Category Archives: Blog

International Jazz Day 2015

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is chaired and led by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

The Institute is the lead nonprofit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing this annual celebration.

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What Happened, Miss Simone?

The official trailer for the Netflix-produced documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is now available:

The two minute clip is a veritable bombardment of vintage Nina Simone footage, and suggests the feature will come loaded with amazing scenes of her in concert, before the recording studio’s mic, on tour and in the streets, fighting tirelessly for the justice she so knew to be so necessary. What we’re promised by the trailer is a portrait of the artist as an imperfect woman–a genius musician and freedom fighter chased by terrible demons. Nina Simone was a woman who suffered, in spite of the joy and knowledge she brought to so many around her.

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Before 1964, Jazz Musicians Traveled While Black

Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month is in full swing. In a recent interview, I noted that jazz musicians performed in nightclubs where they couldn’t sit and hotels where they could not stay. The jazz legends whose music paved the way for the Civil Rights movement were subjected to racial discrimination as they traveled while black.

In 1936, Victor H. Green, a postal worker and civil rights activist, published the first edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide to navigate Jim Crow racial segregation laws in the South and de facto segregation in the North.

The “Green Book,” as it was called, lists hotels, tourist homes, restaurants, nightclubs, beauty parlors, barber shops and other services. Philadelphia hotels in the 1949 edition include the Attucks, Chesterfield and Douglass.

Douglass Hotel Bus Ad - Cropped

The list of clubs includes Emerson’s Tavern, the setting for the Tony Award-winning play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” Café Society and Watts’ Zanzibar.

Cafe Society - Watts' Zanzibar

In the wake of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act which outlawed racial discrimination, the last edition of the “Green Book” was published in 1967.

UPDATE:  A documentary, “The Green Book Chronicles,” co-produced by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Becky Wible Searles, is in production.

In an interview with NBCBLK, Ramsey said:

There was no Internet back then to get the Green Book, this was put together with love from black people for each other to keep each other safe. The Green Book to me was a love letter of sorts. There was a time when we loved each other so much that we would open our homes just to keep another black person safe. You could be a superstar, a singer, an artist and in those days still have no place to stay, eat or bathe while on the road, so this book was about the love and ability to preserve our dignity.

Show Ramsey and his team some love and make a donation to help them complete “The Green Book Chronicles.”

Douglass Hotel

In Jimmy Heath’s autobiography “I Walked with Giants,” drummer Roy Haynes recounted:

I met Jimmy around 1946 when I was with Luis Russell and we played the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. A lot of the big bands would come through the Earle. We stayed at the Douglas Hotel, which was in South Philly. That was the hotel where a lot of the big black bands stayed.

Douglass Hotel Guests

The building is still there. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday lived there when she was in town.

Douglass Hotel

The Douglass Hotel, now renamed 1409 Hotel, was not just a place to lay one’s head. The legendary Showboat was located in the basement.

After the Showboat, the space became the Bijou Café. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded live from the Bijou Café in 1977.

The basement of 1409 Lombard Street was a magical space.

Billie Holiday@100

Today is the centennial of the birth of Billie Holiday. Contrary to popular belief, she was not born in Baltimore. Lady Day was born on April 7, 1915 at Philadelphia General Hospital.

The misapprehension about Holiday’s place of birth may account for why she hasn’t been inducted into the Walk of Fame. Despite her arrests and conviction in Philadelphia, she had love for her hometown. It was, after all, the place where she could work in the nightclubs. After her conviction, she lost her New York City cabaret card and could not work in places where alcohol was sold. So she could perform at a sold-out Carnegie Hall, but couldn’t get a gig at a hole-in-the-wall in Harlem.

Parenthetically, Holiday was inducted into the Apollo Theater’s Walk of Fame yesterday.

Yes, there’s a historical marker noting that when Lady Day was in town, she often lived at the Douglass Hotel.

Billie Holiday Historical Marker

Holiday is depicted in the Women of Jazz mural in Strawberry Mansion. But the mural is scheduled to be demolished by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Women of Jazz Mural Collage - 4.5.15

The Walk of Fame plaque is the highest honor Philadelphia bestows on a musician:

The Music Alliance is best known for the Walk of Fame along Broad Street’s Avenue of the Arts. This series of over 100 bronze commemorative plaques honors Philadelphia area musicians and music professionals who have made a significant contribution to the world of music. The Walk of Fame is the City’s most impressive public monument to the people who have made Philadelphia a great music city.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. So I nominated Billie Holiday for induction into the Walk of Fame.

Billie Holiday - PMA

Happy birthday, Lady Day. We love you more than you’ll ever know.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Music Alliance announced that “as a special birthday gift,” Billie Holiday is the newest inductee into the Walk of Fame. In a statement, Chairman Alan Rubens said:

The Philadelphia Music Alliance wanted to present what we think is a ‘perfect’ birthday gift to an extraordinary vocalist, Billie Holiday, and announce her induction on her 100th birthday. It will be an absolute pleasure to be able to walk down Broad Street and see her name where it rightfully belongs, on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame, with other homegrown jazz giants like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and Grover Washington, Jr.

Again, it’s never too late to do the right thing.