One evening in the mid-1950s a painter invites a sculptor friend over for drinks. As the two men sit in the painter’s studio, they notice music coming from a bar across the street. Intrigued, they walk over to see what’s happening. Until now the locale has catered exclusively to “Bowery bums” but the owners—two brothers who inherited the bar from their father—have been persuaded by a musician renting a room above the bar to buy a crummy piano and let him and his friends play jazz at night. Entering the bar, the painter and the sculptor find it empty except for the musicians. Drinking their 25-cent beers and enjoying the music, they decide to make their way eight blocks uptown to another bar hugely popular with artists and see if they can bring some of the crowd back to this newly interesting but sadly deserted spot. When they arrive at the packed artists’ bar the first person they talk to happens to have his pickup truck parked outside. Soon he is ferrying customers from one drinking establishment to the other. Eventually some 50 people make the trip, gleefully partying into the wee hours. From that night on, this Bowery dive rapidly turns into a cultural hotspot, attracting the most adventurous musicians and seemingly every artist and writer in New York City. In one of many memorable performances, a pianist known for his highly physical technique, subjects the piano to an hours-long attack in the course of which he breaks several keys. After the set is over one of the owners declares, “I’m not gonna ever let that guy come back and play the piano again. He broke my piano.” When the artists in the audience hear this they tell the owner, “If he doesn’t come back, we’re not coming back!” The pianist ends up staying for a five-week engagement that makes jazz history.
(Herman Cherry, David Smith, Joe and Iggy Termini, Alfred Leslie, Cecil Taylor)