NEW YORK CITY is particularly enticing during this time of year.
But during a recent weekend visit, my husband and I decided to forgo the typical holiday entertainment and relive the romance and allure of the 1930s and '40s, when the city was a jumping mecca of jazz with the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald heard in clubs or hotels.
The mood was set by a stay at The Carlton on Madison Avenue, a Beaux-Arts hotel whose grand staircase ushered us into the marble and mosaic-tiled lobby. Designer David Rockwell used crystal chandeliers and wall sconces, a two-story waterfall, marble bars, and suede and mahogany-paneled walls to recreate the early 1900s glamour of its early days as The Seville Hotel.
An antique revolving door and stunning Tiffany-style glass skylight could not have provided more of a surprise than if we had discovered Billie Holiday singing in the intimate hotel lounge.
The Beaux-Arts elegance continues into meeting and large guest rooms where leather-tufted headboards and soothing beige, taupe and blue furnishings create a restful and serene atmosphere.
Attention has been well-placed, too, in modern features such as the wide, flat-screen television, updated marble bathrooms, iHome docking stations, complimentary Wi-Fi, and desktop outlets for today's electronic devices.
On one of the coldest nights of the year, we could have stayed and enjoyed a cozy dinner by chef Geoffrey Zakarian at Country, the hotel's restaurant.
But we had come to the city for jazz, and jazz it would be. Like native New Yorkers, we took the A train toward Harlem and 168th Street to check out Marjorie Eliot, a New York City legend who runs Parlor Entertainment.
Ring the doorbell to apartment 3F, and be welcomed by the spirit of Paul Robeson and Count Basie who once called this building home. Eliot greets guests with a warm kiss and a pleasant "Thank you so much for taking the time to come." She hugs familiar patrons and then sits down at the piano.
For more than a decade, she has hosted these Sunday afternoon jazz concerts in her living room, a tradition that pays tribute to her son, Phillip, a jazz musician who died in 1993 at age 28.
Parlor Entertainment is considered a rite of passage for real jazz enthusiasts and on this day it was crowded with young music students who had traveled from Minnesota's Carleton College.
The petite Eliot typically begins by singing or playing a jazzed-up gospel standard. An accomplished pianist, she played "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and "Amazing Grace" for a mixed audience of young, mature, black and white jazz lovers, squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder on about 40 folding chairs and benches.
Shortly, she was joined by a saxophonist, trumpeter and drummer, followed by spirited renditions of "I Shall Not be Moved" and "When the Saints Go Marching In," which really got the audience jazzed up, as they clapped and sang along.
At the end of the performance, Eliot is thanked with a standing ovation. Although the concerts are free, when a tip jar is passed around the room, everyone contributes generously to keep this jazz tradition alive.
We then headed to Birdland (named for Charlie "Bird" Parker who played there in 1949), arriving late but greeted quietly by a hostess. We were seated close to the stage, though everyone in the comfortable room appeared to have an unobstructed view.
Today, some of the hottest contemporary jazz artists, like Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra under the direction of his son Arturo O'Farrill, can be heard here seven nights a week.
Rightfully, the focus is on the music and loud conversations are frowned upon, though you'll appreciate the food as well. Show times vary and there is a cover charge of $20-$35 with a $10 food/drink minimum.
Embrace the mix, mingle and have a great time, taking in the sounds of the city. *
P.J. Thomas is editor and co-publisher of Pathfinders Travel Magazine for People of Color, a nationally distributed publication founded in 1997, and co-host of "Travel with Pathfinders" on WPGC-AM in Washington, D.C. Contact her at