York to New York Pt. II – Into Harlem

Published on the York University blog Dec. 29, 2008

     …The band filled the stage and Lauren looked at me excitedly. “If this is even a little bit funky then I’ll be happy.” Her addiction is music. She is continually scanning papers like the Village Voice in New York and NOW in Toronto to find the funkiest jazz act to go to. She seems to know every hip hop and jazz artist in the world and drops their names constantly into discussions. She has improved my music literacy in leaps and bounds.      The band started and the lead singer lowered his head as he sang. Soon the heavyset sax player was blowing out soulful notes and the keyboardist was joining in. As the singer became more comfortable with the stage he raised his head and belted out lyrics with a James Brown intensity. People started to get out of their seats to sway to the tune. I began to dance in my seat but I was not brave enough to get up to move my hips in front of the entire bar. Lauren seemed content and was snapping her fingers and bopping her head.

     The band continued to please the crowd as different members came up to the mic to sing. The sax player slowed down the tempo of the music to pour out some soul music and the female drummer came forward later to get us moving to the new Estelle and Kanye track. Everyone seemed livelier and friendlier than people in Toronto. This was another sign of my unbreakable travel addiction. When you are in the advanced stages of travelaholism everything is glorified and seen as absolutely perfect in your travel destination. You begin to wonder how you have lived in your native city for so long without seeing the virtues of other completely livable cities. Usually this is when I plan to move to my travel destination in the distant future.

     After we’d had our fill of funk and talking to a couple of Jersey boys in the dimly lit jazz bar we got back on the subway to make our way back to Chinatown to check out a show at which Q-tip was DJing. Q-tip is a member of the famous A Tribe Called Quest Hip Hop Group and is quite well known in the New York DJ scene. I was thrilled that I was going to be able to hear his DJ set at 96 Lafayette St.at the Santos Party House. I had become interested in Q tip through the sounds of DJ/Producer Mark Ronson who produced part of Amy Winehouse’s award winning album Back to Black. Mark Ronson has a DJ show on the East Village Radio show and he’s had Q tip on as a guest. When we approached the venue I could feel a light feeling in my chest which is the feeling of excitement I get when I think I’m about to embark on an unexpected adventure. The possibility of adventure is another reason why I’m a travelaholic.

     As we came up to the entrance we were stopped abruptly by the muscular bouncer.

“This is a male only event,” he said.

Lauren and I looked at each other perplexed.

“What?” She asked dumbfounded.

     Some girls nearby also seemed equally stunned. And then we saw a few guys run past us and into the doors. Finally we clued in.

“Oh this is a gay event. But what about Q-tip?” I asked the bouncer.

     “He spins on Fridays.” Lauren and I were disappointed. The magazine listing that we had read had been wrong. My aspirations to see Q-tip and possibly Mark Ronson were dashed. Lauren felt bad for suggesting the event. But we knew that there would be more thrilling things to come, and that we had a lot to look forward to.

     We woke up Sunday ready to have a New York City Brunch. We had a choice between the Blue Note Jazz Brunch and Sylvia’s well known soul food brunch in Harlem. We had gotten a tip from an NYU student that Sylvia’s was worth the trip up to 328 Lennox Avenue in the New York City Borough of Harlem. Harlem lays between 110th and 158th street in North Manhattan and had become a predominately African American borough. As we stepped out of the subway I knew that I was in the centre of the Harlem Renaissance an artistic movement of the 20s and 30s that showcased African American Art. The streets were filled with icons of African American history. I walked by Martin Luther King Blvd.and Malcolm X/Lennox Avenue. I also saw the sign for Frederick Douglass Blvd, named after the famous African American statesman and author that became the first nominated black vice-presidential even though he had once been a slave. And then there was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd who was the first African American elected to congress from New York. I envisioned that one of the streets would soon be named after Obama. For now street vendors sold Obama buttons and t-shirts with images of the president-elect that made him look almost saintly. Among the Marcus Garvey posters and the Tupac paintings Obama seemed to stand out as the new African American hero.

     I passed by the great Apollo theater at 253 W. 125th Street and watched all of the people lined up for the Sunday Christmas show. This was the place where a lot of the greats got their start like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. I couldn’t begin to imagine the feeling of sitting in a seat at the Apollo to listen to a show early on in the career of any of those artists. Next Lauren and I were off to our gospel brunch at the famous Sylvia’s restaurant which is down the street from another famous venue the Lenox Lounge. We opened the door to Sylvia’s and a din rose out into the street. The eatery was filled with crowds of people waiting to get a taste of New York Harlem Soul food…

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