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Santa Jazzes Uptown Harlem at St. Nick's Jam

Daniel Kassell By

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Kay Mori wished us all 'Happy Holiday
On Christmas-day night at St. Nick's Pub, Melvin Vines (for three years the Monday & Tuesday night bandleader, trumpeter, videographer) opened the 11 o'clock show playing a flugelhorn improv in response to news of James Brown's passing, joined by the unobtrusive comping of Chip Crawford (recently with Harold Ousley at Dizzy's, originally influenced by Donald Byrd) on the house electric piano. Sympathetically supportive on drums, except for his explosive solos, was Greg Bandy (whose first bandleader was Benny Carter) along with Aaron James (formerly with John Hicks) on string bass.

A holiday spirit continued with Vines two originals—first "Alternativo," then "She Married the Moon (a story with a metaphor inspired by novelist Milan Kundera's "Lightness of Being ). Later our waitress Kay Mori wished us all "Happy Holidays when she took the mic to sing (with only a slight Japanese accent) "The Christmas Song" (the one with "chestnuts roasting on an open fire, ending with "Merry Christmas to . . . You! ), then concluded her two tunes with "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "daa daa da, daa daa da, da daa de."

Announcing Sittin' In, a tradition on Mondays, Melvin Vines brought an attractive vocalist to the stage for "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues. Her professional presentation was explained when we discovered her name was Eve Cornelius ("Two Faces of Eve CD). Her second selection, suggested by St. Nick's manager Vincent Lampkin's request to do a Christmas song, was Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas."

As a first time listener I was blown away by Melvin Vines' vocal ability on "It's a Man's World." Joining him onstage for the second chorus, Max "Manyfeathers" Vesterhalt (a photographer, dancer and Bond Girl in For Your Eyes Only) smiled and danced in place as if to suggest the power of a woman of color.

Grinning and demonstratively encouraging from the bar, Lamon Fenner (WHCR-90.3FM) invited me to tune in every Sunday at 8pm for his Voice of Harlem to hear Bird through Coltrane plus what's new in Harlem.

The third, 1 am set included a slew of sit ins but featured pianist Chip Crawford as leader and MC. A relief drummer, Dennis Davis, allowed Greg Bandy to take the mic and make up a humorous vocal based on a blues called, "My Thing Don't Come Up Anymore."

It was obvious that Christmas was now gone and it was time to return to what New York's St. Nick's has always been all about.

Mr. Lampkin, also the booking manager, reported that the 7-night 2+ shows a night schedule is already filled up through March 2007.

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