New Amsterdam Musical Association's jazz jam is longest-running show in town

Sunday, November 9th 2008, 10:03 PM

New Amsterdam Music Association Chairman Willie Mack in the organization’s W. 130th St. headquarters.

It has to be the longest-running party in the city.

Jazz musicians still flock to The New Amsterdam Musical Association's headquarters at 107 W. 130th St. for the weekly Monday night jam session, where anyone with an instrument and ability can join in the mix.

It's been that way since 1922, when NAMA members pooled their money and bought the rambling brownstone.

Nowadays, musicians like 13-year-old prodigy Solomon (King Solomon) Hicks join board chairman Willie Mack, financial secretary Shanelle Jenkins, archivist Chuck Foster and musicians William Pyatt, Barbara Pyatt, John Richardson, Albert Sheldon, Steven Sink, Fred Staton and Willie Mitchell in musically setting the place on fire.

On a recent night, groups of four to 12 musicians crowded onto the red-curtained stage at one end of the rundown room that, with its prominently battered but tuned piano, could pass for a movie version of a 1930s speakeasy in more ways than one.

The occasional wafts of sweat, stale cigarette smoke and liquor make it smell like one, too.

The music is always passable, and sometimes it's jump-out-of-your-seat brilliant.

The musicians play off each other and seem to know how to squeeze the best effort out of their bandmates, no matter how long they have been playing together.

NAMA was created in 1901 by black musicians who were barred from joining Local 310, the white musicians local. Incorporated in 1905, the group's long list of prominent members has included James Reese Europe - the founder of the legendary Harlem Hellfighters Orchestra, who is credited with introducing jazz to Europe - and Eubie Blake.

Henry Minton, who founded the famed jazz venue Minton's Playhouse, was a member, and pianist Jelly Roll Morton had a room upstairs, he said.

Solomon's mother, Holly Sampson Hicks, said that history is one reason she brings her son to play there.

"I love the way they have embraced him," she said of the NAMA members. "I could not ask for better teachers for my son."

Mack explained that black musicians formed the group as a way to get jobs because they were shut out of the union.

"It worked so well that the local ended up admitting them," he said.

MACK, a saxophonist, has been a NAMA member since 1968, when a friend introduced him.

"He used to practice in the courtyard there at Harlem Hospital," Mack said. "He was doing some things on his saxophone that I never heard before."

That man told Mack he had picked up some tricks from Gladys Seales, a saxophonist and NAMA member.

"It's been so long ago, I almost forgot about it," he said.

Even as the musicians jammed, other NAMA members met in a crowded second-floor room to map out the building's future.

The group hopes to completely renovate the four-story building, improve the music hall and add rehearsal studios.

They also have plans to renovate two apartments, which could be rented out to musicians, Mack said.

"We want to keep things going uptown, especially for the young people," Mack said.

To help, call NAMA at (212) 234-2973, or contact Mack at

New Amsterdam Musical Association's jazz jam is longest-running show in town