HELLO AMERICA!—When speaking with jazz musician John Lewis who has quite a history in the jazz world of music, it results in personal experience revelations of some of the most prolific talents of the music world. He quickly opens up about his relationship with the likes of Miles Davis and Bill Cosby, who were two of his backers of a night club which lit up the Village streets with the hottest jazz in the business.
“Miles,” he offered, “was a strange cat. When around him, it sometimes seemed he was in another world. He most of the time when at my Club would be in the kitchen area snorting the white stuff. No one bothered him because he was always respectful, polite in every way, but you understood he was totally in another existence. Frankly, his entire life was really all about his music. Yeah, he enjoyed other things but it was always music and how he might make the music speak or represent what feelings, emotions he might be trying to describe. However, it was easy for me to understand why at times, it was so difficult for a woman like Cecile Tyson to get use to his kind of lifestyle. One would have to really be in love with a guy like Miles to put up with the quick changes in attitude as well as personality. Of course, drugs had much to do with it, as it does with everyone who lives a life high in the snow.”
Lewis offered his relationship with Cosby was obviously good, so much so, the comedian-actor invested 10 thousand dollars in his club to open but that was it.
“Of course, I realized that his name, as well as Miles had value, so on the marquee, I always included their names there as well; it worked people, tourists flooded in and we made good returns. Then too, many times, Miles or Bill were there as well which made everybody happy – gave them something to talk about with their family and friends. However, I do remember that Miles was more approachable than Bill who seemed to radiate a feeling of that it’s ok to say hello to me, but don’t expect any more than that. Whereas, Miles seemed to be more affected by the way the average fan gravitated to him and his music. There was quite a difference between the two men, that’s for sure.”
Iconic, legendary musician Max Roach also frequented the Lewis watering hole in the Village. He was definitely a high point at every turn when he appeared. “Max,” Lewis said, “was somethin’ else. He was a big partier and lady’s man! When the women would hear he might be making appearance at the club, there was standing room only. He was always good for business. Then too, when he finally married Abby Lincoln who was one of the top jazz singers of our time, rated right along with Ella and Sara and all the others recognized as queens of the music industry, it was always a big occasion at the club. I was lucky to have such support and friends to make something special of nearly every week we were open. However, I did notice and recognize that like most guys in the jazz music world, all of these great talents seem to have a need or hunger in gravitating to a higher level of mental and emotional understanding. For them, the opening door to their flight was COCAINE.”
Lewis recalls that during the days of his Club, many of the most famous people involved in sports, theatre and music came to his club.
“It was like a big family,” he offered. “They felt they would be around people like themselves. You know, hardworking, ambitious folks who worked like hell in making life worth living. “For example,” he continued, “the late PHYLLIS HYMAN often showed up because she felt secure and safe there. She knew she would be around people she had much in common with, as far as business and, of course, her personal life. She too, was fighting her need for drugs and everybody knew it. When she took her own life, sad to admit it, but it was no surprise. She was some special gal with a lot of heart and we loved her and always will.”
Even though the John Lewis Club has been closed down for a few years, he quickly teased that he was seriously thinking about offers of opening it again. After all, it served as a home away from home for many, a drifting artist who happened to seek out a safe haven in the VILLAGE of New York City.