We’ve written about EZ’s Woodshed several times here on U.F. That’s why we were saddened to learn that Gordon Polatnick, the owner of the club had fallen on hard times. Polatnick has resorted to hosting rent parties in order to keep the club’s doors open. NY1 recently aired a piece about Gordon’s situation and hopefully he will now get the support he needs in order to continue offering free jazz to the neighborhood.
Polatnick says he considers this neighborhood a historic jazz district. In fact, rent parties like his have historic roots in the neighborhood.
According to the NY1 report, Polatnick is hoping that someone with a better business plan can come in to rescue the club. He admits that his original plan of sponsoring a day club with no cover charge probably wasn’t the most profitable idea:
“Having a place open during the day for free music didn’t work as far as bringing in money, but I’ve also been selling works of jazz,” said Polatnick. “I’ve been selling art of people who do jazz-oriented art around the city and CDs of local artists, since I’m all about New York City jazz.”
Source: NY1: Arts
Coda Is Heard for a Daytime Jazz Club in Harlem
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Gordon Polatnick’s business plan, he concedes, was heavy on the things that fueled his daydreams and too light on almost everything else.
The idea itself was simple. On the blocks in Harlem where Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker performed, Mr. Polatnick would open a nightclub. But it would do business during the day, charge no cover and sell soft drinks instead of liquor to encourage a family atmosphere.
Never mind that the particular stretch of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard that he had chosen was not among Harlem’s most commercially viable addresses, or that there was no evidence of a huge demand for jazz on weekday afternoons.
There were other drawbacks. In particular, this stretch of Harlem has gentrified more slowly than others, leading one to wonder who might have the disposable time that would allow them to go to a nightclub on a weekday.
But for a while, it worked.
Players came to play, including musicians like Wycliffe Gordon. Customers stopped by to sip Snapple or coffee, and occasionally bought CDs and T-shirts from the small gift shop in front that was intended to provide a financial basis for the free music.
And Mr. Polatnick was in a jazz-induced bliss: He was the owner of a spot that was a magnet for musicians, jazz aficionados, artists and self-described jazz geeks like himself.
The light bill, which might have been a way for a daytime club to cut costs — but wasn’t — somehow got paid. And so did the $2,800-a-month rent, although sometimes just barely.
When a customer wanted food, Mr. Polatnick would arrange for a delivery, or pull on his coat and walk to Kim’s Fish Market himself to pick up an order of fish and chips to go.
He lost money every month. But what mattered was that he was happy, gloriously happy.
And then, the last call for his daylight jazz club came this spring, when he learned his landlord had decided to evict him after Mr. Polatnick fell several months behind on rent. This week, EZ’s Woodshed, Mr. Polatnick’s shoe-box-size dream, closed after two and a half years.
As Mr. Polatnick, 47, sat among the detritus of his experiment — drum kits, stage lights, microphone stands, boxes of Sweet’N Low and plastic forks and knives — he was philosophical.
“It’s not wrong,” said Mr. Polatnick, a soft-spoken, balding man who was wearing a black EZ’s Woodshed T-shirt. “I just didn’t make it happen.”
Mr. Polatnick, who is married and has a 3-year-old, makes no claims to having a great deal of business acumen. Instead of comparing his financial flameout, which he said has led to a debt of about $300,000, to, say, John Z. DeLorean or Bear Stearns, he invokes John Coltrane.
“I want to improvise, to do something new — like Coltrane,” he said of the saxophonist known for his innovativeness. “I didn’t want to open a Taco Bell franchise.”
He surveyed his half-packed surroundings. “Jazz,” he said, “has done me in by inspiring me.”
The Rev. Julius Clay, pastor of Williams Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which is across the street, came by to offer to hold a fund-raiser.
“He would have good music back there, and the tourists wouldn’t hardly leave a tip,” Pastor Clay said. “It’s unfortunate. Very unfortunate.”
After college, Mr. Polatnick, who grew up on Long Island, became a jazz tour guide. He found an audience for his tours, which include spots in Harlem. He continues to give the tours and has a Web site, bigapplejazz.com.
Mr. Polatnick learned that Harlem had been the birthplace of modern jazz. He became well-versed about the Corner, at Seventh Avenue, now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, and 131st Street, a meeting place for musicians; the Stroll. Seventh Avenue from 131st to 132nd Street, a block that in the 1930s was lined with clubs; and Swing Street, 133rd Street, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues, where Billie Holiday was discovered as a fill-in singer at a supper club.
What he cannot tell you is how he expected his club to stay solvent. He had hoped for business from tour bus companies, but they stopped by too infrequently. “An accountant, I’m not,” he said. “My dad would kill me. He always tried to get me to take an accounting class.”
Outside, he points to a C-Town supermarket across the street. “That used to be Connie’s,” he said.
The church next to it? “The Lafayette Theater, where Bill Bojangles Robinson kept an office,” he added, and also where Ellington, Bessie Smith and Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter performed. Between Connie’s and the Lafayette, he said, stood the Tree of Hope, an elm tree that musicians would touch for luck. Part of its stump is now next to the stage at the Apollo Theater.
On the other side of 132nd Street was Count Basie’s nightclub, and next to it, the Wells Supper Club.
What exists on the block now is far less remarkable, although it is not clear how much Mr. Polatnick took in and how much he was blinded by the ghosts of Harlem jazz.
“I saw what I saw — a Chinese restaurant with plexiglass next door, a barbershop, an abandoned bodega and a church,” he said. “But this was a place where I could open up across from the Tree of Hope, so it didn’t matter what was happening on the street.”
When the tour bus plan never materialized, he realized that the working-class neighborhood could not support a nontraditional business like a daytime jazz club.
He pointed to a new condominium building down the street, a similar structure rising on the next block and plans for a third one on the church’s property. He wondered whether the newcomers might have made the difference.
“There’d be that many more people who could afford a half-million-dollar apartment who might want to cross the street to come here,” he said.
Then he mentioned something that he could not have said a few years ago: “This is not the Stroll anymore.”
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