The Jazz Walk: A History of Jazz in Harlem

The Jazz Walk: A History of Jazz in Harlem

JazzHarlemImage13Take a step back in time when, in the “Roaring ‘20s,” all things seemed possible. Jazz was America’s popular music and its epicenter was a suburb of Manhattan, north of Central Park, known as Harlem. This 3-hour walk, in the company of a jazz historian, includes earphones that enable you to hear key performances and pieces at select moments as you take in the topography of Harlem.


JazzHarlemImage2We begin on 142nd Street and Lenox Ave – the original site of the famed Cotton Club, which was owned by the mob and had a whites-only entrance policy. It’s also where the Duke Ellington Orchestra was the house band from 1927 to 1931. A stroll down Lenox Avenue brings us to where Chick Webb’s Orchestra out-swung the “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman, in a musical cutting contest. This club, The Savoy, was what poet Langston Hughes called “the heart beat of Harlem” and was home to the creation of the Lindy Hop and other dances that swept America and the world.


JazzHarlemImage10The Savoy, which was a block long and resided between 140th Street and 141st Street, was open to all races; this was virtually unheard of prior to the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. Walking south on Lenox Avenue, Harlem’s main thoroughfare, brings us to the original site of Connie’s Inn, where in 1929 Fats Waller’s musical revue, Hot Chocolates, featured a young Louis Armstrong. It was during Hot Chocolates that Armstrong performed “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue,” an anthem for the burgeoning Harlem Renaissance and a harbinger to the music of the civil rights movement.


JazzHarlemImage3We visit the famed Apollo Theater, a staple in Harlem history, where Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan won amateur night contests. At the Lenox Lounge we stop to reminisce about Billie Holiday’s performances of “Strange Fruit,” an anti-lynching song written by Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol. We travel to the East Side of Harlem to spend some time at the National Jazz Museum the only one of its kind in the northeast. We meander down East 126th Street to visit the iconic “Great Day in Harlem” stoop where photographer Art Kane captured jazz giants such as Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie after a long night of gigging. Finally, we’ll travel back to the West Side to the original location of Minton’s Playhouse on 118th Street, where modern jazz (or Bebop) was born.

michael conklinMichael Conklin Michael Conklin is an active jazz scholar, cultural historian, and writer who specializes in jazz history and American music, music of the antebellum South, the Harlem Renaissance, and issues of race and class. He is presently pursuing his doctoral studies (D.Litt) at Drew University. This interdisciplinary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree allows him to focus on the intersections of American 19th and 20th century literature and black, American music (jazz). Michael's dissertation, Uptown Gumbo: The Impact of the Blues and Jazz on the 1920′s Harlem Literary Tradition, examines the relationship between the artistic movements of Jazz Age Harlem in addition to the racial and socio-cultural implications at these crossroads. He graduated from Rutgers University with a Master’s degree in Jazz History and Research and had the pleasure of studying with such luminaries as Lewis Porter and Henry Martin. His thesis, an examination of the divergent piano styles of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, was entitled The Poet and The Priest. Unsurprisingly, Michael's spend the majority of his time teaching and writing; his essays can be found in publications by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, Salem Press, Scarecrow Press, University of Michigan Press, ABC CLIO/Greenwood Press and SAGE Publications.
Kenny BergerKenny Berger Kenny Berger is a native of Brooklyn and has been a fixture on the New York jazz scene since the mid 1960’s as a baritone saxophonist, composer, arranger, teacher, and historian. He has played with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Mercer Ellington, Gil Evans, Toshiko Akyoshi, Duke Pearson and Dizzy Gillespie big bands and in small and medium sized groups led by Lee Konitz, Julius Hemphill, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Previte and Ned Rothenberg to name a few. He was baritone saxophonist and staff arranger for the National Jazz Ensemble, which was the first of the jazz repertory ensembles that are so widespread today. He holds an M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University and was a founding member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. He has taught jazz history, arranging and composition at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, William Paterson University, SUNY Purchase, New Jersey City University and The New School.


Insight Cities arranges this tour only for private groups with advance notice, at present. Thanks for emailing us at [email protected].
Additional Costs: 
National Jazz Museum admission:
Free (Donation suggested)
Starting Location:
Cotton Club
656 W 125th St, New York
NY 10027, United States


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

Cancellation and Tipping

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