Friday, August 26, 2016

Open Mic Night at the Sugar Bar


I will not soon forget attending yesterday evening's open mic night at the Sugar Bar, where my friend Alec Shantzis is in the house band,. First of all, meeting Valerie Simposon, owner of the Sugar Bar, one of the greatest singers and songwriters ever to come out of the Bronx, was the thrill of a lifetime. I have been a fan of her music since the late 60's and early 70's when she and her husband Nick Ashford were songwriters at Motown (think "Ain't No Mountain High Enough") and breakthrough R&B artists in their own right, and to get to meet her, talk to her and see and experience her ability to inspire others was very special. I also was thrilled to get a photo op with her because,Ms Simpson is not only extremely nice, she is, to use the urban vernacular of the time "Fine" with a capital F.
Then there was the music. Alec Shantzis is the keyboard virtuoso of an R&B and funk band of a quality I have not heard live in ten or twenty years and which you simply can't find performing anywhere else in NYC on a regular basis. They went OFF on songs like "Bad Mama Jama" and "Poppa Was a Rolling Stone" in ways that had the whole club singing, shaking their shoulders and dancing in their seats ( there was no room in the aisles to actually dance) And they provided extraordinary musical improvisations for people who got up to sing, many of them former and current performers in Broadway shows or backup singers on albums, who were brilliant in their own right. The band had two guitars, a drummer and a keyboardist (Alec) each more talented than the next. Alec's keyboard riffs were other wordly. I am proud to know and have become friends with a musician of his caliber
A final word has to be said about the crowd that packed the Sugar Bar, including many well known figures in music, dance, fashion, theater and politics. It was a cross section of New Yorkers, along with visitors from around the country and around the world, mostly Black, but white, Asian and Latino too, who love R&B and admire the legacy of Valerie Simpson.. I am so glad I was privileged to join them.
And I will be back.