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Harvey Husten Presents "Jazz in Jersey": The Red Hill Inn

Harvey Husten Presents "Jazz in Jersey": The Red Hill Inn
Richard J Salvucci By

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Harvey Husten was without a doubt one of the most sincere and dedicated ever to give of his time, money and health to spread the message of jazz. —Dr. Billy Taylor
On October 13, 1957, there was a concert at the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Leonard Feather was there. Erroll Garner too. And Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, and Oscar Pettiford. The occasion was the first annual memorial concert for one Harvey Husten. And the beginning of what was supposed to be a living memorial to Harvey Husten, the Harvey Husten Memorial Fund. As Jim Donahue wrote in Camden's Courier Post:"It will provide scholarships for music students, be they white, yellow, red, or black." They did have to be from Philadelphia, but then, that was just across the Ben Franklin Bridge. Mr. Husten, it was recorded, "built his own private temple to jazz." That would be the Red Hill Inn, although one writer insisted jazz fans in Philadelphia and South Jersey referred to it as "Harvey's House"—the house of jazz. Harvey Husten? The Red Hill Inn? Leonard Feather? Pennsauken, NJ? Really? Yes, really. So forgotten that one poor author of Count Basie's liner notes called it "a forgotten resort in upstate New Jersey." Wrong, wrong, and wrong. So this is a little bit of the story, and an attempt to recover one fragile memory of America's authentic if unappreciated art: jazz.

It is also, in part, a story of postwar suburban growth and enhanced traffic flow. How easily the story was lost and obscured by neglect and the changing narrative of American history. Here it is. Harvey Husten, the Program Director of WKDN, Camden, New Jersey, died at the age of 32 on September 26, 1957. He died unexpectedly. He left a wife and two very young children. For a time, In Philadelphia, in the mid-1950s, Harvey Husten was jazz on the air in Philadelphia. The modern boppish variety. If you wanted Dixieland, you went to Billy Krechmer's. But for more modern stuff, you went to Pennsauken. For sure, there were other clubs and venues where players like Miles and even Bird would make an appearance. Although even Miles made his way to the Red Hill Inn. There was nothing quite like the Red Hill Inn. Certainly not in or around Philly.

The Red Hill Inn began life as a farmhouse in the 1890s. I can't tell you much about it because there isn't much to tell. At some point, the farm became a "roadhouse" which is defined as "an inn, hotel, or other establishment providing accommodations, meals, etc., for travelers." By the late 1930s, The Red Hill Inn was a favored venue for local civic speakers, B-list entertainers, and the occasional "immoral show given at an American Legion banquet." In 1937, its owner became Mr. Joseph de Luca. The Inn was located on Route 25 East at the Pennsauken-Haddonfield Road. De Luca had attended the famous Camden Catholic High, where he had been a basketball star. By the account of Sid Mark, a senior radio personality in Philadelphia and host of the weekly Sounds of Sinatra show, the transition of the Red Hill Inn from modest roadhouse to jazz Mecca came at the behest of Harvey Husten, colloquially known as The Big Guy. "They weren't doing any business, " Mark recalls, "so they had nothing to lose."

Husten had tried a major jazz policy elsewhere. The Red Hill Inn, which Mark recalled sat 250 to 300 people, offered a bigger venue. It was, Mark says, "enormously successful." Who exactly was Harvey Husten? Stan Kenton called him "the most dedicated man I ever met, perhaps too dedicated." Billy Taylor added "Harvey Husten was without a doubt one of the most sincere and dedicated ever to give of his time, money and health to spread the message of jazz. His unfailing faith and untiring efforts to present the best of jazz to everyone within the sound of his voice made him, indeed, one of the best loved and most sincerely respected of the many champions of jazz."

Husten was from Troy, New York. He attended Cornell University, and was a Radioman in the Coast Guard in World War II. He came from a middle class, Russian Jewish immigrant background. His first job was at WABY in Albany, New York, but he moved to WKDN in Camden, where he became Program Director. He took his role as an advocate for jazz very seriously. There was an adult education program in Philadelphia called The Junto. It had been founded by that noted jazz advocate, Benjamin Franklin. It lapsed but was restarted in 1941. It came to include a course in Jazz Appreciation in 1956 that was taught by Harvey Husten, "a survey of the jazz scene ranging from classic New Orleans styles to the modernists." Aside from giving a public forum in his new neighborhood, it also brought a student who turned out to be the sister of a guy who had recently been an infantryman in the Army, a gentleman named Sid Mark. Mark, who shared Husten's love of modern jazz, was introduced to Husten by Sid's sister, over a "Jewish meal" at Sid's home. The last piece of the story fell into place, because from 1955 to 1960, first Harvey and Sid, and then Sid alone, became the Red Hill Inn's jazz identity. Harvey Husten began "Jazz in Jersey" in late 1955. It didn't start out at the Red Hill Inn, but at Andy's Log Cabin in Gloucester Heights. But as Sid Mark noted, the series soon moved to the Red Hill Inn. Things were in full swing by Spring 1956. To give you some idea of what then happened, I'm going to try your patience by listing a roster of the acts in 1956. This was, trust me, typical, and I'm only going to do it once. There is no guarantee that this is complete:

March: Al Cohn; Conte Candoli and his All Stars; Terry Gibbs and Quartet featuring Terry Pollard. April: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. May: Gerry Mulligan and the Music City Band June; Woody Herman featuring Bill Harris. August: Jimmy Giuffre. September: Modern Jazz Quartet; Chris Connor; Duke Ellington. October: Art Tatum; Gerry Mulligan Quartet; Johnny Smith Quartet; Jackie Cain and Roy Kraal; Phineas Newborn; Terry Gibbs Quartet. November: Les Brown and his Band; Gene Krupa; Dave Brubeck Quartet. December: Cannonball Adderley; Zoot Sims Quartet.

Trust me. It continued like that in 1957. Maynard Ferguson. Carmen McRae. Chico Hamilton. The Four Freshman. Errol Garner. Johnny Smith. Johnny Richards. Fortunately for us, some of the appearances have been documented, for there was a Saturday night broadcast over the Mutual Broadcast Network. One of the most exciting was Johnny Richards, who must have been breaking in a new band. The group included Jimmy Cleveland, But Collins, Wade Legge, Doug Mettome, Gene Quill, Frank Rehak and Frank Socolow. Believe me, the band was "scary," which is the word Count Basie used to describe it. At this point, you might be pardoned several questions. According to Sid Mark, the Red Hill Inn sat 250 to 300 at its tables, in a room decorated starkly black. The owner, as did some others in South Jersey, had a history of run ins with the Internal Revenue Service. Such is the jazz life, right? Sid Mark maintained that the club was a commercial success because, thanks to being in New Jersey, it avoided Philadelphia's notorious Blue Laws. At one point, those laws prohibited any business from opening on Sundays, but gradually, very gradually, the laws were repealed.

However, in the 1950s, if you wanted to see a jazz act on Sunday afternoons or evenings, you weren't going to do it in Philadelphia, at least legally. So, you took a short ride across the bridge to New Jersey. There was a small galaxy of clubs and restaurants, not to mention a horse track (Garden State), just across the river in those days in places like Delaire, but the Red Hill Inn was the venue. Certainly, it was the only place where recordings were made. We know of Count Basie, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Mel Tormé, and there are probably more on tape somewhere. As Sid Mark put it, the room may have been ugly, but it had a "sound."

One inevitably wonders about the commercial side of the business, not to mention the demanding schedule the club placed on someone like Husten, who had a full-time gig on radio (where he was a tireless sponsor of new talent, like singer Johnny Hartman) and a young family. Husten had brought in Sid Mark as a young assistant. In retrospect, it was probably fate that he did. Harvey Husten died unexpectedly from what sounds like a post-operative embolism. His friends and admirers, and there were many, were stunned. There was an outpouring of sympathetic comments in the local newspapers. Virtually all observed that Husten's advocacy of jazz had not brought him much in the way of material reward, as if the music had ever paid very well. Reading between the lines, it's impossible not to think that Husten must have had something, perhaps a lot, to do with financing "Jazz in Jersey." Did the pressures hasten his demise? More than half a century later, who knows? But it hardly seems improbable.

Husten, however, was not quite finished. His personal record collection (and perhaps the jazz collection of WKDN) was donated to the Free Library of Philadelphia as the Harvey Husten Jazz Library. According to the Music Department, there were over two thousand recordings. Leanne Fallon of the Library writes, "They are an important part of the Music Department's jazz LP collection." You won't find them in the online catalog. They are listed, in vintage fashion, in a card catalog. When you consider what has happened to the collections of so many public libraries in the United States—not just to LPs, but to books as well— it seems a little miraculous that the recordings are still there, and identified as part of Husten's collection. Nor did the series at the Red Hill Inn come to an end. Husten's young assistant Sid Mark took over for Husten. While he remained, "Harvey Husten's Jazz in Jersey" rolled on, at least into 1963. There was a change of venue, about which more shortly.

Mark, of course, would succeed Husten to become the voice of modern jazz in Philadelphia on WHAT-FM, and the city's direct line to Frank Sinatra, Maynard Ferguson, and many others. Husten would also be remembered in a couple of recordings, including Jimmy Wisner's "Blues for Harvey," J.J. Johnson's "Harvey's House," and supposedly by Kai Winding in his rendition of "Jersey Bounce" in the 1958 album, The Swinging States. So, as one of Harvey's friends remarked, Husten was remembered a great deal better a few years after his passing than are most of us. But, cliché or not, nothing is forever, and that's especially true of jazz clubs. The area of South Jersey where the Red Hill Inn was located was swept up in the great postwar boom of the 1950s. New communities, more people, rising property values, and, of course, more automobiles, around which the post-war suburbs were configured.

The Red Hill Inn was originally located at the crossing of US Route 130 and New Jersey Route 73, which hooked up to the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge over the Delaware, that had opened in 1929. The surrounding counties were growing very quickly in the 1950s. In 1960, the state of New Jersey decided it was time to improve traffic flow with a new highway and cloverleaf interchange. "It is designed to eliminate sharp curves, narrow bumps, stop signs and cross traffic. Both highways will have six lanes." Well, progress and the suburbs met a historic jazz club. Guess who won? The Red Hill Inn was demolished and sold off piece by piece, including 8,000 square feet of maple flooring. "Many other items," said the newspaper ad. "Inquire at job. Marlton Wrecking Co." That was that.

Of course, the owner, Joe de Luca said he intended to open another venue nearby and he did. This was called the New Red Hill Inn in the Delaire section of Pennsauken. Some big jazz acts, including Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, and Ahmad Jamal continued to appear. But there were now floor shows and singers like Gloria Lynn. Harvey Husten, of course, was gone. Sid Mark had moved to WHAT-FM. The new club acquired new owners. On March 10, 1965, the New Red Hill Inn burned to the ground. There is now nothing standing in the location to remind you of its once storied existence. Perhaps 1965 was just not a good year for jazz in Philly. Billy Krechmer's club closed. It was replaced by Your Father's Moustache. Gerry Mulligan recorded an album entitled If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em. Of course, John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme, but within two years Coltrane was dead.

It would be pleasant to report that art somehow triumphed over commerce. In the case of the Red Hill Inn, neither really did. Then there is the matter of sheer luck. Harvey Husten, whatever else his singular merits in the pursuit of jazz, was unlucky enough to die at 32. Sid Mark did pick up the torch, but there was nothing like the Red Hill Inn in early 1960s Philadelphia. Nothing really took its place. In some ways, the hollowing out of the traditional city, with its wharves, mills, factories, and night spots, had really begun. As they say in economics, if something can't be sustained, it stops. Harvey Husten and the Red Hill Inn were a kind of jazz supernova in Philadelphia, dazzling while they lasted, but they didn't last all that long. Both are ultimately now just a footnote to the history of jazz in the Quaker City. And that, I think, is a shame.

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