To get a real feel for Harlem, go to Marjorie Eliot’s apartment on Sugar Hill, get cozy in her living room, socialize, then listen to her play piano while collaborating with a passel of musicians who mist the air with jazz, bebop, ragtime and whatever else strikes her fancy.
While you listen, imagine what it was like in this formerly ‘whites only’ landmarked apartment building when famous African Americans like Joe Louis, Count Basie, and Paul Robeson moved in. It’s easy, because nothing has really changed. Even the Tiffany leaded glass lobby ceiling remains, slowly disintegrating.
Her music uplifts because it’s played with soul and heartfelt love. She has provided a pretty terrific, caring, calming intimate afternoon every Sunday, from 3:30pm, for more than 10 years—since losing her son. These sessions are not performances of high technique, but of soul.
When Ms Eliot takes a musical break, she nudges amongst the audience, serving refreshments and when the music stops, she chats as long as there are people to engage.
Ms Eliot exudes musicality and grace, her playing sourced in experience and understanding, outshining her accompanists, similar to the way Marian McPartland (NPR’s Piano Jazz) tastefully (and humbly) improvised with her famous guests.
Nearby, the Jumel Mansion and Sylvan Terrace lurk, and the endless offerings of the largely Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights.
Last weekend I arrived a half hour late. Hurrying along 160th street, I heard the trumpet sound wafting through the open window of her apartment, cracking the still air.