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Pianist Marc Cary Revives Jam Night

The Harlem Sessions is open to pros and aspiring young artists

Marc Cary

An upstroke summons the rolling snap of tap shoes as a tall figure leans over the Fender Rhodes, posing an open-ended question in his right hand. In 16 short bars, his phrase evolves into a concept and a conversation begins on the bandstand. Sinking his hands into the harmony, he listens and responds as every player, dancer and poet becomes a composer of the moment, and every moment’s contribution becomes part of something bigger than the music.

Since the first club-owner uttered the phrase “after hours,” throngs of young musicians have traveled to New York City, horns in hand, paying more than they can afford to suffer the exquisite torture of playing live in front of their musical heroes, who nightly flank the bar, not ten feet from the bandstand.

More than 70 years after Miles left East St. Louis to follow Bird and Dizzy all the way to 52nd street, the allure of the New York session that once mystified generations of young players, now has lost its luster. Students and pro-players hang late less, and fewer clubs stay open after the headlining set. Billboard/BET award-winning piano player and composer Marc Cary believes the burden of rejuvenating the New York session rests on the shoulders of experienced and committed musicians, who share an openly progressive artistic vision that preserves the supportive apprenticeship tradition. And in what better neighborhood to foster that creative rejuvenation than Harlem?

“In the midst of a void, an opportunity came that I used to create a place where everybody could come play with all the baddest cats,” says Cary.

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