Harlem, New York

I was warned to arrive before the 4:00pm start time in order to get a good seat. With the inconsistency of the New York City subway system working against me, I make it to Ms. Eliot’s Edgecomb Edgecomb Avenue apartment fifteen minutes late. The unexpected beauty of the apartment’s grand foyer doesn’t help my punctuality either. The entryway’s marble surfaces and ornate coffered ceilings stop me right in my hurried tracks. In hindsight, this kind of Art deco first impression is completely fitting for the jazz-age gathering unfolding above. While riding the elevator three doors up, the sound of muffled tunes permeates the building’s walls, and I know I’m in the right place before I even arrive.

On the Northern edge of Harlem in a hundred-year-old apartment building, Marjorie Eliot opens up her home to complete strangers, every single Sunday, for a live jazz concert. There are no tickets or printed programs, no seat assignments or dress code.

The matinee performance is completely free. The event has been written up in The New York Times, highlighted on NPR, and even has its own page on Yelp. People from nearby boroughs and foreign countries have crossed the threshold of her home to experience the spectacle, which she’s been doing so for more than twenty years.

When I slip through Eliot’s door at the end of the hall, there is standing room only. Strangers squeeze into every nook and cranny of the humble apartment to sit on folding chairs arranged in neat rows and lining nearly every space available. There are even chairs set up in the kitchen, right by the stove and in front of the refrigerator. I can hardly crane my neck enough to see where the music is coming from, but they’re there, four men playing the saxophone, flute, trumpet, and bass. And then there’s Eliot, a slim, fit, black woman in her later years, proudly perched at the helm of her piano leading the way.

Read the whole story at Issue No. 4 of Openhouse Magazine.

Text by SARAH JEAN SHELTON sarahjeanshelton1@gmail.com
Photographed by GENEVIEVE GARRUPPO www.genevievegarruppo.com