April is Jazz Appreciation Month–an excellent excuse to explore Harlem's best old-school jazz joints. Many of these intimate spots exist in brownstone basements or private apartments and are open just one day a week, so read the schedule carefully, then plan your visit. From south to north, they are:
2021 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd and W 121st St
Open every day.
Opened and continuously managed by Samuel Hargress, Jr since 1968, this corner bar offers seven nights of live jazz with no cover (but do expect to pay a little bit more for your drinks).
375 West 125th St between Morningside and St. Nicholas Aves
Originally located right next to the Apollo, this unobtrusive bar on Harlem's main strip has moved three times since it first opened in 1942. Stop by for live jazz, blues and libations–there's a two-drink minimum.
107 West 130th St between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds
Open most Monday nights.
Founded in 1904, NAMA, the oldest African-American musical organization in the U.S., has been home to a long list of jazz musicians–Charlie Parker was just one of its members. The Monday Night Jam Sessions in its brownstone are open to "veterans, beginners, 'scaredy cats,' intermediate and professional performers," according to its website.
248 West 132nd St between Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Frederick Douglass Blvds
Sundays at 6pm
Founded by organist Seleno Clarke, who died this past winter, Harlem Groove Band has been playing in the basement bar of this American Legion post every Sunday night for more than 20 years. A plate of Southern-style food is $10, and there are drinks, too.
449 Malcolm X Blvd between 132nd and 133rd Sts
Thursday 1pm-4pm, Friday 8pm-12am, Saturday 8pm-12am, Sunday 1pm-3pm
Established in 2003, this intimate, easy-to-miss storefront features art on the walls and live jazz on the small stage in the back. There's a $10 cover.
148 West 133rd St between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvds
Fridays and Saturdays; shows start at 8pm and 10pm.
Saxophonist Bill Paxton leads the Harlem All Stars at this 13-year-old spot in a brownstone smack dab in the middle of West 133rd Street, also known as New York's original Swing Street. There's a $30 cover charge and no bar.
555 Edgecombe Ave and 160th Street, apt 3F
Since 1994, tourists and jazz aficionados alike have been gathering every Sunday afternoon at the private apartment of pianist (and legend) Marjorie Eliot for an afternoon of free jazz. It's not too late to join them.