"On the most basic level the goal
of the Jazz Museum in Harlem is to celebrate great jazz musicians."
We want to celebrate such legends as Louis
Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. We want to talk
about jazz and who created it," explained Loren Schoenberg,
the museum's executive director. "When we first began
discussing this project, Harlem was the only site ever considered.
Jazz is deeply rooted in the Harlem community and it continues
to be an incredible cradle for jazz. A museum like this will
only succeed if there is a perception that it comes from the
community and receives support from the community leaders."
The museum was the brainchild of Art D'Lugoff,
former owner of the famed Greenwich Village jazz club the
Village Gate, which closed in 1995. He shared the idea with
his friend David Levy, another jazz enthusiast, who is director
of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Together
they enlisted Leonard Garment, an attorney/politician and
former counselor in the White House to Richard Nixon.
Jazz and Nixon may sound odd, but in his earlier
days Garment was a member of the Woody Herman Band.
"My performing career was brief,
but my love for jazz proved permanent," he noted.
He is the present of the museum and was instrumental
in getting the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (Harlem's
main funding source for businesses) to provide its first funding
of $125,000. In December 2000, Garment managed to secure the
project a $1 million grant from Congress with the assistance
of Reps. Charles Rangel and John Conyers of Michigan; unexpectedly,
Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, at the time chairman of the
Appropriations Committee; and Senators Daniel P. Moynihan
(N.Y.) and John Warner (V.A.).
"Of course you can't build a jazz
museum with a million dollars in New York City," Schoenberg
admitted. "We will have to raise a lot more money."
Schoenberg and the board members (Wynton Marsalis,
Daryl Libow, David Levy, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ken Burns and Leonard
Garment) have a great responsibility and task ahead of them
- exhibiting the story of jazz.
Jazz is more than mere improvisational rhythms.
Jazz was birthed in Africa and began its long sojourn in the
hearts of a people who were imprisoned on slave ships destined
for a new land. Their rhythmic sounds was a symphony of heartache,
fear and a strong will to survive that persisted on the shores
of America, where playing instruments, particularly drums,
was punishable by death.
Their rhythms raged on in the cotton fields
under a blistering sun, as the slaves moved to the beat of
work songs and received a whipping if too slow. The songs
didn't die. They continued in the sons and daughters. They're
in the fiery blues of Lead Belly and Sun House, and the jumping
ragtime beats of Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton, as Louis
Armstrong's trumpet blazed through New Orleans, causing everyone
to take notice.
Luckey Roberts, James P. Johnson and Art Tatum played Harlem
clubs, and along came the innovative sound of bebop with Dizzy
Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker.
The big-band sound was ripping like a hurricane as dancers
did splits, dips and shook their hips to Court Basie, Chick
Webb, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Fletcher Henderson.
There was Billie Holiday, whose beautiful,
haunting voice hypnotized mortals as a million ancestors cried
out her name. Ella Fitzgerald shared her sophisticated rhythms
and acrobatic scats, while Nina Simone stood tall singing
"4 Women" and introduced "Peaches" who
didn't take no mess - she was Black and tough.
And the ancestors' drum beats raged louder
as Max Roach and Roy Haynes kept a constant beat that roared
through lynchings and segregation into the Bush era.
This improvisational music called jazz is a
unique sound, colored with political and social ramifications,
weaved with Black cultural threads. It's the voice of the
ancestors who speak through these great master musicians and
the younger generation, who play the rhythms of America's
only true art form.
Obviously, undertaking a jazz museum for Harlem
and the world to view won't be easy, but Schoenberg is enthusiastic
and makes new strides every day. As we sat in his large, sparsely
furnished offices on East 126th Street, he discussed the museum's
"First we need to find a site; we've
gone about as far as we can without one. We're discussing
how to tell the story of jazz and reflect its international
scope, support the local community and raising more money."
He added, "At different times, each one becomes a primary
The museum has already received the green light
from all the major organizations in Harlem and the jazz community,
but without a site they haven't been able to amplify their
profile among local residents.
"Although the museum will incorporate
an archival component, it won't be the sort of place where
the major thrill will be seeing Lester Young's porkpie hat,"
explained Schoenberg. "We want it to be fun for kids,
experts and the general public. We want to be the world's
In addition to his duties as executive director,
Schoenberg is currently the musical director for the incomparable
crooner Bobby Short and a faculty member of Juilliard's Institute
for Jazz Studies and Jazz at Lincoln Center's Jazz 101 series.
Over the last 25 years, he has played saxophone with a variety
of jazz artists, from Eddie Durham to Benny Goodman to Ella
Fitzgerald to Wynton Marsalis.
For the month of October, the Jazz Museum,
in conjunction with the City Museum of New York (at 1220 Fifth
Ave.), will present a series of Wednesday-night talks and
concerts, "The Music of Harlem," hosted by Schoenberg.
On October 8 at 6:30 p.m., Bobby Short is in conversation.
On October 15 at 7:30 p.m., the Jon Gordon Quartet celebrates
Harlem composers Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. On October
22, 6:30 p.m., noted jazz critic/author Stanley Crouch discusses
the history of bebop, and on October 29 at 7:30 p.m., the
Wycliffe Gordon Quintet plays the music of Dizzy Gillespie,
Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
The Jazz Museum in Harlem is dedicated to fostering
the music as a living, breathing entity that looks as far
into the future as it does into the past. Visit its Web site