On a recent Monday night when most of this City was preparing for a snow storm, the New Amsterdam Musical Association in Harlem was preparing for Open Mic. Founded in 1904, NAMA is the oldest African-American musical organization in the country. One of the founders was James Reese Europe, a Harlem Hellfighter – which was the name given to the famous 369th Infantry Regimen, and it was founded at a time when the musicians union didn’t admit minority musicians.
Located at 107 West 130th Street, it was a place for musicians to come together after performances and to rehearse. Up until the 1990’s, it also allowed musicians to board in the upper floors when they came to town. There was a time when Jelly Roll Morton lived in one of the upstairs rooms.
Today this non-profit organization continues in the spirit of Europe with events all week, low to no cost music lessons to vocalists and instrumentalists and a space for rehearsals. Still championing the causes for musicians, Justice for Jazz Artists is an effort to insure fair pay, adequate pension contributions, protection of recording rights and a process for redressing grievances.
When we arrived, the Nina Weston Trio was rehearsing for a performance at The Shrine in February. Every few minutes the bright red door opened admitting both the audience and the musicians for the evening’s performance. The $5.00 admission includes live music, refreshments and the opportunity to perform or sit and enjoy the music. As we were leaving the woman sitting next to me whispered that the man who just sat down at the keyboard is the organist at the nearby Saint Philips Church. Local musicians abound in Harlem and NAMA welcomes them all.