“Authentic” is a word that we hear a lot now, as in being an “authentic” reproduction of a chair or table, something that looks like the original but you know is not. Every Friday night for most of the year the jazz venue Jazz966 is not just “authentic”, it is the thing itself– a local jazz venue, low-ceilinged and filled with an appreciative family of regulars who are kind enough to let others join in on their very good time.
“Wynton Marsalis came and was very generous to us,” said Sam Pinn, Chairman of the Board of the Fort Greene Senior Citizens Council and Executive Producer of Jazz966. “Anyone in the city would be amazed at what he did for us. The first thing he said was ‘Oh man.’ He had never, he’s played all over the world and it’s hard for me to imagine but he said it, he said, ‘I’ve never played for an audience like this.’ There were over 500 people and maybe two were white and Marsalis said, “There is so much soul in here, I’ve got to bring my musicians back here.” Because not only were the people here, but they appreciated the music. They were into him and he was into them and it was the whole jazz package.”
Sam is a lifelong resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant and lives with Doris, his wife of 52 years, in the same house his parents bought in 1928.
Jazz966 grew out of the interest of Pinn and his friends in jazz. “What happened was one night about 25 years ago we went to the Blue Note and the prices were so ridiculous that it was a culture shock for us to see them. My co-founder Arnold Freeman and I decided that we could do this in Brooklyn.”
Pinn and Freeman had figured that there were 700-800,000 African-Americans in Brooklyn, with 600-700,000 living in Central Brooklyn. “All we needed was 75-100 coming out every night and we’d have it made.” That was 20 years ago and it eventually did work out but not in the way they had anticipated. “Here we are 20 years later and now we’re getting the people coming in. When we started in the eighties and nineties we were charging very reasonable prices, $10, $5, one time it was free, just buy some food. And it was very slow in those early years.
But then in 2000, after much cajoling Sam says, Barbara Sidbury had cause to come to a friend’s birthday party at Jazz966 and was “blown away”, and became a regular bringing many of her friends and her “vivaciousness” and enthusiasm in telling folks about her find.
What she had found was a place where “The patrons have a different sense of themselves” and enjoy the fact that they can come to the center and see feature acts such as “Randy Weston Lou Donaldson, Barry Harris, Dakota Staton, Gloria Lynn and on and on.”
When Jazz966 started, it was straight jazz but now the offering is very diverse with blues, jazz, soul, classic soul and Caribbean music. “Back in the early days when people could smoke, it looked like those old movies with the smoke-filled rooms.” The venue came through that era with some success and what they have built has become more than just a club it’s virtually a cabaret.
“People dance. They can purchase food and soda and bring their own beverages. It is a family we have here and we want all people to feel very comfortable.”
The patrons of Jazz966 are mostly over 60, but don’t call them seniors, unless it involves a reduced fare. Age is just a number, it’s the attitude that makes the difference.
Pinn says he sees three tiers of seniors: Young seniors 60-75, middle seniors 75-85, and mature seniors at 85+ and he says even those numbers are starting to change.
One thing that does not change is the spirit and the joy of life that so impressed Mr. Marsalis, Etta Jones, Torrie McCartney and all of the artists that have appeared. In the 20-years of Friday nights, Jazz966 has become more than a venue, it is the cornerstone of Brooklyn jazz, and while others are beautiful and authentic, Jazz966 is the thing itself.
Jazz966 is located at 966 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY. Live Jazz on Fridays. Doors open 7:00pm. For more info. go to: www.jazz966.com