Harlem’s Music Scene From The Renaissance To Today’s Reinvention

March 10, 2020

By Bretton Love

With a long history behind it, Harlem is a place that produced a wide range of musical genres and dancing styles that have become popular across the globe. This is a place that inspired cultural change, and it’s still a vibrant spot for its musical scene. Throughout history, music has been the place where people living in Harlem escaped hardships.

Even later, in the 1970s, when the neighborhood was dealing with a high crime-rate and drug-related issues, hip hop and rap music were born, bringing a unique and very powerful expression of what was going on there. Today, Harlem is a place that draws new crowds to experience beautiful live music in its many dinner clubs and theaters.

While the area has certainly developed, there are many venues that are still holding the jazz and blues styles alive. Moreover, there is also a flow of creative energy coming into the area, given that many international young artists are performing at various events.

Harlem’s Renaissance

If two classic venues are to be credited for creating and inspiring a wide range of musical styles and dances, these are The Savoy and the Cotton Club. Popular artists played the Harlem Stride, Dixie, and the Blues. Names such as Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, or Cab Calloway are associated with Harlem.

While the Cotton Club had policies that would certainly be regarded as highly controversial today in terms of those who were allowed to attend, the Savoy was far more permissive allowing everyone to dance and have a good time. The dance floor in this venue was called “the track” and it had to be replaced from the impressive amount of stomping and swinging that was taking place.

Harlem Today

Harlem has plenty of fine dining venues that provide live jazz music in the evening and gospel brunches. However, if we are to focus on one of the most popular such choices, that also comes with a rich history behind, this is Minton’s. This spot has been recently reopened, and it has once again become one of the jazz centerpieces of Harlem.

The original venue was first founded in 1938 by tenor saxophonist Henry Minton. This is where names such as Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis would come and perform, thus creating an entire musical revolution called Bebop.

Today’s venue comes with a great lineup that includes both experimental and classical jazz music, as well as scatting and skittering. Plus, the music works in perfect harmony with the menu that revives the South and features low-country dishes. Experienced chefs work on the menu to provide a seamless overall experience.

The Cotton Club

The Cotton Club is today located on 125th Street and, unfortunately, it has no connection to the original venue, apart from the name. However, the new location is a great alternative for private events and large groups, which makes it a preferred choice for tourists from every corner of the world.

If you want to hear some of the best jazz players in Harlem, this is the place to go. The events here include the All-stars house band which consists of a 13-piece ensemble that plays both jazz and swing. The music is certainly an attraction here, but you don’t want to miss out on the buffet either, given that it ensures fantastic soul food.

The Parlor

For music lovers who can appreciate a good piccolo instrument, as well as great jazz music, The Parlor is another place that should not be missed out on. Every Sunday afternoon you can head to the famous address, buzz apartment #3F and join Marjorie Eliot’s jazz recital that she is having in her home.

The historic Triple Nickel apartment building is the one you want to look for and then be transported in time to a part of Harlem that was all about jazz music. While admission is free here, donations are appreciated, so this is something you want to keep in mind, in case you want to show your appreciation to this small reminder of an older Harlem.

Shrine World Music Venue

If you want to hear new grooves and beats, The Shrine World Music Venue is where you want to go. The place is located behind an old deli, so it’s easy to miss it if you are not paying attention. However, once you get inside, you’ll be transported to a whole different area that could easily be Detroit, Jamaica, or Africa, depending on the music that is being played.

The vibe is definitely friendly, and you might also like the old albums that are plastering the ceiling and the walls, bringing music into your mind and sight with every occasion. The place offers excellent and packed lineups of four to five bands each night, and the wide range of musical styles covered makes you only check out the venue’s calendar and take your pick.

Photo credit: Mintons with Jazz greats Wikipedia.

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