Category Archives: Jazz Landmarks

Union Local 274

Founded in 1935, Union Local 274 was the second largest black American Federation of Musicians local. Black musicians were barred from the then-segregated Local 77.

Local 274 members included James Adams, Bill “Mr. C” Carney, Trudy Pitts, Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Shirley Scott, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Jimmy Oliver, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Doggett, Jimmy McGriff and Nina Simone. The Clef Club, its social arm, was the place for weekend jam sessions. The bar and performance space was open to jazz musicians and enthusiasts.

In his autobiography, I Was Not Asked, noted educator and music scholar Dr. George E. Allen wrote:

Many Philadelphia African American jazz musicians attributed their success to the atmosphere and fellowship at Black Local 274. For aspiring musicians, the Local was a training ground for developing their reputation and experimenting with new musical concepts. Local 274 was also a place where African American musicians sought refuge from racial prejudice and discrimination. In the union club during the jam sessions, musicians were encouraged to pursue musical careers through the applause of grassroots Philadelphia African Americans who loved and respected them and the visiting jazz musicians who were playing in the local clubs. Many members of Local 274 joined because of these benefits. The atmosphere inspired both African American and white musicians. They learned by listening to the music performed at the Union and socializing with the many musicians who congregated there.

Local 274 resisted forced amalgamation, or integration, with Local 77. As a result, the American Federation of Musicians cancelled its charter in 1971. But the story didn’t end there. Historian and archivist Diane Turner wrote her dissertation on Local 274. In an interview with ExplorePA.com, Dr. Turner said:

Local 274 saw what was happening to other black Locals and refused to join 77. But she says Jimmy Adams…the local’s president at the time…realized a merger might be unavoidable:

Do we want 77 to have control over what we built? It took us years to build through dues, our property and so forth. So he came up with the idea to start a cultural wing of Local 274 and incorporate it, and transfer all of their assets and property into the Philadelphia Clef Club.

In 1966, Adams incorporated the Philadelphia Clef Club. All Local 274 assets, including the union hall were transferred for $1.00.

Union Local 274 Headquarters

The Philadelphia Clef Club for Jazz and the Performing Arts celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016.

Foo-Foo’s Steak House

After a night out on “the Strip,” folks would stop by Foo-Foo’s Steak House to pick up a mammajamma sandwich to eat on the way home. The restaurant was located on the Strip in West Philly.

In his autobiography, You Only Rock Once, Jerry Blavat, “the Geator with the Heator,” shared memories of Sammy Davis Jr.:

I remembered how he would call me every time he appeared at the Latin [Casino] and ask if I would go to Foo-Foo’s in West Philadelphia and get his “mammajamma” sandwiches.

The owner, James “Foo-Foo” Ragan, was a numbers writer. From Black Brothers Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia:

Notwithstanding Ragan’s criminal history, he soon found himself as an extension of the Black Mafia’s racket. “The older heads like [Gus] Lacy and Ragan were given a choice: come in out of the rain or stay out there in the cold,” said one informer. “They hadn’t salted any money away and they were too old to take on the opposition, so they fell into line. The old saying used to be, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Now the saying is, “You can’t buck the system, and this is the system.”

A page from the “Black Mafia notebook” confiscated by the Philadelphia Police Department Organized Crime Unit shows Foo-Foo was being shaken down for a weekly “street tax.”

Foo Foo Ragan's Soliciation

Source: American Gangster – The Philly Black Mafia

Philly Groove Records

Located in West Philly on “the Strip,” Philly Groove Records was owned by Stan “The Man” Watson. The record company put out discs by First Choice, the Delfonics and other lesser-known local acts. A young Thom Bell produced some of the Delfonics’ biggest hits at Sigma Sound Studios and met a young singer-songwriter named Linda Creed while with Philly Groove. The Bell-Creed alliance hit it big in the ’70s with a string of hits they wrote and produced for the Spinners.

According to author Sean Patrick Griffin, the record company had ties to the fearsome Black Mafia:

John Stanley “Stan the Man” Watson owned Philly Groove Records, and employed the Black Mafia’s Bo Baynes from January 1968 until June 1971. Baynes’ stated position at Philly Groove was “road manager or promoter” and a PPD OCU [Philadelphia Police Department Organized Crime Unit] report states, “Reliable sources claim that Baynes did work for Watson. However, his position with Watson was that of an enforcer. Baynes’ primary mission was to intimidate disc jockeys to push certain records.

Black Brothers, Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia

About Jazz Landmarks

Jazz landmarks are broadly defined. Philadelphia’s jazz scene did not exist in a vacuum. The golden age of jazz predates the Civil Rights Movement.

African Americans were not allowed to stay in downtown hotels. Instead, they stayed at places like the Douglass Hotel in South Philly, the Hotel Chesterfield and Hotel LaSalle in North Philly, and the Blue Moon Hotel and Swim Club in West Philly. The Ebony Lounge was located in the lower level of the Hotel Chesterfield. The Douglass Hotel was home to the Rendezvous Club (1950s), Showboat (1960s) and Bijou Café (1970s).

Douglass Hotel

Jazz was heard in Elks’ lodges, musicians’ homes, Union Local 274 (the black musicians union), ballrooms, private clubs, and historic venues such as the Academy of Music, Pyramid Club, Blue Horizon, Freedom Theater and the Wharton Center Settlement House. Musicians held jam sessions in restaurants, private homes and community centers.

Tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes grew up in North Philly’s Richard Allen Homes whose jam sessions in the community center were the inspiration for “Boppin’ Round the Center.”