Nick's on West 10th Street was one of my favorite haunts between 1950 and 1960. The jazz was vibrant and the bands I saw there were led by Pee Wee Erwin, Phil Napoleon or Billy Maxted. Sidemen usually included Chuck Traeger, Bass; Tony Spago (Sbarbaro) and/or Kenny John, Drums; Andy Russo or Lee Gifford, Trombone; Sal Pace or Kenny Davern, Clarinet. Hank Duncan was the intermission pianist.
Listen to Steve tell his story:
It was a noisy venue, noted for serving "sizzling steaks.” Tuxedo-clad waiters would hold a steak platter at arms length over their heads and deliver them to the various tables. They would sizzle loudly, smoke slightly and impart a marvelous aroma as they were delivered. Each meal, a production.
The music was called "Nicksieland”—a mixture of loose Condon-style jazz which was somehow mixed with the slick arranged sounds of Maxted and Napoleon.
Tony Spargo was a hoot to watch. Once a night he would whip out a kazoo, shaped like a trumpet, and take a kazoo solo. Unbeknownst to him, one evening the band decided to join him. They all whipped out kazoos when his big moment came and helped out, much to Spargo's, and the audience's delight. It became a regular feature.
Another time, Chuck Traeger got Billy Maxted to invite me up to sit in. I was a nervous kid, but Sal Pace put his arm on my shoulder and said relax and just blow. What a great thrill to be up there with my heroes.
Nick's was indeed a wonderful place. Too bad we can't go home again.
Cheers, Steve Barbone