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Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part III: Kansas City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles & Beyond

Karl Ackermann By

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George Wein opened Storyville in 1950 in the Hotel Buckminster and featured regular performances from the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck. In 1953 the club moved to the Copley Square Hotel where it remained until 1959 when it relocated to the Bradford Hotel on Tremont Street. While the club was a platform for the best talent in jazz, Wein's high standards came with a reciprocal cost. The financial strain led to Wein giving up the club in 1960. Wally's Café opened in 1947 at 428 Massachusetts Avenue and moved across the street in 1978 when most of the Mass Avenue clubs were long gone. Joseph Walcott—known as Wally—was the first African American to own a nightclub in the Boston area. Walcott used his venue to successfully mix students from Berklee College of Music, the Boston Conservatory, and the New England Conservatory of Music with veterans of the swing era. Walcott died in 1998, at the age of 101, but his family continues to run the club in the same vein, primarily giving the stage to students. Wally's Café is the oldest surviving jazz venue in Boston and one of the oldest in the U.S.

Today, in the Boston area, there are two, more modern, jazz clubs along the Charles River. The Regattabar opened in 1985 at the Charles Hotel at 1 Bennett Street in Harvard Square and has featured artists such as the Mingus Big Band, Ahmad Jamal and Ron Carter. Scullers opened in 1989 in the Allston neighborhood, just south of Harvard. Along with jazz, the club features world music, cabaret and blues but shows are sporadic. Saxophonist David Sanborn and Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval have played there recently but local talent dominates the calendar. Thelonious Monkfish is at 524 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and mixes sushi with a full calendar of jazz from accomplished, if not well-known, artists. Many, such as Yoko Miwa, Paul Broadnax and Andy Voelker, play extended engagements.

Elsewhere

There were jazz satellites in other U.S. cities, though often modest in scope and longevity. Like Philadelphia, Detroit had a stellar home-grown crop of jazz musicians that went on to national prominence. Elvin, Hank and Thad Jones, Howard McGhee, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Frank Foster, Sir Roland Hanna, Donald Byrd, Sonny Stitt, Alice Coltrane, James Carter, Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett and Betty Carter are just a few of the well-known artists to emerge from that city. And like many of the jazz hubs of the 1920s, Detroit was on the cusp of modern jazz from the outset.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the burgeoning auto industry brought large numbers of southerners to Detroit. The forerunners of the big bands were at the vanguard of the city's music industry; one that later gave birth to the Motown sound. Beginning in the era in which Storyville was vanishing from New Orleans, the so-called society bands of Detroit played local events, weddings, parties and dances staying within the boundaries of standard ragtime material. Two black band leaders emerged from that time as having broken new ground. Benjamin Shook experimented with, and perfected, syncopation while Leroy Smith, was playing symphonic jazz of the Paul Whiteman style, in the early stages of the genre. Smith played the Pier Ballroom, a famous dancehall that was part of an amusement complex called Electric Park. Competing for audiences was an all-white society band led by Paul Specht that played the Addison hotel in downtown Detroit.

Big Band Jazz took over Detroit in the mid-1920s with the Jean Goldkette Victor Recording Orchestra and the McKinney's Cotton Pickers being credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of that style. Arranger and saxophonist Don Redman—the uncle of Dewey Redman, and great-uncle of Joshua Redman—came to Detroit in 1927 to lead the already established Cotton Pickers. Under his leadership the band became a significant proponent of big band jazz, first regionally and later, nationally. It was rival band leader, Goldkette, who booked the group into the Graystone Ballroom—a venue that had previously barred black musicians. It was on Goldkette's insistence that the group, once called "William McKinney's Synco Septet," changed their name to the racially offensive ..."Cotton Pickers." The Graystone Ballroom later hosted Duke Ellington on specially reserved blacks-only nights.

Venues like the Chocolate Bar, Plantation Club also hosted cabaret bands, the latter was most known for saxophonist Cecil Lee's seven-piece band. The Melody Club and The Cozy Corner provided work for former large ensemble players. A popular jazz venue, Club Harlem was short-lived and later became The Flame. The business district and entertainment core of African-American residences was known as Paradise Valley and the adjacent south-bordering neighborhood of Black Bottom drew iconic figures such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington from the 1920s through the 1950s. The underlying racial tension in the area was capped by a devastating 1943 race riot that resulted in thirty-four deaths and the destruction of much of Paradise Valley.

Baker's Keyboard Lounge has featured jazz since 1939 and is the oldest jazz venue in Michigan. Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Modern Jazz Quartet, and many others have played the Livernois Avenue location. Cliff Bell's opened in 1935, closing for twenty years in 1985 and reopening in 2005. The club features local and college talent. Similarly, Jazz Café primarily hosts local artists, albeit, in a more opulent setting on Madison Street. Dirty Dog Jazz Café in the affluent waterfront area of Grosse Pointe is a recent entry having been established in 2008. The club typically features sidemen with impressive resumes. Further into the suburbs are Goodnight Gracie in Royal Oak, Black Lotus Brewing Co in Clawson and Live Night Club to the west in Ann Arbor. Each focus on regional artists, occasionally the same acts moving back and forth between venues.

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