GREENSBORO — He’s an Anflick. You can tell.
Square jaw. Square shoulders. Strong handshake. Built like a refrigerator and born with a pair of drumsticks in his hand.
And yes, he can swing.
He’s Jacob, and he’s 23, a fourth-generation drummer. He was taught by one of the best, the broad-shouldered man from South Philly who began playing drums at age 4.
That was Sammy, his grandfather.
Everybody knew Sammy. He came to Greensboro in 1963 and later helped a generation of musicians get started. For 12 years, until 1983, he ran a place no bigger than a double-wide in a space now occupied by the Tap Room on Battleground Avenue.
He called it Sammy’s. Locals still talk about it. It was Greensboro’s hub for the many spokes of music — jazz, blues, bluegrass, you name it. That included a four-piece house band in which Sammy played drums and waved to everybody who came in.
He served up the best local music — and the best Reuben sandwich — in a spot with padded leather booths, Formica tables with black vinyl tablecloths and a bar along the back wall.
He talked in this classic jazz-speak and shared classic one-liners that no family newspaper can print. Everybody played there, including his drummer son, Lee, Jacob’s dad. Along the way, Sammy revived a local music scene that at times barely breathed.
And man, Sammy could play. He had hands as big as dinner plates, and he’d contort his face like some cartoon character every time he played. He played with Billie Holiday, Charlie Ventura, Lenny Bruce and Caterina Valente, and he could tell stories about that for hours.
He did that to me. Then, I’d watch him play. His left hand was a blur.
“I’ve got the fastest drumsticks in the business,’’ he’d say.
Jacob knew that.
When he was 1 — or maybe 2 — he climbed on his grandfather’s knee and played on a practice pad.
When he was 10, he started taking lessons. He took lessons with Sammy for about 18 months. When he didn’t practice, he remembers the lecture. Jacob called it “The Speech,’’ and he always thought, “Oh, God, not again.’’
But when he did practice, Sammy would tell him the same thing.
“Way to go, babe.’’
Jacob’s interest went elsewhere. Karate and football; soccer and basketball. Then, in the spring of 2007, Sammy died from an ailing heart. He was 79. Jacob was 16, a sophomore at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School.
He got the news at school. Sammy, the man he called “Pop-Pop,’’ was gone.
“We lost him,’’ his dad told him.
Jacob still remembers that to this day.
“When my grandfather passed away, my world came to a halt,’’ he told me this week. “But musically, it began. I was playing football, doing the sports thing, just busy being a kid. And when he passed, I don’t know how to explain it, but this little voice inside my head told me, ‘It’s time to do what you love.’
“Truly, I had always loved drumming. So, I started practicing, and I started learning about what I was listening to. And not just the rhythm. It kind of called me to in a way, like it was saying, ‘Oh, you have to be a musician.’”
Jacob continued playing with the Guilford College Jazz Combo, enrolled in Greensboro College and ended up playing with its jazz ensemble as well as musicians who had played with his father and his grandfather.
Last month, Jacob graduated with a music degree. After four generations of Anflicks who played drums, Jacob became the first to graduate from college.
He now sells wine. That’s his full-time job. But he still plays. And he still plays with the jazz cats who played with Sammy. And like his great-grandfather, like his grandfather and like his father, Jacob teaches drumming. He has four students.
His dream? To open Sammy’s again. He’d love to do that. Meanwhile, he’ll teach and play. And remember.
In his apartment, his bedroom walls are bare except for one photo. It’s above his dresser, and it’s the first thing he sees every morning. It’s a photo of Sammy, his “Pop-Pop.” The photo is from the 1950s. He got it from his grandmother.
And of course, Sammy is playing.
“It’s a motivator,’’ Jacob says. “I put it there so I won’t stop.’’