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Highlights from the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival in May 2014

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The Apollo Theater recently celebrated the fourth annual Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival from May 4 - 10 in 2014 with a series of performances and special events featuring some of the finest talent in contemporary Jazz. The event was organized by the Apollo Theater, Harlem Stage, and Jazzmobile in collaboration with Columbia University and I was fortunate enough to attend on the final two nights on Friday, May 9th and Saturday, May 10th.

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For those who may not know, the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival honors the extremely rich legacy of jazz in the uptown New York City community and the neighborhood’s continued role as a place to showcase new jazz talent. Over the past four years, the festival has become a staple of the New York City and Harlem cultural calendar and showcases a range of today’s top artists and emerging musicians with concerts and events at venues across Harlem.

On Friday, at the Apollo Music Cafe, the audience was treated to the sounds of Lakecia Benjamin and Sound Squad. During her powerful set, she was joined by the Motéma All-Stars to pay tribute to the iconic venue "Small's Paradise" with a night of jazz, funk, and soul. Small’s Paradise, located at 2294½ Seventh Avenue near 135th Street, was one of the most successful and best-known nightclubs in the history of Harlem, and the most prestigious club owned by an African American.

With her deep jazz roots and strong command as a talented saxophonist, Lakecia has become an in demand player, arranger, and section leader she has been involved in and invited to work on projects with high profile names in music such as: Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, The Roots, and Anita Baker.

On Saturday, night, I experienced the Sounds of the New Orleans band Water Seed. The smooth jazz sounds and vocals pumped up the crowd. During the set, they added a few pop favorites along with funk and a bit of gospel.

Both nights were a spectacular experience for the audience as well as myself which is sure to leave them anticipating next year's Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival event.

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