After 12 days of blues and rock, following the Mississippi Blues Trail from Clarksdale to Indianola to Greenwood, it was refreshing to hear live jazz this weekend at the Naumkeag Pavilion in Central Park as part of their first annual Colors and Jazz festival. Superstar Arturo O'Farrill led the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in a program of warm-your-soul-and-spirit salsa that made for a steamy afternoon despite the chilly temperatures. In honor of Veteran's Day this week, Travel and Food Notes welcomes guest blogger Judy Nayer who was invited to write up her jazz experience at a New York City soul food and music gem that is the bastion of NYC vets and one of my personal favorites.
The American Legion Post 398 on 248 West 132nd Street was organized in 1922 by Colonel Charles Young with a mission to honor and serve veterans and their families and their community. With 200 hundred members today, it still actively attends to its mission of service. “The Post,” as it's known, is run by its members as perhaps the most authentic jazz/blues bar left in Harlem, with live jazz on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and a DJ on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.
American Legion Post 398, HarlemYou'll “hear” your way to the brownstone with the music. Head downstairs, ignore the sign that says “Only Members and their Guests Allowed,” and enter this special place. There is no cover charge, but you must sign the guest book.
I went on Sunday, the best night for live jazz, to hear the amazing sounds of the Harlem Groove Band, including a tenor sax that will blow your mind and my favorite electric guitarist anywhere. Surprising guests may be top musicians from Europe or local singers, all great – and loud, of course.
It’s cash only, and the drinks are cheap, and strong – airline mini bottles, neat, or beer or mini wine bottles – are the way to go. It’s also a soul food joint. $10 gets you a meal cooked up in the kitchen in the back. The night that I went was the “fish fry” – a big piece of whiting, a couple of sides of greens, and mac and cheese. Enough to fill you up and then some.
Casual Soul Food and Hot Jazz at American Legion PostIf you’re a stranger you are soon welcomed. I was well taken care of by the host, Commander Eddie Randy Dupree, the spirit of the place. He’s the sparkly-eyed gentleman doing moves on the dance floor and yelling “Yeah Baby” every few minutes. I was also warmly greeted by the two veterans who were volunteering that night.
What I love most is the feeling of community in these tight quarters, the fact that the old timers of the neighborhood and the veterans mingle with the young hipsters who have made the trek from Brooklyn to hear the jam. Everyone’s there for the same reason, to have a good time, together. Everyone’s included. And that’s music for the heart and soul.
Karen the bartender appreciated the five dollar tip I gave her – I wanted to compensate for drinking only club soda and cranberry juice – and served me up with chips and spicy pretzels. Two of the guys from the band came over to shake my hand between sets. A veteran gave me an American flag in honor of the holiday, and I promised not to let it touch the ground.