Rome Neal, with his many persevering projects in the field of jazz, has earned him the title of the “hardest working man in jazz” as a singer, actor, producer and promoter. As the promoter of “Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz,” he will be celebrating his 12th anniversary June 10 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (236 E. Third St.), from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Some of the many musicians who will perform during this celebration and fundraiser will be Rodney Kendrick, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Eric Frazier, TK Blue, Patience Higgins, TC III, Lezlie Harrison, David F. Gibson, Arlee Leonard and Steve Kroon.
“Banana Puddin’” started during his award-winning production of the one-man play “Monk,” featuring Thelonious Monk played by Neal, who was also the co-producer.
“The energy from the audiences coming to see ‘Monk’ was so positive I wanted to do something to keep that energy alive,” said Neal. “This was the beginning of my jazz nights that grew into ‘Banana Puddin’’ jazz. In its 12 years, we have honored the jazz legends Randy Weston and Bob Cunningham.”
The series allows Neal to showcase rising talent such as the vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and blues man King Solomon. “Hanging out at Harlem jazz spots like the Lenox Lounge and St. Nick’s Pub gave me the inspiration to start promoting live jazz sets at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe,” said Neal.
“Banana Puddin’” was not a part of the original plan for the jazz nights. One night early on, Neal just happened to bring the dessert as something special for the musicians and patrons (many of whom were his friends).
“The people liked the banana puddin’ so much I couldn’t stop making it,” said Neal. “I started making banana pudding after my favorite Harlem bakery Wimp’s closed on 125th Street. They made the best.”
For the future, Neal says he will continue this jazz series and is looking forward to publishing a book, “Banana Puddin’ Jazz Poetry,” in the near future. It will be a compilation of the poems folks write when they come to the jazz series, ranging from how they feel about life, jazz or talking about the night’s experience.
Neal also hosts a weekly television show on the Brooklyn Public Network Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. “Producing this series and working with such great people and musicians is a great honor,” said Neal.
Tickets are $50. For more information, call 718-288-8048 or go to romeneal.com.
The Lido Restaurant on 116th Street is a part of Harlem’s ongoing gentrification scene, but if one is concerned with the real history of the name Lido, travel back in time to 1947 for the grand opening of Club Lido, then located at 35 W. 125th St. Club Lido opened as a cocktail cabaret and dancing lounge.
Club Lido closed its doors during the late 1950s or early 1960s. In April Peggy Epps, a former barmaid at the then popular club, celebrated her 100th birthday at the nursing home where she resides. Both family and friends came to the great occasion, and as her daughter Lucille Varner tells me, she was all smiles.
Epps is a native of Mansion, N.C., and lived in Harlem for 40 years before moving to the Bronx and finally settling in Yonkers. During the 1950s after “Swing Street” finished, all the musicians headed to Harlem. During that time, Club Ebony in Times Square was the only Black-owned club in the Midtown area.
Club Lido held talent contests every Thursday night (sponsored by the Oak Twig Riding Club) with a $100 prize going to the winner. Noted musicians of the day performed regularly, including Ruth Brown, Arthur Sims Trio and the Sonny and Sutanya Afro-Cuban Dance Team.
Epps was right in the middle of all the happenings at Club Lido, so much so that this publication’s columnist George Palmer (“Cafe Notes)” wrote a piece regarding her outstanding work at the club in 1951. He stated, “She always had a cheery greeting for her patrons and is both witty and intelligent.”
Palmer wrote a column as well as listings of the many clubs in Harlem. He was quite busy covering all the action, from Chick’s Bar & Restaurant to Pete’s Creole Restaurant, Well’s, Baby Grand and the Lenox Lounge.
Epps also worked as a waitress at the then-famous Hotel Theresa, where she met Joe Louis. She also worked at Belle’s on 149th Street and Broadway.
Palmer closed his piece by stating, “She is generous, almost to a fault and charitable in thought and deed.”
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem will present their 2015 benefit concert and awards presentation June 10 at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (695 Park Ave. at East 68th Street) with vocalist Dianne Reeves and saxophonist Joe Lovano at 7:30 p.m.
Reggie Workman, the evening’s honoree, will be presented with the Legend of Jazz Award for a lifetime of high artistic achievement in jazz standards and traditions. Workman is a traditionalist who swings from hard bopper to out the skirts of jazz. The seasoned native of Philadelphia was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet, appearing on both the “Ole” (Atlantic, 1961) album and “Impressions” (Impulse! 1963).
Workman, with his spirited bass voice and creative flow, has always been in demand, having recorded five albums with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Gary Bartz, Gigi Gryce, Archie Shepp and Sonny Fortune. Workman is also a member of Trio 3. Recently, the collaborative team of Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille celebrated their 27th year together.
In a recent interview, Workman noted, “Together, our music is a combination of traditional and futurist music of where we came from and where we are going. It’s a celebration of our artistic endeavors.”
When not performing, Workman is a professor at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan.
The Jazz and Community Leadership Award will be presented to the Maysles Institute (in memoriam of Albert Maysles). The award is given for leadership in advancing the appreciation of jazz and for enduring contributions to the quality of life in local Harlem communities. Albert Maysles died in Manhattan March 5 at 88.
In 2005, Maysles founded the Maysles Documentary Center (aka Maysles Cinema), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films in Harlem (343 Lenox Ave. between 127th and 128th streets).
In 2014, Maysles was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Maysles and his late brother David are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema,” the American version of French “cinema verite.”
Maysles’ venture into music range from “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA” (1964), and “Gimme Shelter” (1970), the cult film that featured Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones in concert, to films on Leonard Bernstein and Wynton Marsalis.
Maysles Cinema is the only independent film house north of Lincoln Center in Manhattan dedicated to the exhibition of documentary film. It provides programming and forum discussions at least four nights a week.
For ticket information, visit jazzmuseuminharlem.org.