Ex-Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons Dishes on His Harlem Eateries

Dick Parsons Portrait - P 2013
Dan Hallman

Dick Parsons Portrait - P 2013

The exec gives THR a first look at the revival of historic jazz club Minton's -- where Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker played -- and a new Afro-Caribbean joint, The Cecil.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Former Time Warner chairman and CEO Richard Parsons turned 18, he brought his then-girlfriend to Hickory House, a jazz supper club in midtown Manhattan. "You got to dress up, and it was the first time I thought of myself as acting like a grown-up," he recalls. "Ever since, I've wanted to own a supper club."

Forty-seven years of dreaming will be fulfilled soon with his opening of a Harlem restaurant and jazz supper club: The Cecil and Minton's.

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The Cecil (210 W. 118th St.) is a casual 150-seat spot, while next door, the 70-seat Minton's (206 W. 118th St.) marks the rebirth of the famed jazz club Minton's Playhouse, initially closed in 1974, where Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk first improvised bebop.

"I love music. It was my favorite part of Time Warner, and it killed me to have to sell [Warner Music Group]," says Parsons of spinning off the division in 2004. For the past decade, he has been chairman of the Jazz Foundation of America.

The executive -- who ran Time Warner from 2002 to 2008, followed by a three-year tenure as Citigroup chairman -- was conceived in Harlem, grew up in Brooklyn and lives in Tribeca with his psychologist wife, Laura.

For both venues -- mere blocks from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's hot Red Rooster restaurant -- Parsons, 65, has partnered with Alexander Smalls, a chef, cookbook author (Grace the Table) and longtime friend.

At The Cecil, bowing Sept. 23, Smalls is spotlighting what he calls "the food of the African diaspora," a mishmash of slavery-era styles that resulted, he explains, from Africans exporting their cooking skills to Caribbean plantations, where they mingled with Chinese workers and Europeans.

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At Minton's, due in October, Smalls plans a prix-fixe four-course menu of his Southern revival cooking (smoked Berkshire pork chops, grits). A house band will perform nightly, but it isn't strictly a concert venue. Parsons does want to honor the spot's heritage with the program Minton's at Midnight, which will link jazz artists to their hip-hop descendants. Eventually, he plans to release live recordings through his own fledgling record label. He insists he has no other major business plans, saying emphatically, "I'm retired."