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Take the A Train for 20 Year Jazz Tradition in the Heights

By Carla Zanoni | April 10, 2012 10:57am
Rudel Drears, son of Marjorie Eliot, performs at Sunday's Jazz concert in Upper Manhattan on April 8, 2012.
Rudel Drears, son of Marjorie Eliot, performs at Sunday's Jazz concert in Upper Manhattan on April 8, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

By Paul Lomax

Special to DNAinfo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Rain or shine, those in the know get the A train to hear jazz in Washington Heights every Sunday. 

While new places to hear live music pop up almost weekly in this fast-changing neighborhood, jazz lovers from around the world have been flocking to Marjorie Eliot's living room for the past 20 years to hear their favorite classics at her jazz salon.

Hosted in Eliot’s apartment at 555 Edgecombe Ave., Eliot carries on an uptown musical tradition in the landmarked building where jazz legend Count Basie once lived. 

"It's all about jazz, and today I listened to all of my favorites from all the eras that I remember," said New Yorker Helen Stein, who attended with friend Wayne Lavender, 67. "We can't do without this."

Jazz lovers from as far as Montreal, Canada, and Hanover, Germany, came to hear the parlor performance this past Sunday. 

"I love jazz," said Sabrina Wahrendorf, 21, a German medical student who's visited Eliot's twice. "I just had to come and see it.” 

Eliot began her salons after the death of her son, Philip, in 1992.

"It's a tribute to his memory," she said. 

Eliot plays with a cast of regulars, including son Rudel Drears, and guests, playing material largely taken from the American songbook, with favorites including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Billie Holiday.

Eliot, who grew up in Philadelphia, has been playing jazz since childhood.

"Every house I ever walked into had a piano," she said. "The music always makes a difference. It is, and always will be, the life force that brings all of us people together. Music has always made a difference in everyone's lives."

During a recent Sunday's jazz set, the audience settled in to listen to selections from the songbook that included Billie Holiday's "Left Alone" and "There is No Greater Love," as well as tracks by jazz great Louis Armstrong, and another house favorite "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square" as sunlight streamed into Eliot’s third-floor apartment window. 

For DFyae Anderson, who serves as the salon’s poet in residence, the weekly event is a blessing. 

“It's home to me and always will be," he said. 

"Goodness will win at the end of the day," Eliot says of the philosophy behind her weekly gatherings. "This Sunday story belongs to all of us. Blessings and love to you all for coming here today. This is like a miracle every Sunday."

Check out DNAinfo's Beatz & Eatz, a monthlong celebration of food and music in Upper Manhattan.