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Jazz at Marjorie Eliot's
A gift to NYC ....
Marjorie Eliot of Washington Heights
BY Lore Croghan
It's a sweet gift for a city mired in recession.
She and a group of professional musicians serve up a big helping of jazz, with a side dish of spirituals and the occasional pop favorite - maybe Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky" - thrown in for good measure.
"I get more than I give," said Eliot, an actress and writer, who has hosted her at-home concerts for 15 years.
She sets up 50 chairs in her Edgecombe Ave. parlor, hallway and kitchen, leaving enough space next to her upright piano for a singer, sax player, trumpeter and drummer. The bulbs in the parlor light fixtures are tinted blue to lend atmosphere, but the mood of most of the music is upbeat and exuberant.
The performers, who include her son, 39-year-old Rudel Drears, offer rollicking renditions of crowd-pleasing classics such as "Take the 'A' Train." The guests really get into the music, swaying in their seats and calling out "Oh, yeah!" when the spirit moves them.
Eliot created the parlor concerts to help her cope with her sorrow over the death of another son, Phillip, a young actor who died on a Sunday of a kidney ailment at age 32.
"I could depend on it like clockwork, to feel bad on Sunday," she said. The concerts are meant to honor him and another musician son, Michael, who was 47 when he died after an illness in 2006.
"When people come here to be my guests, they make a sad story into something joyous," said Eliot, who wouldn't give her age.
One of her guests this past Sunday was Darragh Conway, from Dublin, Ireland. In the city to sit for the New York State bar exam, he wanted to go out and listen to jazz after the tests. He hunted around online and chose Eliot's apartment instead of a club.
"There doesn't always have to be alcohol involved," said Conway, 23. "This is some of the best jazz I've ever seen."
This weekend, Eliot and her musicians are doing double duty. In addition to their parlor gig, they are performing a Saturday concert at the American Academy of Arts and Letters on W.156th St.