The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
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Harlem Speaks
Tribute to Showmans Jazz Club
July 6, 2006

Since 1942 Showmans Cafe has showcased top musicians for Harlem audiences, which manager Mona Lopez (27 years) and barmaid “Lil” Pierce (19 years) called “family” at Harlem Speaks on July 6, 2006.

Several Showmans regulars peppered the audience at the tribute to Harlem’s longest running jazz club, and spoke freely about their memorable experiences at the venue. Retired flight attendant Nellie Aviles said that they’ve seen their children grow up together; Vince Austin spoke of the scrumptious food served, especially on Saturday nights; and Hermon Banks, an Internal Affairs man and colleague of retired detective and Showmans owner Al Howard, explained how many of their fellows mates in blue loved to go to the club because they could relax in the comfort of good folks and no riff raff.

Banks also gave an analogy between a jazz band and a good detective squad. “Both work in harmony toward one end result—the playing of a tune.”

Mona and Lil discussed the wonderful working environment at the club, and the many great musicians who they have witnessed over the years, such as Bill Doggett, George Benson, Seleno Clarke, Irene Reid, Jimmy “Preacher” Robins, Gloria Lynne, Joey Morant, Akiko Tsuruga, Grady Tate, and more. They also described two previous incarnations of the club, the first next to the Apollo Theater, the second on Eighth Avenue, where the Harlem USA development now stands; Retirees Night, held on the first Tuesday of each month as well as the Thursday evening Tap Night.

They also revealed details of Mr. Howard’s illustrious career, including saving Rev. Martin Luther King’s life when a deranged woman stabbed him in Harlem near the retail store Blumstein’s. “As a rookie cop on the beat, Al went to the aid of Dr. King, who had been stabbed by a woman with a letter opener,” said Mona. “When they were going to pull it out, he had the presence of mind to tell them not to yet. If they had pulled it out before he was taken to the hospital, Rev. King might have died.”

In all, it was a fitting tribute to a club which maintains a down home ambiance, with great music, musicians who know they will be paid at the end of the night, a receptive audience of regulars, who always feel welcome, especially considering the homemade free food, no cover, with just a two drink minimum. A steady customer base of family trumps greed. Showmans, located at 375 West 125th Street (between St. Nicholas Avenue and Morningside Drive), is perhaps the best deal of any jazz club in NYC.

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