By Jennifer Odell
Downbeat Magazine, May 2005
As the Jazz Museum in Harlem-an interactive,
educational exploration of the history of jazz and its roots
in Harlem-moves into one of the most important phases of its
nascent career, co-directors Loren Schoenberg and the recently
appointed Christian McBride have their work cut out for them.
With four years of planning and fundraising, a core of programming
and an exhibit plan under its belt, the museum is ready to
break ground on a site, but it has yet to secure one.
Two redevelopment proposals for the Victoria
Theater on 125th Street, on the same block as the Apollo Theater,
name the Jazz Museum as the cultural component of a multi-use
facility that will include a hotel. But there are five other
groups vying for the same site,making it crucial for the museum
to get serious about moving forward.
"Bringing Christian in would have been
premature before we were serious about the Victoria,"
said Schoenberg, in the office on East 126th Street where
the museum temporarily resides. "It was the right time
to bring Christian aboard."
McBride, whose career as a recording artist
and bandleader keeps him on the road much of the year, is
doing what he can for the museum while on tour, but looks
forward to returning to New York and focusing his attentions
on his new position. "I work my museum duties around
my touring and recording schedule, as does Loren," said
McBride, on tour in Australia with Lalo Schifrin.
The fact that they are working musicians gives
the Museum authenticity. Instead of freezing jazz in a glass
case and labeling it "the past," this museum will
focus on what is alive in today's jazz community.
"The biggest goal is not to mislead people
by the word, 'museum,'" McBride said. "We intend
on being non-traditional in that we focus not only on our
great traditions, but what is going on in the jazz world now."
Dozens of artists, jazz media professionals
and music educators were consulted before Ralph Applebaum
created a design. Art D'Lugoff, the former Village Gate impresario,
initially conceived of the museum in 1995, when the Village
Gate closed. Writer and former musician Leonard Garment secured
the initial funding needed to hire Schoenberg, find a temporary
office and launch some initial programs, such as the Harlem
Speaks series, which brings in different luminaries from the
local jazz community to mix performance and discussion in
a biweekly event.
"Jazz education is not about telling people
what the music is," said Gerald Early at a 2002 museum
planning conference. "It's about telling people what
the experience of listening to music is and what it does for
So it follows that from the moment visitors
walk into the proposed museum, live music will surround them.
Hired local musicians will play in the lobby and theaters.
As visitors walk through exhibits chronicling the development
of jazz decade by decade, they can try out instruments and
leam about engineering on interactive screens. In one exhibit
Schoenberg described, one can hear the monitor mixes of musicians
in Ellington's big band as they played onstage with the group,
illustrating the difference between what can be heard from
the floor versus what a musician hears onstage.
"I want them to leave the jazz museum and
go to a jazz club," Schoenberg said. "They want
to see what the drummer's doing with his foot, they want to
see the band from the back, so we offer them the opportunity.
This breaks the pattern where when you go to see music, you
sit there in a passive role. It's about celebrating Harlem
If the museum beats out the other groups for
the Victoria, visitors will be in an ideal location to do
just that. The theater is a short cab ride away from venues
like the Lenox Lounge, Sherman's and Parlor Entertainment,
where some of the area's best players gather on weekends for
free jam sessions.
But it's not just tourists that McBride
and Schoenberg hope to see using the museum and checking out
the uptown music scene. 'Too many people worldwide have a
sense that jazz has lost its standing in the black community,
which in a sense it has," McBride said. "It's my
duty not only to find a home in Harlem for jazz-the most celebrated
black community in the world-but to also see if people who
claim they love this music will travel uptown."