HARLEM — Craig Harris likes to invite strangers into his home.
On Thursday, he had a little over a dozen people in his living room listening to his friends play jazz music. He and his neighbors on Mount Morris Park West plan to have similar gatherings once a month.
“This is the perfect place for music,” he said of his brownstone across the street from Marcus Garvey Park. “You get the music from the street, you see the music in the people.”
Harris, a trombonist who has traveled the world playing jazz, teamed up with a local touring company to give people visiting Harlem an authentic experience. It's important to preserve a little bit of history amid the tide of gentrification, he said.
“We want to spread the culture of our neighborhood,” said Harris, who moved to Harlem in the '60s. “We’ve seen the neighborhood change and the change is very beautiful, but we cannot forget our culture. It’s what builds this whole neighborhood. It’s about the writers, the poets, the musicians, the dancers.”
He also wants to give musicians a chance to show off. Instead of playing at an established club, where they are expected to play a certain way, they can come to his house and experiment, he said.
Every month Harris and Carolyn Johnson, founder of Welcome to Harlem, plan to host a jazz concert in a different Harlem brownstone. Neighbors are eager to show off their homes, and Harris has a long list of friends he can convince to perform, Johnson said.
“People take pictures of the outside [of the brownstones] all day long,” she said. “Why not invite them in?”
Last Thursday, the headliner was T.K Blue, a Bronx-born saxophonist and flutist who has known Harris for years.
The group has also been hosting weekly jazz concerts on Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m. at Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church for about a year. At $15 for adults and $10 for kids and seniors, the shows are meant to be accessible.
Schools that have lost music programs sometimes send children there to see professionals perform, Johnson added.
The brownstone performances are more intimate. Johnson sits on the porch as she welcomes guests in and tells them to make themselves at home. Before the show, they sit on living room couches and snack on fruit, chicken wings and baked goods with the band.
“They are part of the show,” Harris said. “There is nothing separating them from the musicians.”
So far, international tourists have embraced the brownstone jazz concerts. Australians and Brits book the most tours, usually through TripAdvisor. Spaniards aren’t far behind, Johnson said.
“The foreigners for some reason are more adventurous,” she said. “The Americans stay on the bus.”