Throwback Thursday: The Very First ‘Giant Step’ @ SOBs – September 24, 1990



As we approach the 23rd anniversary of the very first Giant Step club, it’s only fitting that we highlight the historic night for this week’s Throwback Thursday! Join our President/CEO Maurice Bernstein as he takes us back to September 24, 1990 at SOBs. Were you one of the few that were with us in those early days? Tell us what you remember!

This was the very first flyer for Giant Step. After the success of the Groove Academy shows in the summer of 1990, our goal was to set up a weekly party that focused on the jazz and dance movement that we were familiar with in London. We were very influenced by Dingwall’s Sunday party and The Wag Club, which I used to go to when I lived in London and Jonathan Rudnick (Giant Step co-founder) had visited as well.

But we didn’t want to just do a straight version of that; we wanted to bring in the elements that were fundamental to New York – one being hip-hop music – so, we decided to mix jazz and hip-hop together. However, there was very little music like that at that time – there was Tribe that was mixing jazz with some of their hip-hop and Gang Starr had just done “Jazz Thing.” It was also tough to find DJs who really knew how to play the music and make people dance, plus there weren’t really records

I ended up picking DJ Smash who I used go hear at Save The Robots, which was a famous after hours in New York in the 80′s. What I liked about Smash was his amazing music sensibility and knowledge, as well as his ability to mix anything, which is something that British DJs didn’t really have the ability to do. He was able to take original jazz records and mix them with hip-hop – exactly what we needed.

We were given Mondays by SOBs because it was a dead night for them. If I remember correctly, our original night had more people working than actual guests. Cool to note: there are in fact a few people who came to the opening who still come to Giant Step parties – Michael July is one of them. A lot of people claim to have been there in the early days, but I remember every single person that was there the first night because there weren’t that many of them.

There was a lot of curiosity around what we were trying to do. We put out flyers and sent out a letter with a list of tracks that we were going to be playing at the party – songs like “Jazz Thing” by Gang Starr, Pal Joey’s “Hot Music,” Crazy French Man, Pharaoh Sanders’ “You Gotta Have Freedom.” There was nothing like this happening in New York, and we were competing against clubs like Nell’s and MK where people went because they were popular clubs to go to. And we were trying to get people to come all the way down to Varick Street on a Monday for a party that was brand new and relatively unknown.

On that first night, we had a couple of dancers, but more so that’s where the Giant Step team really began to come together; Mac became our doorman, Richard Worth and Itaal Shur were the original musicians and really helped put together the nucleus of musicians who later joined. Though they were fairly few and far between, our kindred spirits found out pretty quickly about this night. It was over those first few weeks that we really built the the Giant Step team that helped build the club and its future. People like Nappy G (Gordon Clay) entered the fold for us around then, too. Jazzy Nice was already the Groove Academy DJ and when Smash went away to go to Japan, we brought Jazzy over as the alternate Giant Step DJ. And slowly but surely – with baby steps – the night grew from there.

Credit needs to be given to Larry Gold of SOBs for giving Giant Step the opportunity to use his venue, and for having the same faith that we had in our night. It’s amazing that over 30 years – after all this time – SOBs is still presenting great music. I think it’s important that people in New York recognize that and continue to support venues that try to keep pushing the musical boundaries. We’re very thankful and proud to have SOBs as the place that helped start our legacy here at Giant Step.

  • Michael July

    This is a very accurate recount of the genesis of what eventually became a NYC institution. I was there that first night, still in college and I could feel that it was something totally different & original yet it felt familiar and fresh. Maurice Bernstein & Jonathan Ruddick had incredible foresight and instincts to bring in the talent they did that understood dance music and wanted to expand on the presentation of it by merging jazz, hip-hop, funk & soul in a way that was contemporary and exciting. They achieved that and a great deal more. I attended over the next few years virtually every single Giant Step/Groove Academy event including past Throwback Thursdays ones: the awesome P-Funk All Stars at the Palladium. I know no one who was there will ever forget the Blow Fly/BNH’s fiasco (too funny), Freestyle Fellowship Metropolis joint (unbelievable energy & show), Incognito debut at S.O.B.s (I think Jay Rodriguez did a solo with them that night), Digable Planet at the Supper Club (Butterfly was a good friend of mine. We actually share the same birthday). They blew up after that!, Masta Ace & Gangstarr at S.O.B.s doing tracks from their classic debut albums (R.I.P. Guru), one of my favorites was seeing Brand New Heavies & Jamiroquai performances in NY for the first time. I had a friend John Curd who was a big promoter in London who told me about these groups who he booked overseas long before they came out in the states. Therefore I couldn’t wait to see them live and trust me they didn’t disappoint. There were countless other memorial and soulful nights. The first time I ever seen live art was at a Giant Step Supper Club event and now everyone is doing it. I still have all of my flyers from these great shows which I cherish and keep in 2 large photo albums. I’ll email you some pics of my photo albums to post if you wish Maurice. Thanks for doing this fantastic Throwback Thursday series. I can’t want for the next one and the next and the next…..LOL .


    Michael July