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Live From New York

New York's Fat Cat Jazz Club

By Published: August 28, 2004
For ten years Borden owned Small's, a pivotal club located in a basement around the corner on 10th Street, where he maintained an alcohol free environment. Borden worked double shifts at his hospital job to save money to open Smalls, which recently closed. His experience on the scene should pay off for the owners of the Fat Cat, which could easily become a new international jazz magnet in lower Manhattan, with as many curiosity seekers as musical afficionados. "It's a great jazz club," said Killer Ray, "it's real; I wish a lot of other clubs had a vibe as nice."

On a recent Friday night, LH caught organist Melvin Rhynes and drummer Killer Ray Appleton, who have been playing together since they were teenagers. "We went to high school together — Crispus Attuks High School, along with Freddie Hubbard, JJ Johnston, Slide Hampton, James Spaulding and Wes Montgomery. " "Wes's career fizzled because a booking agent thought Wes was just a blues player. But he was more than that," said Rhynes.

In Indianapolis, Melvin studied with Jimmy Cole — 'he taught everything. He was a saxophonist, composer, arranger. My Uncle William Carruthers brought me my first instrument." He played by ear, and by the mid 50's when the organ was popular among jazz groups, (especially Jimmy Smith came on the scene)'"I bought a spinet model'a Lowry. I was going to call the store and tell them to come and get it," but something told me to be cool. I was working with a group and they encouraged me to bring it on the job. [but] I didn't know how to play the bass pedals — finally I took it on the job. I was a greenhorn as far as organs were concerned. Something told me to stay with it, and after about 2-3 months I started to become known as an organist. My dad Aldritch Rhynes was an excellent jazz pianist. He taught me [when] I was 8 or 9, He taught me boogie woogie and on occasion, we'd play together. One Sunday people came out of church and walked into our house. [From then on] I played at family gatherings.

"I was working and decided to buy one, I was 18 or 19. After a few years of playing that spinet in late '57 or early '58, I got a call from Larry Rice in Chicago [who was working at McKee's Show Lounge]. He asked me to come work with his group. He heard I was an organist. I said, "I only play spinet." "That's what it is," he said. He picked me up. There was a hotel connected [to the club]. When I got down there, there was a B3. I thought about going home...I didn't know how to turn it on. I figured it had a starter in it. After a few days I fell in love with it. We played Idlewild, Michigan, the floor show with 13 dancers, BB King, the Four Tops, T-Bone Walker, Della Reese, traveled and played the midwest — through Indiana, Detroit. We played the Missile Room [it had a Hammond B-3], two blocks south of the Walker Theatre on West Street. At that time Wes Montgomery had six kids and three jobs. He worked in a milk factory, had a [part time] and played at the after hours club. We played there for a year. People like Count Basie, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderly'[he told Riverside about Wes] used to come by after their gigs to hang out. [Cannonball] helped [Wes] get his first album. [Then] we did some traveling [around] Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York. [Wes had a trailer large enough to] put an organ, drums, guitar...

"After all this time I'm considering moving to New York 'because Indiana is dead. There's only one city — that's New York. I feel good so far."

The crowd at the Fat Cat ranges from 20-65 and is international, speaking languages ranging from Chinese to Russian, Indian to Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch; an impatient line of upscale 20-somethings suddenly appeared at the door at showtime. They meander into the music room, which is filled with instruments hanging on the walls; a collection of African statuettes perched on the coffee tables in the back.

Milton Cardona sat cooly on the sidelines. "I've recorded over 800 albums," he said. "And Killer Ray likes the way I play, otherwise I wouldn't be here." The band hits a groove immediately, Rhynes being an accomplished soloist, and Cardona complementing Killer Ray's classy swing beat, with the full resonance of congas adding depth to the sound.

They are veterans who sound fresh, intense and sensitive as they play Horace Silver's 'Doodlin,' ' Fans bubbling over with eagerness traipse in and weave quietly into seats on the sidelines. It's just another night at the Fat Cat, where the new generations of 'stablemates' are evolving and the tradition of classic jazz is celebrated every night of the week.

More about the Fat Cat.

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