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Jazz Notes: FDNY fireman dies battling St. Nick’s fire | New York Amsterdam News: The new Black view

Jazz Notes: FDNY fireman dies battling St. Nick’s fire | New York Amsterdam News: The new Black view


Jazz Notes: FDNY fireman dies battling St. Nick’s fire

Saturday afternoon, the stale smell of smoke was still in the air. A team of firemen and police officers remained on the scene, and 147th Street to 150th Street were still blocked off from traffic. The streets were filled with police cars, fire trucks and one 1950s automobile still parked across the street (149th) from the jazz club.
Police officer Eric Kim of the 30th Precinct explained the scene is still under investigation and the crime scene unit was there. “We want to make sure both buildings are safe before the residents are allowed to return,” said Kim. “There will be a presence for a few days or as long as it takes.”
The only thing left of St. Nick’s Pub is the bright red front that is now scorched from flames. Before the five-story building that housed St. Nick’s Pub was closed in December 2011, on any given Monday night, it was hotter than a Southern Baptist church on a Sunday morning.
Those excited patrons weren’t seeking the word of God, but rather the gospel according to the scriptures of crazy improvised music at its highest level. In its last seven years, the tiny Harlem bar on Sugar Hill had established a worldwide reputation for having one of the hottest Monday night jam sessions in New York City.
The jazz promoter Berta Indeed is credited with bringing the music to the pub after it was purchased by Earl Spain. “St. Nick’s Pub will go down in history as one of the best jazz clubs in Harlem,” said Indeed. “It was an honor for me to share this history with the band I named the Sugar Hill Quartet.”
The saxophonist Patience Higgins and the late bassist Andy McCloud III were original members of the quartet that became the house band, along with drummer Dave Gibson and pianists Les Kurtz and Marcus Persiani.
“It’s like an end of an era and a great learning experience,” said Higgins. “I met many wonderful people at St. Nick’s Pub. The vision and courage of Bertha Alloway to seek and find a venue to satisfy her need to hear jazz in Harlem was a benefit to all of us.”
The primary attraction was the sea of surprise guests, such as Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone, Stanley Turrentine, Tamm E. Hunt, Lawrence Clark, Wycliffe Gordon, Stevie Wonder, George Braith, Olu Dara, David Murray, vocalists Vanessa Rubin and T.C. III, Craig Haynes (Roy’s son), Donald Byrd and Savion Glover, who came by with tap shoes in hand.
James Carter, with his rousting saxophones, made the bar his second home. One evening trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize winner Wynton Marsalis showed off his New Orleans jazz roots. Leopolda Fleming, former percussionist for Nina Simone, was a guest member of the house band and Buster Brown the legendary hoofer was a regular.
Bill Saxton, the saxophonist/composer and owner of Harlem’s Bill’s Place, had a weekly Friday stand for six years. “The community didn’t care how well-known you were but your music had to touch them,” said Saxton. “Playing there kept me in touch with my people and kept my chops up for touring. Patience Higgins first became a band leader at the pub and Grammy winner Gregory Porter developed his craft there, as well as saxophonist Wayne Escoffery.”
Surprising jazz situations happened at the pub, such as George Braith the multi-reed player playing his patented instrument, the Braithophone (a double horn constructed with saxophone parts).
The pub represented an international jazz collaboration where young musicians from New Jersey to Australia interned weekly. These impromptu lessons couldn’t be taught in any classroom.
The pianist and singer Donald Smith was one of the first musicians to perform at the pub during its resurgence in 1994. “I loved playing at the pub and used those opportunities to work out new material I was working on for gigs,” stated Smith. “This was a real tragedy.”
The waiters and waitresses at Luckey’s Rendezvous (1940-54) were often Columbia University music students, who scurried around singing everything from blues to opera. The club’s name went through some changes, but the music remained its focal point into the 1950s, from Pink Angel to Dude’s with Jack McDuff as the house organist, and finally to its closing as St. Nick’s Pub.
“May Michael Davidson the firefighter, who died fighting the fire at St. Nick’s Pub, rest in peace,” said Indeed. “May the memories and history that I shared with the musicians live on forever.”
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Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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