My father was a big fan of jazz and the blues. While most boys grew up playing ball with their dads, I grew up going to smoky jazz clubs with mine. One of my fondest memories is of my dad taking me to my first live concert, Ike and Tina Turner at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, in the summer of 1967.
For those too young to remember, that was one of the worst periods for race relations in our country. Adding to the tension, the city was in the grip of an extreme heat wave.
I was 12 years old and terrified. To make matters worse, my father made me wear a blue sports jacket, turtleneck and gray slacks. Not surprisingly, we did not blend. Nevertheless, it was an unbelievable concert. Tina Turner was in her prime – a bundle of raw, soulful energy.
For most of my teens I was your typical rock ‘n’ roll fan. This also was the music my friends were listening to.
By the time I reached college, however, I started taking jazz more seriously and listening to the titans of the genre: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and others, like Stan Getz, Rashaan Roland Kirk and Randy Weston who I had heard in clubs with my dad. I even got a gig spinning jazz records at a local radio station.
But like most 18-year-old boys, my main interest was meeting girls. I even I thought that because I enjoyed something different, they would find me interesting and think I was cool.
But to my great disappointment, my love for the music was not shared by the girls I was trying to impress. In fact, they hated it! They wanted Elton John, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Jazz?! I might just as well have had leprosy. I became untouchable.
As for my career as a jazz disc jockey, after a year and a half I was fired. Notwithstanding these setbacks, I still love jazz and enjoy going to clubs throughout the city. There is something about the music that lifts my soul and reminds me of the many nights out with my dad.
New Yorkers are fortunate. While some world cities might have a handful of rooms offering live jazz music, there are dozens throughout NYC’s boroughs, including many I went to growing up. Manhattan alone has more than 50 clubs featuring the greatest jazz artists in the world.
Next time you’re in town, check around to see who’s playing. Here are a few of my favorites.
Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at the Time Warner Center: almost too classy to be a jazz club. Beautiful venue overlooking Central Park. Decent food to boot. I’ve seen a number of people perform there, including Arturo O’Farrill, Randy Weston (yes, the same person I saw with my father), Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride.
Minton’s Playhouse: Rumored to be the birthplace of bebop at 118th St. in Harlem. First opened in 1938. I’ve seen a number of local musicians perform there. Excellent menu.
Shrine: 2271 Adam Clayton Blvd. in Harlem. Kind of what you’d expect from a jazz club. Low down and funky. Great place just to hang out. Typically, they have a number of unknown musicians play every night. Each musician is given one hour to perform. All types of music, world music, jazz, blues etc.
Ginny’s Supper Club: In basement of the Red Rooster at 310 Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Great food. I’ve only seen one show there. It was a great venue.