Photo by Ruth Morgan
“This was always my dream to bring music to the people uptown and make a difference. Bill’s Place is a great way to share my knowledge of this wonderful music called jazz.”
“Being a part of this exhibit means everything to me since I was born in Harlem Hospital,” stated Bill Saxton. The tenor saxophonist is a spirited beacon, who has continuously perpetuated jazz in Harlem for the last 30 years. Even during New York’s financial crisis when most Harlem clubs folded and musicians sought work at downtown clubs, Saxton always managed to find an uptown spot to swing. “Everyone was running downtown but Harlem has been here and will only get better,” says Saxton. “I made up my mind from the beginning to stay uptown.”
Saxton’s reputation as an exceptional musician precedes him. Such great musicians as Clarke Terry, Frank Foster and Duke Ellington Big Bands, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble, and Randy Weston African Rhythms have utilized his hard bop sound. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Saxton has over 30 compositions to his credit including “One for Booker,” “Priorities,” and “Beneath the Surface.” He lectures and conducts clinics at University of Missouri at Kansas City and the University of Massachusetts.
He founded the Jazz Literacy Program for Youth under the auspices of his non-profit organization The Harlem Jazz Scene, Inc. “Our mission is to guarantee the African American’s place as the creators of jazz, America’s only original contribution to the world of music,” explained Saxton.
The saxophonist is now a club owner with his purchase of a four-story brownstone located at 148 West 133rd Street. He has anointed the building “Bill’s Place,” where he performs on weekends with surprise guests.
Arranger/composer Sinclair Acey, a co-partner in this venture,stated, “Bill’s Place is a continuum of jazz in Harlem where young people can come to learn about the music through workshops and master classes.” Saxton’s major goal for the future is a Harlem youth band.
The building has a rich history dating back to the 1920s, when 133rd Street was swinging with clubs where musicians, celebrities and the rich partied ‘til morning. In those days 148 was Tillie Fripp’s restaurant, and later Covan’s, where Billie Holiday performed nightly.
“This was always my dream to bring music to the people uptown and make a difference,” says Saxton. “Bill’s Place is a great way to share my knowledge of this wonderful music called jazz.”
—by RON SCOTT