NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York has always claimed the right to the title “Jazz Capital of the World,” and one popular jazz parlor is free thanks to a generous Harlem family.
On Sundays in Sugar Hill, the sounds of jazz bring one apartment building to life. Crowds are so deep, they have to stand in the hallway as a tiny apartment becomes a jazz parlor.
Rudel Drears and his mother, Marjorie Eliot, host a free public concert every Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a give-and-take thing. We’re giving it to them. They’re giving it to back to us. And, you know what I mean, not to be vain, but this is kind of like a certified jazz venue,” Drears told CBS2’s Steve Overmyer. “People will come from way, way, maybe the other side of the world, first time in New York and they’ll come here first and then go to Times Square.”
It’s only about 700 square feet, but it’s enough for folding chairs, along with an intimate performance.
“I’m hoping that they know I am sincere in the effort,” Eliot said. “I want to share with them … You hope this translate to them.”
Even though jazz was created in New Orleans, the center of the jazz world is New York.
Since the Harlem renaissance in the 1920s, 555 Edgecombe Ave. has been home to some jazz greats. Andy Kirk, Gil Scott Heron and Duke Ellington’s saxophonist Johnny Hodges all lived there.
For rising jazz musicians, Apartment 3F has become a touchstone.
“There’s joy and peace and love and sadness [in the music],” Eliot said.
Emotions all too familiar to Eliot and Drears, who is her only living son. Eliot’s eldest, Phillip, lived for 32 years with a debilitating kidney disease. In 1992, it gave out.
“Phil passed away on a Sunday, on a Sunday morning. So, shortly thereafter my mother had the inspiration to honor his legacy with jazz,” Drears said.
Eliot started her jazz parlor to honor her son and to make Sundays livable.
“I know the healing power … It gives you confidence. It tells you something about yourself,” Eliot said. “It makes you feel a certain way.”
Eliot says it’s like breathing.
The former music teacher still inspires students of all ages. Giving them space, she’s seemingly out of sight, but like a proud parent, she’s secretly absorbing every note.
Overmyer: “What’s happening here every Sunday is you’re giving a gift to the audience.”
Eliot: “No, I don’t think that … The gift is given to me, that they embrace this. The audience that comes here, they are a critical part of this story … [They’re] lovely. I love them.”
Neighbors in the building don’t complain about the free concerts. In fact, some help seat the audience and even provide juice and cookies.