Harlem Resident Opens Her Home to the Public for Free Jazz Concerts
On Sunday afternoons, crowds from all over the world flock to musician Marjorie Eliot's Harlem apartment to watch jazz performances like it was a major music venue. They can even spill outside her front door.
"Sometimes they're in the hall," she said. "And, I feel, we're not doing anything wrong, there's no alcohol; so there are no complaints. And the landlord loves it."
Marjorie's hosted free jazz concerts in her apartment, which she calls her "Carnegie Hall," for 22 years now. She started doing them to honor her son Philip after he passed away, and she hasn't missed a Sunday since. She even performed the day after she lost another one of her sons in 2006.
"I find that I am able to address the pain, and celebrate the children in a way that they would love," she said.
Marjorie plays her piano throughout each performance. But she also pays other professionals to share the stage, and showcase their talents. Guests may hear a blaring trumpet one moment, the booming voice of a spoken word artist the next, followed by a mean stand-up bass solo.
Gaku Takanashi's played bass at Marjorie's almost every weekend for the past year. He says it's a great advantage as a muscian to get the chance to play in such a unique, intimate setting. He says it's unlike anything he's ever done in his decades long career.
"It's amazing," he said. "It's like every week, for me, it's almost like a church. It's more than music. It's really almost like a spiritual thing going on."
Takanashi's not the only one comparing Marjorie's parlor - or Marjorie herself, for that matter - to a church. Elaine Zammit from Maryland's been coming with her sister for 6 years now to experience that same spiritual energy.
"Miss Margie, she is a human institution," she said. "She has no boundaries, she knows no barriers; and she has a wonderful way, musically, of bringing people together."
Marjorie's concerts tend to draw a diverse audience. There are neighborhood regulars who come almost every week. And then there are folks like Sue Camilleri from Australia, who came a long way for the chance to see what all the buzz is about.
"We loved it, yeah!" she said. "Every single person that played today was just brilliant."
Marjorie's become sort of an underground celebrity over the years. You can find her in guidebooks and on TV programs about hidden gems in New York City. But she avoids today's modern forms of advertising on social media platforms and the Internet. She says she still prefers word of mouth marketing and good, old-fashioned snail mail.
"I've been offered that, you know, like, 'You could have a Twitter account,'" she said. "To do what with? I've got to practice!"
Marjorie credits her Sunday concerts with keeping her alive. She says she considers her audiences family, and will always carry them in her heart.