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Columbia Spectator Staff

This fall, the best place to find free jazz will be your local Whole Foods. Whole Foods Market, located at 97th Street and Columbus Avenue, is partnering with the Jazz Foundation of America to bring weekly concerts to the store, as part of the foundation's Jazz Legend Fall Series. Every Friday through Oct. 29, from 5:00 to 7:00, organizers hope to transform the supermarket into a music hall. This particular Whole Foods has roots in the blues—it stands around the same site that neighborhood mainstay Mikell's Jazz Club did between 1969 and 1991. "We really wanted to connect historically with the long-term residents in the community, as well as with the new residents who would be moving in," said Whole Foods Marketing Team Leader Kimberly Robison, who is coordinating the Jazz Legend Series. Many of the musicians featured in the 10-week series once played at Mikell's Jazz Club. "Whitney Houston was discovered there, Wynton Marsalis. Various great musicians performed at that location," Robison said. "One of my friends, he had moved away to Chicago and when he came back, Mikell's was closed—and he started crying because it meant that much to him in his personal life. It was a community place and such a historic club." Last Friday's concert featured saxophonist Eric Wyatt as part of a quartet that included bass, drums, and piano. The musicians played in the store's cafeteria, and the event had a strong neighborhood turnout. "We've had a great turnout and a warm reception, and this has become a way in which to tell the story of the neighborhood," she said. The Jazz Foundation of America has played a major role in the sponsorship of the series and provides support to jazz musicians—particularly aging artists, according to Robison. More than just an escape from the produce aisle, patrons said the concerts serve as something of an oasis in a neighborhood that has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Smaller family-owned establishments have made way for the large stores that occupy the Columbus Square area today. Upper West Side resident Lynn Hilaire remembered Mikell's fondly as a popular destination for jazz aficionados. "It was a great spot, they had great jazz, they really had great people there. And it's sort of legendary in the neighborhood." Hilaire said that the development of this neighborhood has its positive and negative aspects. While she enjoys having easy access to shopping, it has come at a price. "I had a view of Central Park for 37 years. Now I have [a view of] the people who live in the building in front of my living room window," she said. Other Whole Foods customers agreed that the face of the neighborhood has undergone remarkable change over the years. "It was a tennis court over there! Back in the seventies," said concert-goer Barbara Johnson, gesturing to a space across the street from the grocery store. "Some days it looks like 34th Street," added local resident Dolores Zecca. Sabella Curry, a regular at the Friday evening events who said she'd been coming since last year, used to frequent Mikell's while it was still open. She shared Hilaire's sentiments about the development of Columbus Square, but said the Jazz Legend Series is "the greatest." "Everybody have something to do on Friday that's free, meeting and talking with other people. It's good for us senior citizens," she said.

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