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Jason Moran and Harlem Jazz

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Monday May 09, 2011

From The Wall Street Journal

Follow the Sound Uptown: The Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival Defends Its Home Turf
By: Will Friedwald

In 1932, Harlem was so firmly established as the world capitol of jazz and African-American culture in general that “black cinema” films like “Harlem Is Heaven” were playing on the nation’s big screens. Jazz flourished and grew like it could have in no other time and place. “You might have had 15 great clubs on one block, all going at once,” said the trombonist and bandleader Wycliffe Gordon. “Imagine going into a joint to check out Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, and sitting next to you are Duke Ellington and James P. Johnson.”

Harlem was ground zero for jazz from the time it spread beyond New Orleans, around WWI, to the height of the hard-bop era in the 1960s. During the early years, the music proved to be a potent force for breaking down the barriers of racism; ironically, though, the end of segregation also meant the end of Harlem as the unchallenged center of the music. With the great victories of the Civil Rights movement leading to more opportunities, many of the clubs and concert halls in Midtown and below began luring the best from Harlem. Since then, the neighborhood has hosted a thriving local scene, but it is no longer an international destination.

“I can’t believe how many people I meet around the world who tell me they’ve come to New York, but were warned away from coming uptown,” said pianist Jason Moran, a longtime Harlem resident.

Now Messrs. Moran and Gordon—another Harlem denizen—are aiming, in Mr. Gordon’s words, to help “bring the music back home to Harlem” with headlining slots in the inaugural Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival, the most ambitious attempt to present jazz uptown in a long while. Beginning Monday, the weeklong series will feature 35 shows in eight different spaces, including the historic Alhambra Ballroom, the Lenox Lounge and, of course, the Apollo Theater. In addition to music (including performances by drummer T.S. Monk, pianist Geri Allen and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra) there will be dancers, visual artists and lectures.

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