Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

6

Billy Krechmer: A Philadelphia Story

Richard J Salvucci By

Sign in to view read count
I could play classics. I preferred jazz. —William Frederick (Billy) Krechmer
There is a story told of the last night of an iconic jazz club in Philadelphia in 1966. The bandleader-owner, it was said, had been called away prior to closing. He was unable to return before the end of the last set. Walking back, he watched the crowd filing out. Some, I am told, had tears in their eyes. Ok. Too good to be true. Or too sentimental to be true. Unconfirmed by independent sources. All true. But if the story isn't true, as the saying goes, it should be. In retrospect, the closing of Billy Krechmer marked the end of an era in Philadelphia jazz. No, the music didn't stop. No, Krechmer himself didn't disappear. No, the scene was not thereafter bereft of venues, nor did Philly players cease to emerge.

Yet, one doubts that for a certain kind of playing, a certain sort of scene, one rooted in the Swing Era and the Big Bands of the 1930s and 1940s, the world changed. Billy Krechmer's was not the last of the clubs. Growing up in Philadelphia, I knew of Pep's, the Showboat, the Aqua Lounge, and neighborhood places in my part of town—West Philly— where players like Mike Pedicin, Sr. had held steady gigs at Skippy's at 64th and Haverford Avenue. Or where Cozy Cole or Gene Krupa made appearances at the Baltimore Tavern. There were still supper clubs, like Palumbo's and the CR Club in South Philly, or, over, across the Delaware River, in Jersey, the Latin Casino, with name acts and headliners, if not exactly jazzers.

But the places where the name bands had stopped, The Earle Theatrer or the Click, were long gone, with the Earle actually demolished in 1953. And so too were the sidemen who made their way to Krechmer's—some of them local boys (and they were probably mostly boys) like trumpeter Nick Travis, (born Travascio) a regular and for a time on Krechmer's payroll, from the Olney section of town. Travis had died terribly prematurely in 1964, the British invasion was on, and the Big Band Era was already a fond memory for people of my father's generation.

Billy Krechmer may not be a household name in the history of American jazz, but he was a local legend in Philadelphia, well known and widely respected in the community of musicians, if not a legendary figure from the "legitimate" world like Leopold Stokowski or Eugene Ormandy of Philadelphia Orchestra fame. Certainly, he was a remarkable player. Buddy DeFranco who knew Billy, called him "an exceptional jazz clarinetist" and put him in a league with Benny Goodman. Coming from Buddy, who had both an ego and a sharp tongue, that was remarkably high praise. Krechmer had a thirty-year run as a club owner in Center City, and he was a mentor, or a boss, or at least a living to people like Ray Bryant, Tal Farlow, Lou Stein, Slam Stewart, Charlie Bornemann and Bobby Shankin, to name only a few of the 600 or so musicians he thought he had employed over the club's run. Countless others jammed with him like Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Billy Butterfield, Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Ray McKinley, Will Bradley, Johnny Guarnieri, Bobby Hackett, Charlie Ventura and Hot Lips Page. And there was a very highly regarded trumpet player, a veteran of Benny Carter and Jimmie Lunceford's band, Tommy Simms. who joined Krechmer's house band in 1952, spending a decade there. Simms was a sort of quasi-mythical figure, living in Powelton Village in West Philly. about whom a certain lore exists, and of whom more presently. When he died in 1986 at the age of 63, Krechmer commented "Few Philadelphia trumpeters were in his class."

Billy Krechmer was a local boy, too, from the small South Jersey town of Millville. He was one of five children, the son of a shoemaker, born on August 25, 1909. He first studied piano and the family moved to Philadelphia, where he graduated from West Philadelphia High. Having taken up clarinet, he was assigned to Daniel Bonade's studio after admission to Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Bonade was the Principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and both a celebrated teacher and player. The chronology is a bit hazy, but Krechmer was apparently already a working musician in Philadelphia by the time he attended Curtis, but he never lost his love of the classics or the importance of classical technique on the clarinet. Bobby Shankin, who was his drummer in the club's house band at the age of 19 recalled walking into the club in the afternoon to the sound of Krechmer practicing a Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Shankin called him "totally dedicated to playing the clarinet" and recalled that musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra would drop by the club to hear him.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read The Complete Jan Akkerman: Focusing on a Life's Work Profiles
The Complete Jan Akkerman: Focusing on a Life's Work
by John Kelman
Published: November 24, 2018
Read Istanbul’s İKSV: An Intensity Beyond Cool Profiles
Istanbul’s İKSV: An Intensity Beyond Cool
by Arthur R George
Published: October 17, 2018
Read Don Suhor: From Dixieland to Bopsieland Profiles
Don Suhor: From Dixieland to Bopsieland
by Charles Suhor
Published: September 2, 2018
Read Aretha Franklin, The Lady Soul: 1942 - 2018 Profiles
Aretha Franklin, The Lady Soul: 1942 - 2018
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 17, 2018
Read Remembering Tomasz Stanko Profiles
Remembering Tomasz Stanko
by AAJ Staff
Published: July 29, 2018
Read SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In Profiles
SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In
by Arthur R George
Published: July 19, 2018
Read "Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night" Profiles Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night
by Arthur R George
Published: July 2, 2018
Read "The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen" Profiles The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen
by Gloria Krolak
Published: February 21, 2018
Read "Savoy Records: From Newark To The World" Profiles Savoy Records: From Newark To The World
by Jordan Levy
Published: February 6, 2018
Read "Zara McFarlane: Embodying the Spirit of Jamaica" Profiles Zara McFarlane: Embodying the Spirit of Jamaica
by David Burke
Published: January 13, 2018
Read "Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018" Profiles Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 7, 2018
Read "Rebecca Parris: 1951-2018" Profiles Rebecca Parris: 1951-2018
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: June 22, 2018