By Way of Lawnside, a Home for Jazz in Haddon Heights

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Gail Harris hopes her Haddon Heights cafe, May The Jazz Never Stop, will attract and support a permanent community of jazz fans and players for the area.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 13, 2018

Gail Harris of May the Jazz Never Stop in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Until Gail Harris moved to Lawnside, the Philadelphia native had no knowledge of its former status as a destination on the national jazz circuit.

Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn all passed through, historians recall;  a cultural windfall for South Jersey’s first incorporated black community in the age of segregation.

As entertainment venues integrated, performers had more options, and the jazz community broke up or moved on.

For years, Harris has been looking for a way to bring it back around again.

“I’m always traveling to the south: Rehoboth Beach, Berks County, Lancaster,” Harris said. “We just don’t have a jazz place here.”

After dinner at Kunkel’s steakhouse in Haddon Heights one night, Harris spotted a storefront for rent in the plaza next door.

Exterior, May the Jazz Never Stop, in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“I looked at my husband and said, ‘We could do this,’” she said.

“He said, ‘Oh, here we go.’”

Inside, the building wasn’t pretty.

“There was a hole in the ceiling; you could see straight up to the sky,” Harris said; “a cement floor with a crack in the foundation.”

A 19-year project engineer with the Gilbane Building Company of Philadelphia, she was undaunted.

“I walked in and said, ‘I can do this,’” Harris said. “Even when I stood in here and it was a shell, I said, ‘This is the neighborhood we need to be in.’”

The 900 block of West Kings Highway is “family-oriented, close-knit, and very peaceful,” Harris said. She wants to make it a permanent home for what has become an elusive musical genre.

That’s why her café is called May The Jazz Never Stop.

Inside the May the Jazz Never Stop cafe in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“I call [South Jersey]  a pop-up jazz area,” Harris said.

“Maybe a restaurant would have jazz for a week, or jazz month; I want it to be a continual jazz venue for everyone,” she said.

“I want to preserve something that didn’t really exist.”

Twenty-five bucks gets you in the door, plus a catered, BYOB meal.

Guests are welcome to stay for either or both of the 7:15 and 9 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday. There’s no live music on Sunday, but a jazz-accompanied brunch is served from 1 to 5 p.m.

Freddy Cooper and Rehoboth Praise tonight at MTJNS JAZZ CAFÉ

Posted by May The Jazz Never Stop on Saturday, June 9, 2018

Dress is comfortable, at Harris’ insistence; performances are emceed. Caterers rotate different menus through weekly. The shows are professional, and the atmosphere is unfussy.

“You come on in, you sit down, you lean back in your chair, and you enjoy some jazz,” Harris said. “That was my vision, and it’s here.”

Performers sign the wall at May the Jazz Never Stop in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

The club seats 60 people comfortably.

Locally produced art lines the walls, and there’s a mural for guest selfies.

The stage includes a wall of chalk signatures to which performers contribute weekly.

If things go according to plan, Harris is going to need more wall space.

“I’ve talked to a lot of jazz artists, and a lot of them are hungry and looking for places to play,” she said.

“The jazz will never stop if I can start it in Haddon Heights.”

May The Jazz Never Stop is located at 912 West Kings Highway in Haddon Heights. Hours are 6-10 p.m. Thursday, 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. For reservations, call 856-547-5299.

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