The current crop of Philadelphia jazz clubs are often submerged in the broader category of "eateries with music" but that can often be stronger marketing strategy than placing jazz at the top of the bill. The South Kitchen & Jazz Parlor
makes its initial gambit as "New takes on Southern fare & deep whiskey list..." but their jazz menu is also substantial. Recent calendar dates include Gerald Veasley
, Kim Waters and Marcus Anderson. Chris' Jazz Café
on Sansom Street and Paris Bistro & Jazz Café
at Germantown Avenue typically offer local jazz talent but on a limited basis. Often, jazz performances are pop-ups in multi-use facilities such as the Ridge Avenue Methodist Church or suburban venues like The Kennett Flash
, recently hosting the Charlie Hunter
Trio, but the venue is about an hour west of downtown Philadelphia. Central Avenue, Los Angeles
The rich, early history of the Los Angeles jazz scene is obscured by the city's later legacy, as the birthplace of Cool Jazz and West Coast Jazz but its roots date back to Jelly Roll Morton
in 1917. The ragtime pianist's brother-in-law, William Manuel Johnson led The Original Creole Orchestra, the first band to leave New Orleans and tour the U.S. widely. Morton followed Johnson to Los Angeles where he recorded "The Crave," a tango that achieved some success in Hollywood. Similarly, Kid Ory
left one of New Orleans' best known bands behind and formed a new group in Los Angeles in 1919.
Central Avenue was the heart of the black population in Los Angeles from 1910 forward. Running from downtown to the south, the district expanding its southern boundary from Watts to Compton as the population grew. The city was one of the most integrated urban centers in the U.S. at the start of the twentieth century but as the population grew, so did racial tensions and discrimination against blacks, Mexicans, Japanese, Indians, and Chinese. Property deeds for both residential and business lots were withheld from blacks outside the district. Despite the prejudicial strains, the Central Avenue corridor provided a well-established enclave for black businesses, residents and entertainment, at least for a time.
The heart of the Central Avenue jazz scene was the Dunbar Hotel. Originally the Hotel Somerville, it opened in 1928, providing the growing black middle class with quality lodging and dining. The hotel drew prominent blacks from all professions including Josephine Baker, Joe Louis, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall and W.E.B. DuBois. James Nelson, a Chicago businessman bought the hotel in 1936 after it had already been renamed as the Dunbar. The best-known Central Avenue venue, Club Alabam
stood adjacent to the hotel and another prominent club, the Last Word
, was directly across the avenue. Within the confines of the Dunbar was another jazz club, the Showboat
. In the peak years of jazz on Central Avenue the likes of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton
, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray
, Art Pepper
and Charles Mingus
provided an endless loop of entertainment. Regardless of the particular club musicians were playing, the Dunbar Hotel was typically where they stayed. Jelly Roll Morton, Ella Fitzgerald
, Cab Calloway
, Louis Armstrong
, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne
, Billy Eckstine, and Count Basie were just sampling of those who had signed the guest register. The Dunbar was a popular spot for a sizable number of white Los Angelenos with an affinity for good music and the culture that surrounded it in the Central Avenue District. Wynton Marsalis
had once referred to the area as the Los Angeles version of 52nd Street though it owed as much or more to Harlem. Even its prime, the white media all but ignored the phenomena that was taking place on Central Avenue.