Half Note Club and related Articles 6

Atlantic Mutual Jazzfest 2001

Two-day jazz festival/picnic presented by the New Jersey Jazz Society (lineup in accompanying story) 

Where: Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, Park Avenue, Madison

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

How much: One-day ticket, $35; two-day ticket, $65. Students, $10 per day; children under 12, free. Tickets sold at the gate. Call (800) 303-6557 or go to www.nijs.org.

Also: Blankets, chairs and picnic items welcome; no alcoholic beverages allowed.



One of Manhattan’s most fondly remembered jazz clubs, The Half Note – a place where you could hear John Coltrane and eat a homemade meatball sandwich at the same time will be recalled this week end in tributes to the renowned musicians who worked there at the New Jersey Jazz Society’s Atlantic Mutual Jazzfest2001.

When the Half Note opened in 1957, most Manhattan jazz clubs were either in Greenwich Village, Harlem or Midtown. The Half Note was close to the Holland Tunnel entrance, at the corner of Hudson and Spring Streets downtown, which made it very convenient for suburban, car-driving fans. Street parking was plentiful, often right in front of the club.

Originally, the club was the back room of a neighborhood bar run by the Canterino family starting in 1943.

“When I was in the Navy Air Corps, I worked part time in a bar in Jacksonville, Florida, where jazz musicians played, and I fell in love with the music,” says Mike Canterino, 68. “So when I came back home in 1957, I asked Pop if I could start a jazz club and he said fine, use the back room. I painted it up, built a bandstand out of Coca Cola boxes, bought a piano and opened with (pianist) Randy Weston’s trio.

“For a while, it was me in the back room with Randy. No customers. Nobody knew where the joint was. But then Bob Sylvester, a columnist in the Daily News, came down and wrote a half page about us and people started coming”

The back room was getting crowded, especially after Canterinobooked bassist Charles Mingus’ band in 1958. Canterinoknocked down the wall separating the back room from the bar room, and built a stage at bar level that could be seen from both rooms.

“Building inspectors made us put the wall back, but we got a permit and took it down again, officially, a few weeks later,” says Canterino. “By then, we had become a hangout for musicians as well as jazz fans. All the cats came in, even if they didn’t work there. It was their joint. I remember one night (trumpeters) Bobby Hackett and Miles Davis were up on stage, playing together-but it was actually (singer) Carmen McRae’s gig. You can’t get any better than that.”

One of Canterino’s favorite bands was the quintet led by tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The club, which closed in 1972, booked acts for long engagements multiple weeks to months. 


“I always hired (Cohn and Sims) to come in following John Coltrane’s quartet After three weeks of Coltrane, when the music was intense but it was hard to make! a buck, having Zoot and Al in was like going to Hawai. It was always so happy, a real jazz party. And they drew a big-spending crowd, bartenders from all over town and studio musicians they knew from uptown.” 

On Sunday at Jazzfest, saxophonist Ken Peplowski and Tommy Newsom will lead a quintet that will revisit some of therepertoire and arrangements of the Al and Zoot band. Pianist Junior Mance and his trio will pay tribute to Wynton Kelly, a pianist who often played the Half Note, and will be joined by guitarist Russell Malone, who will remember Wes Montgomery, another Half Note regular. Kelly’s trio and Montgomery recorded an album at the club in 1966, “Smokin’ at the Half Note (Verve). 

The Half Note tribute will take place on Sunday in a tent on the lawn of the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus in Madison.” It’s one of three venues that will be presenting jazz both days, along with Dreyfuss Auditorium, a 500-seat theater, and the Aerobics Room, a small gym.

Sunday’s fare will also include clarinetist Kenny Davern’squartet; singer pianist Daryl Sherman’s quartet with tenor saxophonist Houston Person; pianist Bill Charlap and trumpeter Warren Vache, and pianist Rio Clemente.

A Saturday tribute to Louis Armstrong I will feature the quintets of trumpeters Byron Stripling, who played Armstrong in anational touring company bio-musical about Satchmo.


Sims like

old times


Years ago you’d go to hear a man in a room. You’d go up to Harlem to catch Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club. Or you’d drive out on the weekend to the Glen Island Casino where Glen Gray’s Casa Loma band was sure to be playing. Or maybe you’d stay in town for supper and dig the Benny Goodman orchestra at the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania. After the swing era, it got to be an even more individualized scene. You had old Red Allen in stalled like a fixture above the bar at theMetropole. Thelonius Monk bolted to the floor of the Five Spot. Or Coleman Hawkins in long cuffs built into the gloom of Kelly’s Stables.

The idea in all these joints was the same. It was the simple notion that men, especially great performers, create an ambience which can be caught, bottled and quaffed by shrewd proprietors and dedicated, low-pressure fans. It was like you were hanging out with these musicians, getting with their scene, maybe even buying them a drink and experiencing a moment of elbow-by-elbow intimacy with a guy who was, let’s say, a genius.

That was a good idea, a good experience. Today it’s virtually unthinkable. A rock musician hardly figures it’s worth unpacking his ax unless he can hit 2,000, preferably 20,000 fans packed into a seething Sportspalast Far from seeking rapport with his fans, he prefers to hover in the crisscrossed spotlights, watching them break like human waves on the reefs of uniformed cops protecting his skin.

All of which is enough to send me A down at least once a week to the bottom of Manhattan, where tucked away amidst hulking trailer trucks and looming warehouses there stands the last great personality room in New York, the Half Note. The Note is a dream setting for jazz: crimson walls tiled with nostalgic album covers, flickering lights on oilcloth-draped tables, an intriguing variety of eating. serving and playing areas, all converging on the musicians who stand above the bar-on a tiny stage outlined in Christmas tree lights-showering down music on those who stand and drink or those who sit and eat the good Italian food.

What really gives the room its character, however, is not the decor but the star performer and presiding presence, the great tenorman, Zoot Sims For 12 years Zoot has been working the Note and in that time he has shaped the room around his personality and his horn until now when he blows, he blows the whole club. A 30 year veteran of the jazz scene, Zoot is a pretty salty character. He drinks and smokes on the stand, jives with his band, clowns around after a good solo and clubs with the patrons all over the room. Playful, dressed in old clothes, blowing a time-stained Selmer, old Zoot exemplifies the relaxation and spontaneity of the real jazz life.

When he settles in to play a set, though, there’s nothing casual about what comes out of his horn. Zoot Sims is a meticulous craftsman, an elegant stylist, a musician who can turn his hand to any mood or idiom within the range of mainstream jazz. His bossa novas are sensuous and melanche the improvised melody wear and out of the accompaniment in a beautiful display of musical chiaroscuro. His explorations of classic ballads, like My Old Flame or Come Rain or Come Shine, achieve the abstract eloquence that we have come to expect since Charlie Parker’s achievements in this form. Best of all Zoot’s grooves, though, is his up-tem po jam on tunes like Red Doer or Love for Sale. Kicking these scorchers off with an impatiently tapping heel, Zoot hunches his shoulders, squeezes his eyes shut and puffs his cheeks as he chases the tune round and round the 32-bar track, shifting gears for every slope, curve and tunnel and gunning his engine as he blazes to the close with the horn pealing bright and loud and the whole house caught up in the excitement of the moment.

The sum of a night at the Half Note cannot be written in the usual ciphers of art, entertainment or socializing. It is more like a return to an earlier era of popular culture when values were more humane, the performers more individualized and the whole experience something to be savored in the depths of one’s soul. Leaving the club in the early morning hours, I feel peaceful yet exhilarated, as if I had been fortified through a secular communion at some profane church.

by Albert Goldma