HENRY NORMILE: Jazz lovers mourn his death.
Owner slain Killing casts pall over jazz hangout
By KATE DeSMET
News Staff Writer
The slaying of the owner of Cobb's Corner Bar may spell the death
of "the new jazz corner of the world" in Detroit.
To jazz lovers, 34-year-old Henry Normile's place at the corner
of Cass and Willis was a Mecca of sound, a gathering place for
followers of avant garde as well as traditional jazz. It also
provided a home of sorts for a local alcoholic.
"Henry let one of the neighborhood winos sell his poetry
for wine and even displayed his poetry on the walls," said Pam
Becker, a regular Cobb's patron. "He was open to all kinds of
artistic expression. That's why he was successful."
Normile's success story — developing a former motorcycle hangout
and inner city bar into a popular jazz club — ended Saturday night
when he was shot fatally in the neck.
Normile's friend, Marcie Major, told police she heard shots
around 8pm. and found him lying in a hallway that extended between
Normile's apartment and the bar.
Miss Major lives in an apartment Next to Normile.
HOMICIDE SGT. Cameron Knowles said police have no leads and no
motive. Some of Cobb's regular patrons and musicians questioned
whether the bar could keep its reputation for nightly jam sessions
without Normile running the bar.
"You never knew what will happen to a bar after something like
this happens," said Greg Jakub, who regularly visited Cobb's and
lives near the Wayne State campus.
"Sometimes a bar can survive, but people get scared. I hope for
the sake of Cobbs, it'll still host good music."
Marcus Belgrave, a musician who regularly appeared at Cobb's,
said there's a chance the bar could lose some of it regulars if the
emphasis on jazz dies.
"But I'd like to think we could go on with what was happening,"
Belgrave said. "We were doing wonders with jazz in the community. I
think Henry would have wanted it that way."
Nearly all those questioned about the survival of Cobb's echoed
this comment by Normile's friend and business partner, John
"Don't put this story in a bad light. This area needs to
survive. Just because a guy got shot doesn't mean it couldn't happen
in Grosse Pointe."
THE NIGHT OF the shooting, the Lyman Woodard Organization - one
of Normile's favorite bands - was to tape a live recording for the
first record produced by Corridor Records. The company was formed
two weeks ago by Normile, Woodard, Sinclair and Belgrave.
Woodard said he expects the album will be dedicated to Normile.
"On the tape we made Friday night at Cobbs you could hear him
shouting out how the project was so important to him," Woodard said.
"You can imagine how sad that makes me. Henry was a real
professional. I hope we can go on with what we've been doing there."
Normile grew up in Mt. Clemens and attended the Holy Ghost
Brothers seminary for three years before joining the U.S. Air Force
in 1964. He received a master's degree in physiology from Wayne
Stated and worked as a bouncer and bartender at campus bars while
attending school. He tried teaching at Wayne County Community
College and the Carnegie Institute but his love of jazz won out.
FREE PRESS/SUNDAY, FEB. 4,
Normile spent most of his adult life in and around bars in the Wayne
State University area of the Cass Corridor. Most of the people there
knew him as a guy who:
outgoing and was liked by almost everyone.
degrees: in both psychology and physiology.
almost legendary reputation for attracting women.
a gun and said he'd use it if he had to.
single-handedly revitalized run-down section of the
Cass' Corridor with his innovative jazz
club, Cobb's Corner.
small-time drug dealer whose clients were almost
solely friends and musicians.
generous to a fault, often buying paintings and poetry
from casual friends in his bar just to
keep them afloat.
and carried out the cliche, "Live hard and die young.”
Normile did die young—at the age of 34—on Jan; 27, when someone
fired a single shotgun blast into his neck as he stood in the foyer
of his apartment next to Cobb's Corner.
Police think it was a vengeance murder of some sort, but have
neither a motive nor a major suspect.
They say the gunman went to Normile's apartment that night, Just a
half-hour before a live recording session was to have begun in the
bar, and pulled off the shooting so calmly that no one saw him come
comprehend who would want to kill Normile is as much a mystery to
his friends as how it was done.
was just one of those people who drew people to him, said Marcie
Majors, a longtime friend and occasional roommate of Normile's.
"People wanted to be around him because to be with him was to have a
It was Ms.
Majors and another friend, George Green, who found Normile face down
in a pool of blood in the foyer of his apartment. He had been shot
just seconds before, and his dog - a huge black Bouvier des Flandres
- was standing over him, barking. By the time an ambulance arrived
and took him to the hospital, Normile was dead.
Four nights later, his brother and partner in the Cobb's Corner
venture, Howard Normile, reopened the club with a wake for
friends and family members. Marcus Belgrave, Lyhiari Woodard and
other Detroit musicians conducted a jam session that went on into
the early morning.
DEVELOPMENT of Cobb's Comer as a legitimate jazz club is in
large part the legacy of Henry Normile's energy.
When he took it over a year ago, the bar offered much less live jazz
and more pinball, pool and pitchers of beer to its clientele of
Cass Corridor denizens, Wayne State students and couples out for a
night on the town.
Howard Normile says the bar used to be, as well, a hangout for
"pimps, prostitutes and pushers."
the bar was not a business. It was an activity,"
Free Press Photo
by TARO YAMASAKI
Myrtle Normile packs albums in the apartment
where her son Henry Normile was slain Jan. 27.
said his 27-year-old brother. "It was his way of life. It was a way
for him to socialize and meet people."
But Henry Normile, a former seminarian with a bachelor's degree in
psychology and master's in physiology, also wanted a club that would
bring some respectability to Cass Corridor — which he loved — and he
thought the best way to do it was to make his bar the center of
Detroit's jazz community.
"Cobb's was a small part of the jazz community, but it was becoming
a very vital part of it," said Belgrave, a former trumpeter with Ray
Charles' band. "Henry had worked hard to make jazz work in the city
and Cobb's was opening doors in other clubs for us."
THE FUTURE of Cobb's as a jazz club is up in the air now.
Howard Normile, who is busy working on his doctorate in physiology
at Wayne State, says he doesn't want to run it himself and hopes to
sell it to someone who will carry on with its music policy.
How much of Cobb’s Clientele came for music and how much came for
Henry Normile is an open question.
His friends say that when he quit as the night manager of Verne’s
Bierstube on Forest Avenue alter five years, that bar’s night
business was cut in half.
“He drew a lot of people into that place,” said Loren Funke, a
former roommate of Normile’s. “People would go in there for a drink,
meet Henry and start~ coming back regularly. People just liked to be
AL KARAGAS, owner of Verne’s, agrees that Normile had a
forceful personality, but he was nervous with Normile around because
he knew he was selling marijuana on the side.
“I didn’t want him doing that in the bar,” Karagas said, “so we
talked about it, and he said it would probably be better if he
One person who knew Normile well before moving out of Detroit two
years ago said he had been dealing in cocaine as well as marijuana
and that he had mentioned wanting to get away from that because he
was “dealing with some heavy people.”
Police won’t say whether they found drugs in Normile’s apartment,
but several people have said Cobb’s was known to be a place’ where
drugs were used and available. “That was going on there a lot,” said
one musician who has worked at Cobb’s recently. “I’ve known
musicians who couldn’t have had any bread, and they could still go
to Cobb’s and score some coke.”
Most of Normile’s friends admit he usually had both marijuana and
cocaine at his apartment, but, as one said, “I know he wasn’t making
money off drugs. Hell, he never had any money.”
HOWARD NORMILE said that his brother had $36 in his checking account
last week and that he’d never known him to have much money. Henry
Normile didn’t own a car, although he drove borrowed ones all the
time, and he had few possessions at his apartment.
“He was very unmaterialistic,” Howard Normile said. “All he ever
wanted was to have a good time, and he always did.”
The brothers grew up in Mt. Clemens, where their mother, Myrtle
Normile, still lives, and Henry Normile left right after high school
to join the Air Force. When he returned, he moved into the city and
was soon putting his imprint on the social life.
Normile and his brother, Howard, bought the bar two years ago from
Robert Cobb. Normile became sole owner two months ago when his
brother sold out to devote more time to his doctoral work in
physiology at Wayne State.
AS THE BAR’S reputation grew, via word of mouth and a public
relations firm owned; by Sinclair, Normile was convinced it could
become the musical meeting place in the Corridor.
“Henry was the kind of person who did what many people haven’t
done,” said Michael Ogorek, a regular Cobb’s patron.
“He started something in the Corridor and made it a viable musical,
cultural institution right here in the pits. I really respected what
Besides the music, Normile developed a reputation for ‘holding
benefits to raise funds for local groups, such as the Detroit
Children’s Alternative School, the Michigan Opera Theater and ailing
Detroit percussionist Jimmy Allen.
“He was an extremely generous person, one, of the sweetest men I’ve
ever met in Detroit,” s~id Sinclair, who was working on an idea with
Nornlile to start a local artists’ gallery next to Cobb’s.
“Because of his generous nature, he had hundreds of friends. The
whole atmosphere at Cobb’s was a tribute to his ideas and
personality. He was probably the single most popular guy in this
SOME OF THE musicians who regularly worked at the bar are
planning a memorial jam session at 9 p.m. tomorrow at Cobb’s. Some
of the bands expected to perform are the Lyman Woodard Organization,
Marcus Belgrave, The New Detroit Jazz Ensemble. Griot Galaxy and the
Prismatic Band. A $5 cover will go to a Henry J. Normile Scholarship
“There’s no question that if we have the service I’ll play Henry’s
favorite piece, something I composed called, ‘A Theme in Search of a
Sports Spectacular,”’ Woodard said.
Normile’s friends and his mother, Myrtle, and his brother, will
attend a funeral mass at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow in St. Peters, 80 New,
Mt. Clemens. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery, Clinton