise the cul­tural bridges that still are stand­ing! The Alham­bra Ball­room, the Apollo The­ater, Minton’s Play­house, and Showman’s Café: These are the Harlem dream-places that are alive and grow­ing and that this fes­ti­val cel­e­brates as Harlem Jazz Shrines.

Shrines are holy places to which the faith­ful trek to see and per­haps to touch relics of golden ages, time past. To hear again in pas­sion­ate recital—if only as memories–evocations of the music that made all these places famous in their day, and which pro­claim them now not just as local mon­u­ments but as national and inter­na­tional treasures.

One of the mys­ter­ies in the music made famous in these Harlem Jazz Shrines is that it has never been enough for musi­cians who would cap­ture the spirit of Harlem music merely to recreate—however lovingly–the styles of yesteryear’s great ones. For what makes the term “shrine” so appro­pri­ate here is that this music at its best is flu­ently improvised—and thus truer to its par­tic­u­lar moment than to any other time; it is music cre­ated devot­edly “in the moment,” as the musi­cians say. Fur­ther, artists in this tra­di­tion are ever in search of their own ways of play­ing, their own voices in music. In other words, those who have sur­vived the threshing-floor of the Apollo or Minton’s evoke the spirit of the past at the same time that they project their own hard-won iden­ti­ties as artists. Thus has the word “shrine,” with its reli­gious impli­ca­tions, spe­cial appro­pri­ate­ness: for Harlem’s top musicians—who, Ralph Elli­son says, wore their instru­ments as preach­ers wore their crosses—discovered that as they found their musi­cal voices they also found their souls. And touched ours.

Such reli­gious lan­guage may sound wrong for places which, in their hey­day, were famously hazy with smoke, loud with sounds onstage and off­stage, and—some of them—sounding-off with good smells waft­ing from the kitchen. (In Minton’s the pro­pri­etor loved to serve music but also “loved to put a pot on the range.”) And yet the words def­i­nitely apply: These sec­u­lar places serve a kind of sacred func­tion as Harlem Jazz Shrines.

Robert G. O’Meally is the Zora Neale Hurston Pro­fes­sor, Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity. He is the author of Lady Day: The Many Faces of Bil­lie Hol­i­day and edi­tor of The Jazz Cadence of Amer­i­can Culture.