A trio of Harlem’s most esteemed cultural institutions – The Apollo Theater, Harlem Stage and Jazzmobile – are banding together to present the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival, which begins Monday, May 9, and runs through Sunday, May 15.
It’s a concept that both celebrates and supports the legacy of jazz in the Uptown community, bringing both established and new artists to some of the same sites where jazz first flourished — venues like Lenox Lounge, Showman’s Café, the Apollo Theater, Alhambra Ballroom and Minton’s Playhouse.
Organizers are hoping the weeklong festival will become an annual celebration that stimulates a jazz-oriented resurgence of opportunities in the community. Ticket prices for a wide variety of events have been set at an affordable price of $10 to draw a diverse crowd of neighbors, New Yorkers and tourists to programming ranging from concert, club and cabaret to dance events.
And to further maximize enjoyment and attendance, many shows have been scheduled so fans can make it to several events each day. There’s even shuttle service planned for Friday and Saturday nights.
“For much of the 20th Century,” says Apollo Theater Executive Producer Mikki Shepard, “Harlem was synonymous with jazz. Few other communities fostered jazz as a popular art form for both musicians and audiences as Harlem did.”
And the Apollo, of course, set the stage for both the music and many of the legendary careers that would follow: from the history-making night in 1934 when Ella Fitzgerald first won Amateur Night to performances by Benny Carter, Nat “Cannonball” Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway.
But, as we said, the Apollo is just one of your entertainment options starting May 9.
Following is just a sampling of what’s on the schedule:
May 9: Late Night Jam Sessions & Conversations with Legends at Minton’s Playhouse – Jazzmobile re-creates Minton’s legendary “cutting contests” with emerging jazz talents and an all-star house band curated by T.S. Monk with Robert O’Meally leading provocative discussions. (May 9 from 9 p.m.-closing.)
May 10 and 11: Blazing Tongues – The Singers & Writers of Lenox Loung–Harlem Stage, in partnership with Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies and Institute for Research in African American Studies, curates two evenings of music and literature. (May 10 and 11 at 7 p.m.)
May 13: Battle of the Big Bands – Jazzmobile produces two nights of big bands featuring the Jimmy Heath Big Band and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra at the Alhambra Ballroom. (May 13 from 7 p.m. to midnight.)
May 13: The Fats Waller Dance Party: Small’s Paradise Tribute with Jason Moran & Meshell Ndegeocello – Harlem Stage presents two nights of Waller’s music taken to new heights in a social mixing dance party featuring 2010 MacArthur Genius pianist Jason Moran & dynamic singer/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. (May 13 and 14, 9 and 11 p.m. both nights.)
May 13 and 14: Wycliffe Gordon’s Jazz a la Carte – The Apollo’s variety shows of the 1930s make a comeback under the direction of Wycliffe Gordon with the Temple University Big Band, featuring vocalists Carla Cook and Nikki Yanofsky, tap savant Savion Glover, sax wunderkind Grace Kelly, Director/Choreographer Ken Roberson, and trombone prodigy Corey Wilcox, among others. (May 13 at 8 p.m. and May 14 at 5 and 8 p.m.)
May 13 and 14: Geri Allen Quartet Jam Session – During the 1940’s and ‘50’s, the Harlem jazz scene was famous for its after-hours “jam sessions.” Jazz pianist and producer Geri Allen ”jams” with her quartet and special guests at the Apollo Music Cafe. (May 13 and 14 at 10 p.m. Doors open at 9 p.m.)