By Stanley Crouch
New York Daily News - March 28th, 2005
The possibility of a proposed jazz museum in Harlem becoming
reality could come at no better time. Right now, backers of
the museum are vying for a spot in the former Loews Victoria
Theater on 125th St. - one of 10 proposals under consideration
by the Harlem Community Corp. and the Empire State Development
Corp. Several hotel chains also are bidding on the space.
But there is something different about jazz,
which is largely a performance art based in improvisation.
Its richness allows for the listener and the performer to
enjoy the invention of value, which is what artistic improvisation
means. It is not just pulling anything out of the air; it
means pulling value out of the air.
That value will be inventively served by the
Jazz Museum. The basis will be the state-of-the-art interactive
exhibits that are characteristic of new museums. In the Jazz
Museum, visitors will participate in the exhibits.
Live music played by local Harlem musicians
will be integrated into the exhibit themes. The plans also
call for space for the Harlem Arts Alliance, which will provide
an umbrella for local arts organizations.
After years of being infringed upon by poverty
and disorder, one of New York's most vital communities is
in the midst of a real estate boom. The museum would add something
very special to this turn in New York's quality of life.
Harlem's spectacular, decade-long revitalization
owes a great deal to the NYPD, which must be saluted for its
ongoing reduction of crime. Recent figures show that since
1993 violent crime has been reduced in Harlem by 72% and burglaries
have fallen 82%.
This makes uptown Manhattan the stellar achievement
of law enforcement and serves as proof that better police-community
relations always works in favor of the community. Restoring
safety to the streets of Harlem cleared the way for the current
economic boom. Alongside the bustle of uptown entrepreneurship
and the sales of brownstones for big bucks, the very name
Harlem resonates with cultural importance. What could be more
perfect than a jazz museum on 125th St., the most famous thoroughfare
in a black American neighborhood?
"Jazz," says Harlem Assemblyman Keith
Wright, "is indigenous to the Harlem community and the
Jazz Museum would only serve to deepen the renaissance we
are presently in the middle of, primarily because it would
draw and involve community people and visitors interested
in the cultural lore of Harlem."
Wright knows better than anybody what jazz means
to Harlem. The assemblyman grew up around the music because
his father - the famous Judge Bruce Wright, who died in his
sleep late last week - also represented many important jazz
musicians as a lawyer, with a client list that included John
Coltrane, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Ornette Coleman.
Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem
Chamber of Commerce, was a supporter of the Jazz Museum even
before the Victoria Theater was available.
"This is very important to the culture
of Harlem, which can never be forgotten," says Williams.
"I talked about it a number of times with Lionel Hampton,
who was a decided supporter."
The museum was the brainchild of former jazz
saxophonist Leonard Garment, who got early support from the
likes of Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Daniel Moynihan. The
first development money for the museum was a $1 million line
item in the federal budget in 2000.
The museum is important to the redevelopment
of Harlem because it would supply a form of recognition and
participation in a rich cultural history that should never
be allowed to dissolve and float away.
For one, I can imagine no finer addition to
what is a remarkable remaking of the jewels in our town's
cultural crown: Harlem.