Tenor saxophonist George "Big Nick" Nicholas, who hangs his hat in D.C. when he isn't on the road, was emcee and leader of the house band in the early '50s at Harlem's Paradise. "Charlie Parker used to come in, Billie Holiday, Lester Young -- it was like a family and some nights I even felt I was actually in paradise."
Five years earlier, when he first arrived in New York, he hung out on 52nd Street, where the clubs "were like two or three feet from each other and you could hear Art Tatum here, Erroll Garner there -- but up the street was my idol, Coleman Hawkins. I used to dress like him -- of course, I couldn't wear those expensive clothes he was wearing, but I had a reasonable facsimile -- and my moustache was like his, and I used to come in with my horn and sit down. One night he says, 'Well, son, you feel like blowin' one?' I says, 'Yes, sir!' So I went up and played and he just smiled. From then on I was in. He'd take off somewhere, and I was Coleman Hawkins for an hour."
Nicholas' birthday will be celebrated today at Charin Jazz Society's Jazz Picnic, which will take place at the Washington Ethical Society at 5 p.m. Some of the other Washington-based jazz artists who will perform at the event are vocalists Lisa Rich, Shirley Fields and Nap Turner, saxophonists Buck Hill and Mickey Fields, drummer Keith Kilgo and pianist Gus Simms.