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Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part II: New York

Karl Ackermann By

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Morganelli started playing the trumpet at nine and remains active. He trades off with the rounder sound of flugelhorn, especially when playing the Brazilian music he favors. Morganelli has recorded four albums as a leader, the most recent, My Romance (Jazz Forum Records, 2004), a quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Houston Person. The standards collection displays Morganelli's hard bop, swing and lyrical styles in one setting. A skilled improviser and soloist, he can now be heard playing at his home base from time to time.

The connection between the Jazz Forum Club and the Jazz Forum Arts organization is inextricable. The club is run through the auspices of the forum—a non-profit started by Morganelli and his wife, Ellen Prior, in 1985—and is further sponsored by Montefiore Hospital. Board members have included well-known jazz personalities such as Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie and Gary Giddins. Their mission is to bring top quality arts programs to the public, including thirty-four free concerts this past summer sponsored by New York Presbyterian Hospital. These are intended to be welcoming community events for people who are experiencing jazz music for the first time, and Morganelli hopes to convert some of those attendees into paying customers of the club. Morganelli makes an important distinction in what qualifies as a genuine jazz club venue, saying "There are restaurants with jazz music and then there are jazz clubs that offer food. We are a jazz club." In fact, Morganelli is proud of the fine wine selection that he and his wife have extensively researched for the club, but food choices are limited to hors d'oeuvre.

Jazz Forum Club reserves Fridays and Saturdays for headline jazz artists, while Sundays are billed as "Brazilian Music Sundays." The upcoming season will include performances from Mark Egan, Danny Gottlieb, the previously mentioned Houston Person, and Jason Marsalis. Other special events on the calendar include birthday celebrations with Lee Konitz and David Amram.

About thirty minutes south, a different club could be in an alternate universe when compared to the Jazz Forum Club. Late in 2015, between Christmas and the New Year, we stopped into Paris Blues at 2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Blvd. (7th Ave.) in Harlem. In the narrow entrance there is a bar to the right and Samuel Hargress, Jr., to the left. Less than a year from his eightieth birthday, age didn't keep him from bouncing off the bench, shaking hands and offering the fried chicken, black beans and rice, warming on a hot plate. In one of his distinctive three-piece suits and a wide-brim fedora, Hargress is as much a landmark as his club. Paris Blues is considered a "jazz dive," the oldest, and only remaining venue of that type in New York. The club's name is hand painted in one-foot blue letters on a white sheet, hung across the back of the stage and a visitor is as likely to see a jazz legend such as Frank Lacey taking in a show as they are to see him on stage.

Hargress had served in the U.S. Army as part of their military police unit in various European locations, including Paris. The club's name was derived from Hargress' experiences with the personal respect shown to black people in Paris, in comparison to the discrimination in his birthplace, Demopolis, Alabama. From those experiences, he derived the name of the club that he first opened in 1969. The failing economy, drugs and crime made the odds of success, at that time and place in New York City history, slim at best. But Hargress was determined, helping to set up a civilian neighborhood patrol to keep the club, and nearby streets, safe.

On this late night, almost forty-five years later, the crowd is small -not that Paris Blues could hold a large crowd. The stage is compact and sits flush with the seating area, much of which is occupied by the bar. We are listening to the Antoine Dowdell Group, regular performers at the club, and like much of the entertainment here, pianist Dowdell and his drummer Dameyum Henry are products of Harlem. But in the quirky world of Paris Blues, the group skews toward Japan, with bassist Kenji Tokunaga, guitarist Yoshiki Miura and saxophonist Ryoju Fukushiro all being natives of that country. Another group, Melvin Vines & The Harlem Jazz Machine, have also occupied numerous dates on the club's calendar for a number of years. Paris Blues has an unforced way of feeling like home; it is welcoming and fun and the music is outstanding.

Duke Ellington at The Cotton Club (RCA Camden, 1959)


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