Six keepers of Harlem's jazz tradition
For Harlem’s hard-core musicians, keeping jazz alive in the neighborhood takes a lot of passion — and sacrifice.
Trumpeter Lu Reid (pictured above), who has been playing in Harlem since the 1970s, now supports himself as a high school woodshop teacher.
“When I was young, I made more money,” he said. “It’s still a good life, though. The life of a jazz musician is not really dead and gone.”
Al Hicks, who drums with Lu Reid’s All-Stars, echoed the sentiment: “I’ll be a musician till the day I die.”
While the musicians and club owners of Harlem are committed to the music that’s defined the neighborhood for decades, they’re more interested in preserving the styles of earlier eras than in anything new and experimental.
Pianist Danny Mixon, the booker at the legendary Lenox Lounge, said that Americans have yet to give jazz the respect it deserves.
“A lot of people haven’t really gotten [jazz] yet. You can’t jump over history,” he said.
But there is interest in that history — from some surprising sources. In addition to the local regulars who come out to hear the music, much of the audience for jazz in Harlem is made up of international tourists.
“The Europeans are in Harlem by the thousands at the clubs, and the Japanese. And a lot of them are young,” said native Harlemite Holly Sampson-Hicks, mother and manager to 15-year-old guitarist Solomon Hicks.
But in the end, they all share a love of jazz, and that’s what matters.
Marjorie Eliot runs a Sunday afternoon performance series out of her living room, and anyone is welcome.“It’s just, ‘Do you dig the music? The door is open.’”
Click on each photo below to read about each musician.