Hot Jazz in a Veterans Club Basement in Harlem

On a Sunday afternoon in February, the staccato chords along with rousing bass lines of a Hammond B-3 organ shook the walls of American Legion Post 398 in Harlem.

Ba-ba-doo-dee-dee-deep. Bum-ba-ba-ba-bummm.

Hundreds of people had crammed into the humble basement bar to pay tribute to the organ’s owner, the musician Seleno Clarke, who had died in December at 87.

Some said prayers. Some read poems. however mostly they played jazz.

through 3 within the afternoon until 11 p.m., dozens of organists, saxophonists, guitarists, drummers along with singers rotated onto the modest stage. They played with verve along with abandon, as the crowd hooted along with clapped along with cried out, “Seleno!”

the item might have been a strange sight for an American Legion post. The veterans service organization has struggled to keep up membership nationwide, however Post 398’s reputation among the last authentic jazz venues in Harlem has kept its seats full along with the atmosphere popping. Every Sunday night for nearly two decades, an unlikely mix of aging veterans, tourists along with musicians through around the earth have come to enjoy cheap drinks, Southern-style home cooking along with jazz.


A photograph of Mr. Clarke, left, hangs on the wall of American Legion Post 398 in Harlem, where the band he formed still plays.

Anthony Geathers for The brand-new York Times

Legion members say Mr. Clarke’s death left an irreplaceable gap in their close-knit community. Today, the organist can still be spotted smiling, always wearing a suit, in many of the photos lining Post 398’s yellow along with blue walls. however Mr. Clarke’s former bandmates, on a mission to uphold his legacy, are tightening their sound, broadening their repertory along with playing with more enthusiasm than ever.

“Seleno brought people together with his music,” said David Lee Jones, 59, a veteran alto saxophonist who played with Mr. Clarke for 27 years along with who currently fills his old mentor’s shoes as bandleader. “We want to keep in which going. We want to keep jazz going here in Harlem.”

Continue reading the main story