Henry Minton was a tenor saxophonist who opened Minton’s Playhouse in 1938. The house band had names like Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. It was frequented by all the icons in after-hours jam sessions for three decades and although they didn’t pay well, they provided a place to create – and it is said the result was the birth of bebop. Miles, Mingus, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Max Roach and others – you never knew who would walk through those doors. It was an exciting time in Harlem and Minton’s Playhouse thrived for 32 years, closing its doors in 1974.
Although Harlem has seen many doors close these past few years, jazz has remained as strong as the current in Hells Gate and with so many people willing to put their time, love and money into keeping jazz alive, Harlem is having an incredible rebirth. Like the current in the East River, it can not be said who started it all but no doubt, jazz has become one of Harlem’s favorite past-times.
New life will be breathed into Minton’s Playhouse thanks to a man with a memory of the glamour of the supper clubs & jazz clubs of days gone by. The New York Times details plans that Richard Parsons has for the restoration and resurrection of Minton’s.
This comes on the heals of Richard Notar announcing that he would sign a lease for the old Lenox Lounge space, and the owner of the brand Lenox Lounge announcing that he will reopen just 2 blocks north. The Rooster has been crowing over at Ginney’s Supper Club thanks to Marcus Samuelsson, along with our old favorites like Showmans, Paris Blues, The Apollo Theatre, Bill’s Place, American Legion Post 298, The Gatehouse, The Shrine, The Harlem Jazz Museum and The New Amsterdam Musical Association (NAMA) who just celebrated their 108th anniversary on January 9th (founded in 1905).
The announcement of the Minton’s resurrection continues to create excitement in the Community and everyone has an opinion. A recent commenter on the local blog Uptownflavor hoped that Harlem would become a lot like New Orleans with random jazz bands parading in the street. This was met with the comment that it already is happening with what is known as A Harlem Jazz Second Line put on by JazzMobile, a non profit group that brings jazz performances for free to outdoor venues throughout the summer at places like Grant’s Tomb, Marcus Garvey Park and many other great locations. The Harlem blog Harlem+Bespoke wrote eloquently about the Harlem club rivalries back in the day and often posts vintage photos with historical data on the clubs.
Harlemites couldn’t be more pleased about the resurrection of Minton’s Playhouse. Many of them long time residence and many of them old time musicians themselves. Just across the street from Minton’s Playhouse in the Garden Court Housing, the hallways are lined with wire images of jazz musicians. So it is quite fitting that the man who is the chairman of the board of the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization helping to support older jazz musicians, would be at the helm.
The New York Times called their location “a dull stretch of West 118th Street” but they couldn’t be more wrong. The corner of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and 118th Street begins with the vintage black & white tiles surrounding the doorways to Minton’s adjacent building and just across the street is the upscale boutique Swing Concept Shop. Right on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue is the beautiful St. Thomas Church which will be raising the roof in more ways then one, converting the interior space into a 200 seat performance space and building a 70 unit, 12 story residential building behind the church, with condominiums in the rectory. Continuing west a few doors down is one of my favorite bakeries, Lee Lee’s (the King of Rugelach), at which point you have reached what The Daily News calls the booming Harlem nabe – Frederick Douglass Blvd. You won’t find dull here.
With great excitement and enthusiasm, we look forward to sitting at a table in Minton’s Playhouse. After all, you never know who might walk through those doors. Perhaps Mr. Parsons will dust off his old trumpet.