Jazz pianist and Juilliard professor Marc Cary is also the host of the Harlem Sessions, a regular gathering of his talented musician, poet, artist, philosopher, and dancer friends. These all-star jam sessions honor the cultural heritage of Harlem and establish a new set of American jazz standards. The Sessions started as weekly events at Gin Fizz, but have recently been spreading the love with shows all over town, including at the David Rubenstein Atrium on May 4. For this playlist, Cary serves up ten of his favorite tunes off the Harlem Sessions menu.

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“Harlem River Drive”
Written by Eddie Palmieri
Performed by Harlem River Drive

Growing up in DC, we had Rock Creek Park, which the Blackbyrds turned into an anthem. It always made me think of Eddie Palmieri's “Harlem River Drive.” The song has a heavy groove and lyrically tells stories of Harlem life. From an artist's perspective, it shows a truly different side of Eddie Palmieri's compositional skills and deals with jazz and dance at the same time.

“Throw It Away” by Abbey Lincoln
I love this song for all the obvious reasons, but what really touched me was the way it came to her. One night she was doing the I Ching and this was the answer which was given to her. She wrote the lyrics from that answer.

“Dance of The Infidels” by Bud Powell
The title and the spirit of the song always moved me. It also taught me a lot about the intention in the titles of songs, which, for an artist, gives you a lot of materials to work with when improvising and developing the song, especially when there are no lyrics attached to it.

“Harlem Nocturne”
Written by Earle Hagan
Performed by Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers

This amazing composition has been covered by many, including Duke Ellington, but I was most inspired by Chuck Brown's rendition of it; it really made me want to include it in my repertoire.

“Feel” by George Duke
From an artist's perspective, this song shows the many dynamics of George Duke, from his songwriting to his use of synthesizers and electric piano. One of the songs that inspired me to explore the various sound palettes available to me as a musician.

“Infant Eyes”
Written by Wayne Shorter
Performed by Doug and Jean Carn

Doug Carn was always an inspiration to me personally because he was accessible to me at an early age, growing up in DC. This is one of the songs he would often play. Together with Jean Carn, it was a heavenly experience to watch them actually perform this.

“Stare and Stare” by Curtis Mayfield
One of the most phenomenal songwriters of all time. And like most of his songs, his lyrics resonate as much today as they did then. The lyric is heavy and the groove is deliberate. I was attracted to the lyric, which is deep in itself, but the groove really made me want to learn this song and include it in our repertoire.

“Colors” by Pharoah Sanders
A song that is omnipresent in meaning. A beautiful use of the pentatonic scale. Performed by Pharoah and Lonnie Liston Smith, it was a part of the fabric of my whole life.

Written by Gigi Gryce
Performed by the Gigi Gryce – Clifford Brown Sextet

I was introduced to this song by Arthur Taylor. It keeps me mindful of the story and the sacrifice of the musicians like Gigi Gryce, Charlie Mingus, and Max Roach, who all were very influential in informing musicians about copyright and publishing.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” by Gary Bartz
Another Harlem Sessions theme—it's a song that has become my mantra.

Listen to the full playlist.


Playlist: Harlem Sessions
Rebecca Meek
Marc Cary

About the Curator

Jazz pianist, keyboardist, producer, and composer Marc Cary holds tight to his roots in Washington, DC’s go-go music scene, but they represent only one element among the myriad. Cary’s interests run from Indian classical to Malian music to hip-hop. He started his career working with Betty Carter, a legendary vocalist famous for drawing soul and sincerity out of her bands, and went on to work with Roy Hargrove, Dizzy Gillespie, Erykah Badu, Shirley Horn, Stefon Harris, Q-Tip and—most influential of all—Abbey Lincoln. 

Website: marccary.com

Facebook: The Harlem Sessions