I am an 82 year old jazz fan, loving both the Chicago style of jazz played at Nick’s, as well and the Swing of the ’30s, exemplified by Count Basie, The Duke, and others. I even have enjoyed the later permutations of the music. I cut my eye teeth on jazz when I was 15 or 16 years old on the albums that Decca put out on Chicago jazz, Kansas City jazz and New Orleans jazz. In my last year of high school I would go to Nick’s on a Friday night with 50 cents in my pocket. The train fare was a nickel, a bottle of beer was 25 cents, and one could buy a hot dog for 10-15 cents.
My friends and I would stand near the bandstand—there were three small uprights that formed a barrier in front of the band stand that we would lean against. I could nurse the beer for an hour. We often saw Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Brad Gowans, George Brunies, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and sometimes Pops Foster and George Wettling.
When the guys finished their set, Sammy Price would take over on one of the pianos and would sometimes take requests.
Interestingly, I was never asked for an ID regarding my age and I am pretty sure I was under-aged then. It was during WWII and the place was often filled with members of the armed services. Sometimes, when the musicians left for a break, they would go to a bar around the corner called Julius’s, where they would have a drink and might grab something to eat. If you were bold enough you could go up to them and say hello and ask for an autograph.