Category Archives: Main Channel

Congo Café

The Congo Café was located on Ridge Avenue in an old bank building (Northwestern Trust Company?). In a December 6, 1959 conversation with celebrated jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason, Philly Joe Jones shared memories of the Congo Cafe:

In 1945 I came home, I was just out of the service and I wanted to play and I knew about the drums, I actually knew about the drums in 1939, an old fellow in Philadelphia who’s still there playin’, he’s playin’ every night, named Coatsville [James “Coatsville” Harris], and he used to help me, he used to teach me how to play the drums. I used to sit underneath the bandstand in the club because I was too young to be there. I wasn’t supposed to be there but he’d sneak me in and I’d be underneath the bandstand. It was an ex-bank and they made a nightclub out of it and they had a floor show and I used to watch the dancers and the chorus and three, four girls in the line and this drummer. I just idolized him and he’s still one of the swingingest older cats I’ve met, and I wanted to play so that he used to help me.

In the 1950s, Coatsville led an orchestra that featured a tenor saxophonist thought to be John Coltrane.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews is available on Amazon.com.

Lennox Grill

The Lennox Grill was located in North Philly across from drummer Philly Joe Jones’ childhood home on N. 19th Street between Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) and W. Montgomery Street. In a December 6, 1959 conversation with celebrated jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason, Philly Joe shared memories of the Lennox Grill:

I lived across the street from a place called the Lennox Grill in Philadelphia and I used to peek through the windows in the back of the club, and they had bars on the windows, so I used to always stand there and peek and look at this drummer. This man used to kill me, he had a pipe in his mouth and a regular old setup of drums, you know, no high hat, nothing like that, just a bass drum and a little cymbal. Cymbals were small then, but he was swinging like I don’t know what and I used to like to go there. My brother used to come around the corner and look up and see me peeking in the window and say, “Come on now!” and I’d go home—I only lived across the street. I used to sneak out of the house sometimes at night because they’d be playin’ after my bedtime, I had to go to school, but I used to sneak out of the house and run across the street, 10:30 and 11 o’clock at night I used to sneak out of the house and run across the street and peek in that window and listen to him playin’ drums.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews is available on Amazon.com.

Rendezvous Club

The Rendezvous Club was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel.

Douglass Hotel

In a May 11, 1959 conversation with celebrated jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shared an anecdote:

… in Philly, I had an interesting experience with Roy [Eldridge]. All the bands used to come to Philly. When I got to Philly in ’35, Roy was with Teddy Hill and Chu [Berry], and they used to jam downstairs in the Rendezvous up under the Douglas Hotel where the Showboat is now. Well, those guys used to play and I wouldn’t dare play, you know. I’d just go and listen to those guys. So one time, I remember, Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington, and Teddy Hill were there at the same time and they had a session downstairs and Roy was down there that night. And Rex, you know, Rex was Roy’s idol. Roy tells now about the time he first heard Rex play that high B flat. Roy finally found that B flat. I guess, ‘cause when he come to Philadelphia that night they was jammin’ round there and Roy started playing. Damn, Rex started crying and just tightened up and left ‘cause Roy was in rare form that night. I didn’t meet Roy until way later. I met him there, but he didn’t remember me.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews is available on Amazon.com.

Club Zel-Mar

Opened in 1947, Club Zel-Mar was located in West Philly at 37th and Market streets. In April 1947, the “ultra modern” club played host to Three B’s and A Honey.

The “Home of the Mambo” welcomed José Curbelo who popularized the Mambo and the Cha-cha-cha in the 1950s.

Club Zel-Mar Flyer

Bill Carney’s Hi-Tones had a weeklong engagement here, February 28-March 5, 1955. The group was comprised of Bill “Mr. C” Carney, Al “Tootie” Heath, Shirley Scott and John Coltrane.

Hi-Tones - Club Zel-Mar

A Room with a View of the Blues

Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion on “Art in Public Space” held in the Hamilton Garden of the Kimmel Center. As I waited for the program to start, I checked out the view from the top floor. What I saw left a hole in my heart.

PRI Vacant Lot

The hole is where Philadelphia International Records once stood.

AveArtsDemo1

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have earned their place in history.

Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff - History

Sadly, the building that held the stories of the songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers is now lost to history. For the love of money, African Americans’ cultural heritage was erased from public memory.

Gamble and Huff sold the historic building to Dranoff Properties which plans to build a luxury hotel and condos for the one percent. Three years after the demolition of “309,” there’s just a hole in the ground. The reason: Dranoff Properties is waiting for a corporate welfare check to the tune of $19 million before breaking ground on the “biggest, tallest and most expensive” project the company has ever done.

In the poorest big city in the country, spending taxpayers’ money to further enrich the rich is the sound of Philadelphia.