[JPL] Crouch: Jazz in Harlem

Steve Schwartz steve_schwartz at wgbh.org
Sun Apr 3 03:27:14 EDT 2005

New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Good base for jazz 

Monday, March 28th, 2005
The possibility of a proposed jazz museum in Harlem becoming reality could
come at no better time.

Right now, backers of the museum are vying for a spot in the former Loews
Victoria Theater on 125th St. - one of 10 proposals under consideration by
the Harlem Community Corp. and the Empire State Development Corp. Several
hotel chains also are bidding on the space.

But there is something different about jazz, which is largely a performance
art based in improvisation. Its richness allows for the listener and the
performer to enjoy the invention of value, which is what artistic
improvisation means. It is not just pulling anything out of the air; it
means pulling value out of the air.

That value will be inventively served by the Jazz Museum. The basis will be
the state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that are characteristic of new
museums. In the Jazz Museum, visitors will participate in the exhibits.

Live music played by local Harlem musicians will be integrated into the
exhibit themes. The plans also call for space for the Harlem Arts Alliance,
which will provide an umbrella for local arts organizations.

After years of being infringed upon by poverty and disorder, one of New
York's most vital communities is in the midst of a real estate boom. The
museum would add something very special to this turn in New York's quality
of life.

Harlem's spectacular, decade-long revitalization owes a great deal to the
NYPD, which must be saluted for its ongoing reduction of crime. Recent
figures show that since 1993 violent crime has been reduced in Harlem by 72%
and burglaries have fallen 82%.

This makes uptown Manhattan the stellar achievement of law enforcement and
serves as proof that better police-community relations always works in favor
of the community. Restoring safety to the streets of Harlem cleared the way
for the current economic boom. Alongside the bustle of uptown
entrepreneurship and the sales of brownstones for big bucks, the very name
Harlem resonates with cultural importance. What could be more perfect than a
jazz museum on 125th St., the most famous thoroughfare in a black American

"Jazz," say Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, "is indigenous to the Harlem
community and the Jazz Museum would only serve to deepen the renaissance we
are presently in the middle of, primarily because it would draw and involve
community people and visitors interested in the cultural lore of Harlem."

Wright knows better than anybody what jazz means to Harlem. The assemblyman
grew up around the music because his father - the famous Judge Bruce Wright,
who died in his sleep late last week - also represented many important jazz
musicians as a lawyer, with a client list that included John Coltrane, Max
Roach, Art Blakey and Ornette Coleman.

Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, was a
supporter of the Jazz Museum even before the Victoria Theater was available.

"This is very important to the culture of Harlem, which can never be
forgotten," says Williams. "I talked about it a number of times with Lionel
Hampton, who was a decided supporter."

The museum was the brainchild of former jazz saxophonist Leonard Garment,
who got early support from the likes of Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Daniel
Moynihan. The first development money for the museum was a $1 million line
item in the federal budget in 2000.

The museum is important to the redevelopment of Harlem because it would
supply a form of recognition and participation in a rich cultural history
that should never be allowed to dissolve and float away.

For one, I can imagine no finer addition to what is a remarkable remaking of
the jewels in our town's cultural crown: Harlem. 

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