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Older Black woman plays piano with eyes closed.

Reasons for Music


For more than 20 years Marjorie Eliot has been opening the doors of her apartment every Sunday to share her music with strangers.

The apartment is located at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, in an old building where Duke Ellington once lived. The doors have been opened every Sunday for more than 20 years so that tourists and fans, jazz experts and novices can enter. The living room, corridors and kitchen are full of plastic chairs. At the end of the living room there is an enormous portrait in which one of Marjorie Eliot’s sons smiles, and underneath the portrait is the piano.

Her age is difficult to determine and she refuses to divulge it. But the pianist Marjorie Eliot must be about 80, judging by her hands and her white hair. She started playing the piano when she was a young girl and she grew up surrounded by jazz. Her life was transformed when her eldest son died from kidney disease. The middle son would die a few years later from meningitis and the youngest, who suffers from a mental illness, disappeared a few years ago for more than a month.

When you lose someone you love, one strategy could be to go out and look for them, and another could be to wait at home and hope that they will know where to find you. Since Marjorie lost her sons she began to give concerts every Sunday, rain or shine or snowstorm, and whether it be Easter or Christmas, so that anybody can turn up and hear her play the piano. She is accompanied by other musicians, some of which are the best jazz players in New York, sometimes with a sax, sometimes a trumpet and sometimes a singer. This kind of intimate concert, among friends, were common in the golden age of jazz and Marjorie seeks to revive that tradition.


The concerts are free and at the end there is free water and cereal bars for the attendees, while a tray is passed around for people to make a donation. Marjorie always thanks the attendees, who she says feel like her family. There is no trace of deceit in her words. She says it with the same determination with which she approaches the piano.

Marjorie Eliot has created a space in which jazz is safe from contingencies. The music flows in the rhythm and depends on repetition, just like with rituals. The Sunday concerts are part of this repetition, to create a rendezvous with music and share it. Marjorie Eliot’s apartment feels like a little temple where we know that a woman’s generosity will make the same ritual possible every Sunday. Many people ask why. She says that she does it in homage to her sons. She does it perhaps so that, knowing where to find her; they will hear her from afar. But she admits that, beyond the pain and the celebration of life (of the lives of her sons and of life in general), she does it for music, which, she says, saved her during the worst of times. Music, deep down, doesn’t need reasons.

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