In Clinton, Monday Night Is the Jazziest Night of the Week

July 21, 1997

 

GO TO NY TIMES ARTICLE

 

CAN low-down bluesy beer-basted live jazz flourish around the new family-oriented Times Square? It’s not quite 52d Street yet, but on Mondays the ghost of Cannonball Adderley smiles down on the neighborhood as many local musicians make the rounds of a new generation of clubs.

There are getting to be so many Monday-night jazz bargains in Clinton that a fan can wear out shoes going from gig to gig to jam session. There are even rival organ trios like the ones that flourished in the 50’s and 60’s.

What makes the timing right for Monday jazz in Clinton, as real-estate agents and developers insist on calling Hell’s Kitchen? The answers vary from the high number of musicians who live in the neighborhood, to the area’s changing demographics, to the fact that most of the Broadway pit bands are off on Mondays, so musicians are looking for gigs.

Murray Wall of the Monday band at Citron 47 says it all started with the well-known jukebox at Rudy’s Bar and Grill, a Ninth Avenue dive with no live music. The jazz CD’s attracted neighborhood musicians in their 20’s, many of them residents of the subsidized artists’ housing in the Manhattan Plaza complex. One was John Webber, a bassist, who in June helped the Savoy Lounge book its first week of live music. He now has three neighborhood gigs on different nights, including Mondays, when he leads Webber’s Wailers at Druids, on 10th Avenue.

Richard Nidel of Citron 47 says it was Clinton’s changing population that made it hospitable to jazz. And some remember the West 40’s as the longtime home of recording studios and rehearsal halls, many of which are still in business.

Mr. Webber, who has lived on 50th Street for 10 years, says it took a decade for live jazz to catch on. ”There used to be nothing,” he said. ”We tried a few times, but nothing could ever get off the ground. Now there’s more to do in this neighborhood. It used to be pretty desolate.”

The most startling local make-over may be that of the Savoy Lounge, formerly the Savoy Bar and Grill. The phone is still unlisted, and the bar is hidden on a block so overshadowed by the Port Authority Bus Terminal that even longtime New Yorkers may never have walked it unless they wanted a drink badly. But with several coats of paint, some classic jazz LP covers on the wall and an autographed photo of Dave Brubeck smiling from behind the bar, the Savoy has been transformed from an occasionally violent male go-go bar into a friendly honky-tonk. Next door is Carroll Rehearsal Studios, where hundreds of musicians come and go every day.

”The neighborhood musicians used to hang out at Rudy’s,” he said, ”but now the hang is moving down the street to the Savoy, because the guy who set up Rudy’s jukebox is there. It’s the best jukebox in New York.”

Monday the Savoy’s live music runs from 10 to 2 or so, with no cover charge and no minimum; there is no food, either, unless you count the potato chips, but there is a bandstand and a good sound system, and that jukebox, personally stocked by the two managers, Georgie the Hat (George Hatfield on his driver’s license) and Broadway Bob (Bobby Broccheri), who also like to be called the Booze Brothers. Serious jazz fans, they were once brothers-in-law and have stayed close. Mr. Hatfield says it was his 20-year dream to run a Times Square-area bar that made jazz and blues accessible to young people who want to hang out over pitchers of beer, seven nights a week.

”No suits,” he emphasized, ”but I keep single-malt Scotches on the top shelf in case the carriage trade makes a late arrival.”

The very young Savoy house band, the Savoy Sultans, is also known as the Adam Scone Trio, with Mr. Scone presiding over a Hammond B3 organ, usually with Coleman Mellet on guitar and Paul Wells on drums. On Mondays, the regular girl singer, Marty Elkins, has been joined by guests or sitters-in like Larry Goldings, organ; the brothers Richie and Jon Vitale, on trumpet and tenor saxophone, and Jorge Anders, tenor saxophone.

The evening starts slowly, but by midnight musicians and fans are stopping by after early shows elsewhere. By 1 A.M., the place is jumping, with the same organ trio sound that was the first live music Mr. Hatfield ever heard, at a joint near the Flushing station of the Long Island Rail Road when he was 16. ”Now, believe it or not, it’s across from the bus terminal,” he said.

Mr. Nidel, proprietor of Citron 47, a comparatively sedate, sofa-strewn cafe, says he believes the changing neighborhood demographics produced a critical mass of jazz customers, some of whom even wear suits. A lawyer who used to collect jazz records, he opened the very casual bistro in June last year in what was for 60 years a printing shop; Monday music started in December.

”We felt that Clinton was an up-and-coming neighborhood, with lots of young writers, artists, musicians and performers living here,” he said. ”We had eyes to have music from the beginning, somewhere musicians could do what they wanted, because it draws the neighborhood audience. Monday is traditionally a dark theater night and slow in the restaurant business, too. Jazz makes a slow night a good night.”

Mr. Nidel’s wife, Susan Palma, a classical flutist, put him in touch with Chuck Wilson, who played lead alto saxophone in Benny Goodman’s last big band and often plays in Broadway pit bands. He recruited Mr. Wall, on bass, and Howard Alden, on guitar. and they in turn drew a stream of regular jam session companions. ”We only missed one Monday, Memorial Day, and people were mad,” Mr. Nidel said. ”Now we’re expanding to Sundays, too.”

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