New Amsterdam Musical Association And James Reese Europe In Harlem

December 6, 2011

The New Amsterdam Musical Association, (NAMA) is the oldest African-American musical organization in the United States. It was founded at the time that the American Federation of Musicians Local 310 (now, Local 802) did not admit minority musicians and the law stated that one had to be in the union in order to perform in New York City.

James Reese Europe the founder of the legendary Harlem Hellfighters Orchestra (the drum major in the band was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), was the first to introduce the until-then unknown music called Jazz to British, French and other audiences and started a worldwide demand for it. Europe was a man before his time, inspiring countless musicians, including American Composer George Gershwin. In 1904, he created The New Amsterdam Musical Association to represent artists such as Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and Louis Armstrong who filled the air of Harlem with jazz, ragtime and blues throughout the carefree nights of the 1920’s.

The New Amsterdam Musical Association has never defined itself as a Jazz-organization, it has certainly been both a literal and figurative home for many jazz musicians. Located in central Harlem, NAMA has served as a place for many musicians to gather after performances to socialize and to practice. It was not uncommon for the likes of John Coltrane or Max Roach to rehearse on the ground floor of the brownstone. Until the 1990s, NAMA also allowed musicians to board in the upper floors when they came to town. Henry Minton, who founded the famed jazz venue Minton’s Playhouse, and for a spell, Jelly Roll Morton lived in one of the upstairs rooms.

Currently, NAMA offers lessons to all vocalists and instrumentalists at all levels at low to no cost, depending on the circumstances of the student. It also holds a host of community events such as jam sessions and barbecues that both serve as gathering times for the Harlem community as well as fundraising events for NAMA itself. Chuck Forster, is resident archivist and co-owner of The Harlem World Club.

The New Amsterdam Musical Association is still here at 107 West 130th Street, New York, NY 10027, 212-234-2973. facebook,

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