I discovered Marjorie Eliot’s Parlor Jazz when my jewelry instructor’s friend came from Sweden to visit New York City. He was a jazz aficionado and made the trip to scout out jazz venues for his tourist groups. How did I not know about this? Curious, I met him at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, the landmark building known as the “Triple Nickel.” Notable residents included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne, and a host of other African-American artists and musicians.
The lobby was resplendent with stained glass and ornate ceiling work reminiscent of a bygone era. A gentleman led us to the third floor to join a line that snaked around to Marjorie’s apartment. At the appointed time, neatly arranged folding chairs welcomed us to the living room, kitchen, and hallway. After the seats were filled, patrons politely packed themselves against the wall and then spilled into the hallway.
We listened intently to Marjorie’s soft voice announce the program. The cushion of quietude attuned my senses to the present moment. As the jazz trio performed, the afternoon sun moved across the room, casting spotlights on the avid listeners. From the kitchen, I observed Marjorie’s neighbor meticulously prepare orange juice and snack bars, while a gentle cross breeze tickled the setlist taped to the wall.
The parlor jazz concerts began in 1992 in honor of Marjorie’s son, Phillip, who died from kidney disease on a Sunday morning. The Sunday concerts were Marjorie’s way of turning her grief into love, and in doing so, we all received the gift of community. Music drew me to the Triple Nickel but that Sunday afternoon in Sugar Hill was much more than a jazz concert.
During COVID, you can live stream concerts from the comfort of your home. Tune in to Facebook on Sundays at 3:30pm ET. Free admission, online donations accepted.