Minton’s closes, Great Night in Harlem

Minton’s Playhouse, the former jazz musicians’ mecca and a joy to any fan, was shut down last Wednesday. A new lock was placed on the door and sources say Earl Spain, the owner, was given just a few days to remove his equipment and other stuff out of the historical jazz club located at 210 West 118th Street.

It was stated, but unconfirmed, that an English company purchased the building (including the noted Cecil Hotel connected to the club, which was turned into a one-room occupancy) for $10 million.

Right now, there are only speculations of what will happen to the famous jazz spot where bebop was birthed by its legendary fathers, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian.

Unfortunately, under the helm of Spain, Minton’s never reached its full potential, considering the club’s history. It wasn’t treated like a jazz haven, but more like a regular club with live music. The excitement of jazz fans and musicians (who once scurried to the place after their downtown jazz club engagements) was missing.

Minton’s strived for three decades before closing in 1974. After a long silence, Spain reopened on May 19, 2006. He renamed the totally renovated club the Uptown Jazz Lounge @ Minton’s Playhouse. The club opened to a new generation of musicians, but they never flocked to the hallowed site to forge uncharted paths like their innovative predecessors. More could have been done, but at this point it’s a moot issue.

Tenor saxophonist Henry Minton opened Minton’s Playhouse in 1938. In 1940, Minton gave managerial duties to former bandleader Teddy Hill. He organized the dynamic house band of pianist Thelonious Monk, trumpeter Joe Guy, bassist Nick Fenton and drummer Kenny Clarke. The jam sessions included some of the era’s great jazzmen: Roy Eldridge, Hot Lips Page, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Chu Berry and Don Byas.

Jazz in Harlem was more than just a hip sound; it was a religion, a way of life with its own language and style of dress. Improvisational worship took place at Minton’s Playhouse. It was the holy ground, where musicians shook the heavens until dawn, and jazz heads prayed they would never stop.

All the facts are not in, and the destiny of Minton’s is questionable. More to come.

(This is an edited re-post from the Amsterdam News from May 2010).

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