Stories From Nick’s: Bruce McNichols

When I was only about twelve years old I discovered that WOR Radio in New York had a twice-a-week remote broadcast from Nick's. It was Phil Napolean and the Memphis Five. I'm pretty sure that Billy Maxted was on piano. I don't recall who else was in the band but I know that "Tin Roof Blues" was their theme song. It was one of those deals where I'd be under the covers listening to the program. There were still many radio remotes in those days, but this was the only Dixieland program that I knew about.

Later—when I was more like seventeen years old—we used to go to Nick's to catch the music. It was my first time seeing the great Wild Bill Davison. Over the years I came upon an 8 X 10 photo of musicians on the stand at Nick's. I finally found that photo. It shows Nick, Barney Bagard, Trummy Young, Arvell Shaw and Louis. The drummer is obscured and you can't see the piano man.

As I look back I feel quite fortunate to have seen so much live music over the years. As teen-aged guys in our high school dance band, we used to see Sol Yaged et. al., when he made frequent appearances around Nassau County, Long Island where we lived.

In the 1960's my group—The Smith Street Society Jazz Band—played several steady gigs at clubs around Manhattan. Our jobs would end around midnight. The established bands had gigs that often went until 3 AM. That gave us perfect opportunities to see them.

At the Gaslight Club there was George Wettling (drums), Charlie Queener (piano) and Clarence Hutchenrider (clarinet). Eddie Condon's (at the Sutton Hotel) had the likes of Condon, Wild Bill, and Cutty Cutshall. The Metropole (off Times Square) had two bands from early afternoon until closing (often Sol Yaged's band, Henry "Red" Allen's group etc.).

One of my favoites was the Wilbur DeParis Band, at that time playing every night at The Broken Drum on the Upper East Side. Among others, they had Sidney DeParis (cornet & tuba), Sonny White (piano), Wilbert Kirk (drums), Eddie Gibbs (banjo) and the great Omer Simeon (reeds).

There were dozens of old-time music venues in those days. The Southampton Dixie Racing & Clambake Society Jazz Band was at Charlie Bates' Saloon. Graham Stewart had a band at the Music Box in the Village. Jack Fine's band was at the Cinderalla Club in the Village.

Bill Dunham's band did Monday nights at Arthur's Tavern in the Village. Hard to believe but they're still there after all these years. We played steadies at Kenny's Pub (Upper East Side), The Leaves (Upper East Side), The Gordion Knot (Upper East Side), The Red Garter (the Village) and later at Charlie Bates' Saloon.

One of my favorite places was The Central Plaza. It was a huge catering room, upstairs on Second Avenue (downtown). It was run by Jack Crystal of the Commodore Record Shop. Jack's young son Billy later became the famous comedian/actor we all know.

The Central Plaza was a very unique place. I think that the admission price was something like 85 cents. Being newcomers to the world of entertainment we especially liked the "bring your own booze" policy.

Each weekend night there would be three or four bands, the likes of Wild Bill, Condon, Lou McGarrity, Cutty Cutshall, Milt Hinton, The Southampton Band, Sol Yaged, and on and on.

Things ain't what they used to be, and they never were! Bruce McNichols

Bruce McNichols is the program director for Radio OKOM and he is the founder and the leader of the Smith Street Society Jazz Band.