UPPER WEST SIDE — Kids can learn about the history of Harlem's jazz scene by tap dancing, learning how to scat or composing their own tune at an exhibit opening Friday at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.
"Jazzed! The Changing Beat of 125th Street," aims to transport visitors to Harlem in the 1920s-'40s through photos, music, writing and memorabilia.
In partnership with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, the exhibit centers on the work of legendary artists Ella Fitzgerald, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Duke Ellington. It runs through the end of the year.
Though the exhibit is filled with details about the performers, organizers want "Jazzed!" to feel more like an immersive experience than an academic exhibit, said Thomas Quaranta, the director of exhibitions and museum operations.
Visitors can make their own tap shoes with bottle caps, scat like Fitzgerald on a newly created stage, and compose a new piece for a live pianist to play.
"Jazz is accessible. It’s alive today and it’s about this beat that can be your own," Quaranta said. "It’s about the moment."
In that vein, the museum will pipe in classic tunes from the Harlem Renaissance, but also feature live artists performing in the gallery.
Local high school and college students will play jazz sets and improvisations during the day, while more seasoned pros will take the stage on select nights, Quaranta explained.
"When you see somebody like that doing a jazz piece... it really leaves an impression that you otherwise wouldn’t have," he said, adding that he hoped the musicians would inspire young visitors.
"Jazzed!" also draws the connection between today's artists — not only musicians but painters, dancers and poets — and those of the Harlem Renaissance.
Through diagrams and text on the walls, kids can learn what it means to influence other artists and how musical legacies live on, Quaranta noted.
"You’ll hopefully get to see how you can get from Eminem to Bojangles," he said.
Tickets are $11 each and children under 1 can attend for free. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.