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Marjorie Eliot's Jazz Matinees

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Marjorie Eliot's Jazz Matinees

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Marjorie Eliot's Jazz Matinees

Marjorie Eliot's Jazz Matinees

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For more than ten years, Marjorie Eliot has hosted Sunday afternoon jazz concerts in her Manhattan apartment. The free events draw some of the top talent in New York City. Just grab a folding chair.


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Jacki Lyden sitting in for Liane Hansen.

New York City is full of places to hear great jazz, but most nightclubs or bars have a cover charge or a drink minimum. Still, as George Bodarky of member station WFUV reports jazz fans can enjoy life music for free every Sunday afternoon in a very intimate setting in upper Manhattan.


There's nothing outside 555 Edgecomb Avenue to alert you to what goes on inside this 14-story apartment building. There's no marquee, no velvet ropes. But on Sunday afternoons jazz lovers flock to Apartment 3-F.

(Soundbite of door buzzer)

Ms. MAJORIE ELIOT (Jazz Hostess): Hi! How are you?

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm good.

BODARKY: This is Marjorie Eliot's place. She's all smiles as she greets guests at the door.

Ms. ELIOT: Hi!

Unidentified Woman: Hello.

Ms. ELIOT: How are you?

Unidentified Woman: Okay.

Ms. ELIOT: Okay.

BODARKY: For more than ten years, the self-described actress, playwright, musician and mommy has hosted jazz concerts right in her living room. These kinds of get-togethers were a regular part of New York's jazz scene in the 1940's and '50's, and they've been common in folk music circles for years.

For today's audiences they offer an escape from noisy crowds and high ticket prices. But Marjorie has her own reasons for opening up her home.

She does it in tribute to her son Phillip, who died in 1992. Marjorie provides piano accompaniment on Sundays.

Ms. ELIOT: This idea of sharing and celebrating the music came real early. So I don't do anything different now than when Aunt Margaret is coming over and come show what you did in your lessons, you know, with your one hand.

(Soundbite of piano playing)

BODARKY: Marjorie hires musician friends that she says she knows will relate well to the audience, and pays them out of pocket. A saxophonist by the name of Cedric Show Croon(ph) warms up in the kitchen. For Cedric, it's been a regular Sunday gig now for five years.

Mr. CEDRIC SHOW CROON (Musician): When you play here you have to be honest. You can only play in an honest way, you know. It's not like, no ego trick, or you know, oh, playing thinking about your career or that kind of thing.

(Soundbite of music)

BODARKY: Today Marjorie and the musicians are playing to a crowd of more than 50. The audience is packed in tightly, sitting on folding chairs in the living room, an adjacent alcove and along a narrow hallway. The parlor is dimly lit with blue and yellow mood lighting.

Unidentified Woman: Excuse me. I'm here.

BODARKY: Between sets, Marjorie's neighbor passes around a bucket for donations. There's no pressure to pony up.

Bassist Bob Cunningham is taking a breather. Over the years, he's played with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, and he's performed at Carnegie Hall, but he says jamming at Marjorie's is like nothing else.

Mr. BOB CUNNINGHAM (Musician): You play a song and you can hear the people gasp, or, you know, you play a phrase that makes people excited and they clap and it's really inspiring.

(Soundbite of music)

BODARKY: For some folks, coming to Marjorie's on Sunday is like going to church. Robert Cassel(ph) is a regular. He comes from Westchester County, about 30 minutes north.

Mr. ROBERT CASSEL (Jazz Enthusiast): For me it's a special event every Sunday because it's such a positive atmosphere. Marjorie is a very giving person, and it's somewhat spiritual, so you feel very uplifted when you leave here.

(Soundbite of music)

BODARKY: Since she started more than a decade ago, Marjorie Eliot says she hasn't missed a single Sunday. And through the years, she's only gotten a couple of noise complaints from neighbors.

For NPR News, I'm George Bodarky, in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

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