Thursday, September 25, 2008

Willie's becomes WILLIE'S

In the mid 90's Willie's Steak House was located just off of the corner of St. Lawrence Ave. and Westchester Ave. It had been purchased by a gentlemen named Kenny Giordano who in his wisdom had kept the well established name of Willie's. Nelson Sanchez, a piano player with a stint as keyboardist for Ernie Agosto's "Conspiracion" and staff arranger for Fania approached Kenny about starting a Wednesday night Latin Jazz evening featuring La Banda Chez. Chez consisted of myself on tumbas, Victor Montanez on tims, Al Acosta on woodwinds, Danny Hinton on bass and of course Nelson on piano. It became a vehicle for Nelson to play his original compositions for the public and a steady gig for the band. Chez played the first 8 Weds. and established a good following. Soon after, other bands were added to the rotation and Willie's fame grew week by week. Tito Puente, who frequented the restaurant part of Willie's (the food was very good) would begin to sit in with various bands. Visiting Cuban musicians would come by such as Bobby Carcasses and Changuito, as well as locals (who are still going on a regular basis) like Dave Valentin and Nicky Marrero. Willie's eventually moved a few blocks away to a space formerly occupied by Tapestry, a club that was jumping during the 80's and 90's. Kenny eventually sold the club to Mr. Daniel Ortiz. The Weds. night Latin Jazz series is still going strong thanks to Nelson's vision, Kenny's cooperation, Daniel's love of the music and the public's continued support of this cultural institution.

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