2009-11-06 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

Take A Sad Story And Make It Joyous

"Orange White," oil on canvas by Robert Bainbridge, one of the artworks in "Gifted 2009." "Orange White," oil on canvas by Robert Bainbridge, one of the artworks in "Gifted 2009." Marjorie Eliot is a spiritual, artistic force; an extraordinary woman; a gem to be found in a setting with which many of us are not familiar - the northern reaches of Harlem.

Each Sunday since 1993, from 4 to 6 p.m., Eliot opens her small apartment across from the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion to friends and newcomers alike for what artist Chris Jorge des - cribes as the ultimate authentic Har - lem experience - jazz performed in an intimate, personal setting, free of charge. These "Parlor Entertainment Concerts" bring all who attend to a place that could not be found in a jazz club.

Performing are a few regulars and guest artists. Just as in the miracle in which five loaves of bread and two fish fed the hungry multitude, the small kitch en, hallway and parlor (where the musicians and singers perform) are able to accommodate chairs for all those who come to be nourished by the great music and great warmth emanating from the stage and filling the space. No doubt, it is the generous, giving spirit of Eliot herself that miraculously expands that space as needed. At a break in the performance, Eliot, a thin woman of steel rod strength, elegance and grace with an impish soul, thanks those who have come. She truly means it. She calls them her community; her family. That family is imbued with a glow fostered by Eliot's all-en compassing embrace and the universal language of the music. "The most in credible people come here," she tells me. "We're all part of each other in the world. I get more than I give."

The regulars at these Parlor concerts, legendary among jazz lovers, are Eliot on piano, son Rudel Drears on piano and vocals (his father is Al Drears, an internationally known percussionist who played with Dizzy Gil lespie), and Frenchman Sedric Chouk roun on saxophone, clarinet and flute. These musicians are themselves a family, as re - flected in the exuberance, beauty and soulfulness of their collabor ations. Guest artists include Jill Mel anie Wirth, who appeared on Nov ember 1. Eliot presented the first concert in August 1993 on the front lawn of the Morris-Jumel Mansion, called "the prettiest house in Man hattan," a magnificent restored 18th century colonial home and one of the many in teresting Harlem attractions open to the public. Eliot's son Phillip had died the year before at the age of 32. She started the event she says, "to celebrate him and to keep me sane. It's just ongoing." In 2006 yet another tragedy - her son Michael died at age 47.

The afternoons now celebrate him as well. She believed it would be a perfect setting, "under the heavens," in the beautiful green gardens. Though the site of the weekly concerts has moved to her home, Eliot continues to present a concert on the front lawn each August. Through these events here she "honors the Africans [slaves] who manned it," she says.

From the beginning, Eliot's life has been filled with the music and art that surrounded her. They are in her blood. Her parents played music. "I always played and studied piano. Everybody in the family took piano lessons. I could read music at the age of 5." She also plays clarinet. "My parents were teachers. … I studied piano with the woman who taught my mother." Also a writer and an actress, Eliot sees all these as "a calling." "My great-grandmother made me feel I could do all of this. But she also told me, 'No one is superior to you, but you are not superior to others.'" The building in which she lives has a place in the rich history of Harlem. The sounds of residents that included Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson filled the air.

I asked Eliot about her relationship to jazz, specifically. "I had an early emotional connection. I understood what [Charlie] Parker was doing. It is my heri tage … my lineage."

Eliot volunteers her talents with Hospital Audience, an organization that entertains adults and children in group homes, senior homes and the like.

The music at the Parlor concerts is wonderful and famous for carrying on a jazz tradition. But there is something more here, more valuable, that begs to be shared. For it is not just music Eliot offers. It is an affirmation of what is the best in all of us. When asked what she wants people to take away from these concerts Eliot replied, "That it's honest; that I'm giving the best of my self that day and I keep working on it; and how thankful I am that they chose to commune with us. We've taken a sad story and made it joyous."

Marjorie Eliot presents Parlor Enter - tainment Concerts every Sunday, 4-6 p.m. at 555 Edgecombe Avenue (corner of West 160 Street), Manhattan, apartment 3F. You can call or you can just show up. 212-781-6595. There are light refreshments. The concerts are free, but donations are gratefully accepted. To learn more about Marjorie Eliot and all that Harlem has to offer, just Google her name. Make a day of it in Harlem.

RAA CONTACT INFO: Phone: 718- 474-0861; Fax: 718-474-4373; e-mail: rockart116@aol.com; website: www. rockawayartistsalliance.org.
Fort Tilden Highlights
InkSplash: Printmaking show, on view
through Nov. 8 in sTudio 6, RoCA @
Fort Tilden. Admission free. Gallery
hours: Sat.s 12-4 p.m.; Sun.s 1-4 p.m.;
by appointment. Admission free.
PRINTMAKING WORKSHOP: TBA
THURS. NIGHT OPEN MIC: Perform -
ing artists of all disciplines invited. Signup
at 7:45 p.m.for 8 p.m. start time.
ART CLASSES FOR CHILDREN AND
TEENS: Fall classes include painting,
digital photography, singing, acting, cartooning.
Call RAA office for details.
PAINTING CLASSES FOR ADULTS:
Tues. nights, 7-9 p.m.; Thurs. mornings,
10 a.m.-12 noon. sTudio 7, RoCA @
Fort Tilden. $15 per class, supplies in -
cluded.
NEXT RAA EXHIBITS: GIFTED: Be -
gins Nov. 14. Opening reception: Sun.,
Nov. 15, 1-3 p.m., sTudio 6. GLASS
AND WATER: sTudio 7, be gins Nov.
21; reception Nov. 22.
NEW GALLERY HRS.: Sat. and Sun.
12-4 p.m. Free admission.
GENERAL MEETING: NOMINATIONS
for board members. Mon., Nov 9, 7:30
p.m., sTudio 7. Meeting open to public.

kidsmART corner

Wednesday, November 11, Vet er ans Day - No kidsmART At PS 104'

Tuesday, November 10 - kidsmART will run as per usual.

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