"A Great Day in Harlem" photo by Art Kane, 1958

Discussing the history of jazz music without addressing the contributions of Harlem, New York would be an impossible task. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald all spent signifiicant time during their legendary careers in the clubs and theaters that were home to the Harlem Renaissance’s musical movement. Since then Harlem has remained one of the nerve centers of the jazz music community, and it’s esteemed settings continue to house the stars and future stars of contemporary jazz. The Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival celebrates the history and the continued importance of these local venues and the storied musicians that helped put those musical shrines on the map. 

Starting May 7, the second annual festival presented by the Apollo Theater, Harlem Stage, and Jazzmobile will host panel discussions, film screenings, and live performances that pay tribute to the Apollo Theater, Club Harlem, Uptown House, Havana San Juan Club, Small’s Paradise, Minton’s Playhouse, Showman’s Cafe, Park Palace, and the Lenox Lounge. Many of the events are free, while others are available for prices as low as $10.

Dancers at Smalls Paradise Club, 1929

The seven day festival opens with the Jazz and the Spirit panel discussion at Abyssinian Baptist Church. The first night closes with Small’s Paradise: (Re) Created at 9 pm. Small’s Paradise, noted for its grand floor shows, was a premier hot spot for jazz enthisuiasts, celebrities, and artists until it’s closing in 1986. Jazzmobile, along with the City College of New York, will “reopen” Small’s Paradise at Harlem USA featuring music from 1920’s jazz icons provided by the Revive Music Paradise Band.

Cecil Taylor

One of the most anticipated events of the week is the Tribute to Club Harlem: Celebrating Cecil. Renowned pianists Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, and Amina Claudine Myers will honor living legend Cecil Taylor, one of the innovators of “free jazz”, at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. The two night showcase will also feature a special dedication by author, actor, and activist Amiri Baraka.  

Other highlights include Blazing Toungues: The Singers & Writers of Lenox Lounge a celebration of the connection between great Harlem writers like Langston Hughes and the musicians who provided the soundtracks to their masterworks. And on May 11, Teacher’s College at Columbia University will screen Jeff Kaufman’s documentary The Savoy King. The feature film takes a look back at the cultural significance of The Savoy Ballroom (aka “The Track”), it’s favored band leader Chick Webb, and the lead vocalist of it’s house band, a teenage Harlemite by the name of Ella Fitzgerald. 

1935 Savoy Ballroom Flyer featuring Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald

Starting Wednesday, May 9, festival attendees can end each night by catching cover free shows from Danny Mixon, Lonnie Youngblood, Lou Volpe Trio, Cythinia Holiday, and Sarah McLawker at Showman’s Jazz Club, or trek over to Minton’s Playhouse for the Legend on the Bandstand nightly series with musical dedications to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Max Roach followed by Jazzmobile’s Late Night Jam Session.

The Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival 2012 will run from May 7 -13 at several locations throughout Harlem.

For a complete list of venues, events, schedules, and other info click it.

Check out footage of Small’s Paradise entertainers (circa 1933) & a clip from The Savoy King documentary.

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