February 9, 1934 – July 6, 2023
Bobby Minicucci, owner of Niagara Falls’ long-running jazz mecca Ontario House, picks up the phone in August 1988 and it’s someone from Woody Herman’s “Young Thundering Hard” . A big band of 15 were heading west after a date on Cape Cod.
“They wanted to stop here, they wanted to play,” Minicucci told the Buffalo News. “I explained the size of the club and we came to an agreement… No, there is no space to dance, but there should be enough space for a band. Here is the Fredonia Jazz Ensemble. and that’s 22′ them. “
This club was world famous. Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione and others came to listen after gigs elsewhere in the region, or even sat down to listen. James Brown brought in the whole band. Comedian Dick Gregory stopped by and took the mic. Mr. Minicucci greeted everyone with a welcoming smile and a cigar in his mouth.
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The club on the corner of Main Street and Ontario Avenue, known as OH to fans, closed in 1992 and was demolished three years later, but its legend lives on. The Ontario House Jazz Reunion, an open-air concert, began at this location in 2005 and has been held annually for several years.
In 2009, Mr. Minicucci received the “Keep Jazz Alive” award from the state legislature and the US House of Representatives. He was inducted into the Niagara Falls Music Hall of Fame in his 2019.
He died at Kenmore Mercy Hospital on July 6 from complications following a fall a month earlier. he was 89 years old.
Robert Michael Minicucci was born in Niagara Falls, one of four children of Italian immigrants. His parents, Frank and Julia Minicucci, started the National Grill on Ontario Avenue in the 1930s and then bought Ontario House during World War II. In his Hall of Fame biography, Minicucci said his father bought it for his older brothers John and Albert as something they could come home to after serving in the war.
As a boy, Mr. Minicucci worked in a restaurant. After graduating from Niagara Falls High School in 1952, he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York City and was trying to pursue a career as an artist, but was called back to help out when his father fell ill. rice field.
After his father died in 1956, his mother took over the company and worked in the kitchen. Famous for her meatballs and known to everyone as ‘Ma’, she has charmed her loyal clientele.
Mr. Minicucci brought the crowd to the night, introducing not only touring artists, but also up-and-coming local players such as Spyder Martin, Ronnie Foster and Bobby Militero, for whom the Ontario House stage was the starting point. . He used to have them practice there during the day.
As a young boy, jazz great Joey Defrancesco waited on the doorstep for the opportunity to play on the club’s Hammond B-3 organ. Keyboardist Richard Kermode, who played with Janis Joplin, rehearsed here for three months before putting his own jazz band, The Milestones, on tour in 1979.
Minicucci’s Hall of Fame profile quotes the late keyboardist Ron Corsaro, who played in the club as a teenager in the 1950s and stayed there until the club closed.
“Anyone who wanted to play jazz would have hoped and prayed that he would have the opportunity to play jazz. It was my first job playing
In 2006, Minicucci told an interviewer, “I encouraged them, and that was a big deal for the musicians.” “I’m really happy to be a part of their[life]. I need a place to learn my profession. A place to start.”
The club flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. Ontario His Avenue was a lively entertainment strip that at the time was particularly popular with Canadians fleeing Ontario’s drinking restrictions.
The Ontario House was also popular with athletes such as basketball great Calvin Murphy, one of the students who enrolled from nearby Niagara University, and members of the Buffalo Bills, including OJ Simpson.
By the late 1970s, however, the street was in trouble. News contributor Samantha Dean, when visiting the North End in 1978, described the place as “quite seedy” and “dark”, but Ontario House was one of the bright spots. Felt. Nevertheless, Mr Minicucci told her that her business was very bad and that she hired musicians only occasionally.
“People think it’s the wrong end of the city,” he says. “A lot of lawyers and judges come to lunch, but that’s it.”
One of the people who came in the 1970s was Maureen Stewart, who later worked there as a waitress and joined him. They got married in 1987.
Mr. Minicucci had a large collection of jazz records, which he would spin while the musicians were taking breaks. He also covered the club walls with paintings of music greats like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra.
In the 2000s, he participated in the Oral History Project run by the Niagara Falls Public Library, donating paintings and other memorabilia to its collection.
Survivors include Lauren Minicucci Palmer, Lisa Minicucci-Hoy, Lynn Minicucci Belasco, Rebecca Tickner, and his wife, who served as a longtime clerk at the State Legislature and Tops Markets corporate office. Includes Tethia Monroe’s five daughters. and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on September 9 at the Williamson Funeral Home at 635 Main Street in Niagara Falls.
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