News

A Throwback to Jazz’s Harlem Roots: 449 L.A. SCAT

By Michael Engle | February 22, 2012

The jazz club that resides at 449 Malcolm X Boulevard has several names.  Its awning reads “449 L.A.” (for “Lenox Avenue,” of which Malcolm X Blvd. is a Harlem-specific subdivision); however, it is also known as “SCAT” (a not-quite-an-acronym for “ShowCase for Artists”), or, simply, as “449.”  Upon entering, its interior, as well as its cultural offerings, are much less ambiguous.

SCAT is a performance space that serves as an accurate throwback to jazz’s Harlem roots.  The decor evokes the feelings of a personal living room, just as “rent parties” that took place back in the day.  There are books everywhere: though some are visibly stacked at the bar, most are stashed in boxes and milk crates under a wall-mounted couch. There was even a conga drum lying on stage, which one patron spontaneously picked up and beat during a song.  As per general rules of proper hospitality, the band encouraged him to take a solo on the conga.  In addition to the unsuspecting guest conguero, 449′s owner, Sandy, threw in her own accents with her tambourine.

The band I saw on Saturday, February 18th was a piano/bass/drums trio, led by pianist Ron Burton.  The trio had an impressive set list spanning multiple generations of jazz.

Among other songs, they performed “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington, “Perhaps” by Charlie Parker, “Fungii Mama” by Blue Mitchell, “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter, and even “Saving All My Love for You” by the recently deceased Whitney Houston.  Throughout Burton’s concert, hospitality, as well as light-hearted humor, were prevailing themes alongside the jazz.  Owing to the fact that it was raining that night, Burton called for “Here’s That Rainy Day” by Johnny Burke and Jimmy van Heusen; the final song of the night, as a lead-up to the inevitable event six hours away, was “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein.

Augmenting the trio, for several selections, was a man affectionately nicknamed “Satchmo.”  Though his instrument of choice was soprano saxophone, instead of cornet, Satchmo lived up to his name by occasionally singing with a perfect imitation of Louis Armstrong’s distinct voice.  Burton announced, on multiple occasions, that the band would proceed with “whatever Satchmo would like.” Some of Satchmo’s features included “I Waited for You” by Bob Russell and Dizzy Gillespie (to which Burton quipped, “No, I’m waiting for you!”), as well as “My Favorite Things” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, from The Sound of Music.  (Burton specifically declined to enter an audience-wide questionnaire of the customers’ favorite things.)

Though there is no food menu at 449, each table is provided with a free bowl of pretzels. I had confirmed this fact the night before and in order to mitigate this minor inconvenience, I was told that it is acceptable to bring food from home or from takeout; however, nobody in the audience chose to do so.  The club does offer a limited list of beverages available to enjoy. Despite these facts, 449 remains a valuable landmark to the Harlem jazz scene.  The jazz was presented as it was in the days of yore: without nonsense, without much extra razzle-dazzle, but with a cozy home-like atmosphere and a friendly spirit.

Check out 449 L.A. SCAT, at 449 Malcolm X (or Lenox) Blvd. (in between 132nd and 133rd Streets), NYC 10037, tel. (212) 234-3298.

For more on Harlem news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

More about: , , ,

You Might Also Like:

Newsletter

Featured Recipe

Photo by Sudhamshu Sauces & Rubs

By Marcus Samuelsson

Awase

More Recipes

Meet the Team

About The Team

Whether it’s finding the best goat tacos in LA, spotting a well-worn vintage bag in Sweden, or interviewing the “crab man” selling seafood on a corner in Harlem, we tell stories seen from Chef Marcus Samuelsson‘s point of view. MarcusSamuelsson.com strives to create conversations about food, nutrition, culture, art, and design. We want to find Read More

Restaurants

Red Rooster Harlem
Ginny’s Supper Club
Uptown Brasserie
American Table Cafe and Bar
Kitchen and Table
American Table Brasserie and Bar
Norda
Marc Burger