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Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival Breathes New Life into Historic Harlem Clubs

For decades, Harlem was the world’s go-to hotspot for jazz. But today, most of the big-name talents of the genre stick to glossy venues in downtown Manhattan.

However, there is a local scene thriving in Harlem that offers up live music almost every night in the same classic clubs that once served up sets from Sara Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie. On Monday night, a new festival hopes to draw attention to old-school venues like Minton’s Playhouse and the Lenox Lounge by bringing modern-day luminaries to Harlem for a week of concerts. The Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival will feature performances by Jason Moran, Wycliffe Gordon, Geri Allen, and Meshell Ndegeocello, among others.

“It’s a chance to reconnect for people who haven't been uptown for a while,” said John Reddick, a longtime Harlem resident who gives tours of his neighborhood for the tourism group Harlem One Stop. “To find out that these facilities are still out there and still trying to keep their history alive in a contemporary way.”

The organizers of the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival, which include The Apollo Theater, Harlem Stage and Jazzmobile, are reflecting a “modernity-meets-tradition” aesthetic in their festival programming.

On Wednesday, the Alhambra Ballroom presents a “Battle of the Big Bands” event, in which two swing bands will play opposite each other and try to win the affections of the dance floor. The event was a favorite at the legendary (and now-defunct) Savoy Ballroom.

During his Friday and Saturday concerts, Jason Moran will play updated Fats Waller covers. The kick-off concert on Monday night at Minton’s Playhouse will showcase Harlem’s legacy during its show featuring drummer T.S. Monk, who is the son of Thelonious Monk.

For a festival schedule, click here. Or scroll down to get a virtual tour of Harlem's jazz shrines featured in the festival. The voice you'll hear is Harlem One Stop tour guide John Reddick.

Lenox Lounge at 288 Malcolm X Boulevard

The Lenox Lounge, on Malcolm X Boulevard. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Minton’s Playhouse at 206 W. 118th Street

Minton’s Playhouse, a fixture on 118th street since 1938. Photo Mr.119th Street/Flickr

Showman’s Café at 375 W 125th Street

The exterior of Showman’s Café, a famous musician’s hang out in Harlem. Photo courtesy Apollo Theater Archives.


Alhambra Ballroom at 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard