Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Harlem Nights

Lush Life at St. Nick's Pub

By Sara Bruya (c) 2001

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout Harlem. So I figured, I’d put my ear to the ground and try to find one of those “undiscovered” hotbeds of smokin’ live jazz that fit the romantic notion of Harlem in its glory days. A friend asked if I had ever been to St. Nick’s Pub, known for their all night jam sessions on Mondays. Perfect. I couldn’t wait to savor the lush life in some small dive—the gritty, smoky, moody atmosphere of an old black & white jazz photo, unhampered by the crowds of the Village.

At 11:30pm I took the C train up to 145th and St. Nicholas and walked the two blocks up to the club, ignoring shouts of “go home, you white-ass bitch.” Perfect. I’m so hardcore, I thought. I had worn my 1940s red suede trench coat, and was eager to sit at the bar for twelve o’clocktails like a woman jazz ballads are written about. I found the pub, delightfully decorated outside with amateur paintings of instruments—drums and saxophones in black paint against white and red. Perfect. I was appropriately dressed.

But wait a second, the club was packed. I could hardly get in the door. And hey, where did all these tourists come from? Well, it looks like I’m the LAST one to know about this little gem. Ok, it was hard to swallow, but maybe the Germans and Japanese had their fingers on the pulse long before I did. The music explained it all. Wafting over the blond heads was some of the most unbelievable jazz I’ve heard (ESPECIALLY for no cover) in my quest for live music. On the walls, the aging portraits of jazz greats look on approvingly. I wonder what graced the walls when the greats themselves (Charlie Parker, Billy Strayhorn) actually played there…

I settled in at the bar and ordered a Tequila Sunrise, amused by the columns of red lights behind the bar and the sign asking patrons to please refrain from profanity. I tried, but as I still couldn’t see the musicians through the foreigners, I muttered them under my breath. But don’t get me wrong, St. Nick’s definitely has its share of interesting regulars—wide-brimmed hats, foot-long cigars, and salt & pepper beards make the crowd an unusual mix of characters. Great for people-watching.

The cool cats took turns sitting in with the Sugar Hill Jazz Quartet—a few trumpets, a trombone, a bass clarinet and what bandleader Patience Higgins called an “abundance of saxophones.” Most notably, James Carter impressed the crowd with deep and throaty solos from his alto sax--his eyes, meanwhile, flirting with the crowd as if to tell a story of seduction. His performance was phenomenal—a must see, which is lucky for you! He’s a regular at the Monday night jams. (Check him out at http://www.geocities.com/emotionalism/jc)

Also impressive was bluesy songstress Lonie Walker. She wowed the crowd with a passionate piano performance of what she calls “acid blues”. But to see her again you’ll have to travel to Chicago where she owns and plays at the Underground Wonder Bar. (www.undergroundwonderbar.com)

The jam was just entering its peak when I left around 3am. Though I’m not as hardcore as some who stay ‘til 7:00am, I found my Harlem hang, for sure. If you can manage an all-nighter on a Monday, St. Nick’s is the place to be!

This Month at St. Nick’s:

Father’s Night Bash (The Night Before Mother’s Day) Sat. May 12, 2001 Featuring jazz, funk and blues by The Captain and The Brand Nu Gypsies.

Jam Session every Monday Night

Diva Tuesdays Karaoke ($2 cover) 8-11pm

St. Nick’s Pub -- 737 St. Nicholas Avenue at 149th Street -- 212-283-9728

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