A fine swing-oriented tenor saxophonist, Ventura is best-remembered for his attempt at popularizing bebop during the tail end of the music’s mid- to late-’40s heyday. Born Charles Venturo, one of thirteen children in a musical South Philadelphia family. His first instrument was C-melody sax. He switched to alto before eventually settling on tenor. Ventura left his day job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1942 to join Gene Krupa’s band. He became a featured soloist with Krupa, playing with the drummer from 1942-1943 and 1944-1946 (working in the interim with guitarist/bandleader Teddy Powell). Ventura achieved considerable popularity while with Krupa, winning a Down Beat magazine award as best tenor saxophonist in 1945.
One of the most popular saxophonists of all time (even his off records had impressive sales), Grover Washington, Jr. was long the pacesetter in his field. His roots were in R&B and soul-jazz organ combos, but he also fared very well on the infrequent occasions when he played straight-ahead jazz. A highly influential player, Washington was sometimes blamed for the faults of his followers; Kenny G. largely based his soprano sound on Grover’s tone. However, most of the time (except when relying on long hit medleys), Washington pushed himself with the spontaneity and chance taking of a masterful jazz musician.
Grover Washington, Jr., whose father also played saxophone, started playing music when he was ten and within two years was working in clubs. He picked up experience touring with the Four Clefs from 1959-1963 and freelancing during the next two years, before spending a couple years in the Army. He moved to Philadelphia in 1967, becoming closely identified with the city from then on, and worked with several organists, including Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond Smith, recording as a sideman for the Prestige label. His biggest break occurred in 1971, when Hank Crawford could not make it to a recording date; Washington was picked as his replacement, and the result was Inner City Blues, a big seller. From then on he became a major name, particularly after recording 1975’s Mister Magic and 1980’s Winelight; the latter included the Bill Withers hit “Just the Two of Us.”
Ethel Waters had a long and varied career, and was one of the first true jazz singers to record. Defying racism with her talent and bravery, Waters became a stage and movie star in the 1930s and ’40s without leaving the U.S. She grew up near Philadelphia and, unlike many of her contemporaries, developed a clear and easily understandable diction. Originally classified as a blues singer (and she could sing the blues almost on the level of a Bessie Smith), Waters’ jazz-oriented recordings of 1921-1928 swung before that term was even coined.
A star early on at theaters and nightclubs, Waters introduced such songs as “Dinah,” “Am I Blue” (in a 1929 movie), and “Stormy Weather.” She made a smooth transition from jazz singer of the 1920s to a pop music star of the ’30s, and she was a strong influence on many vocalists including Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Connee Boswell. Waters spent the latter half of the 1930s touring with a group headed by her husband-trumpeter Eddie Mallory, and appeared on Broadway in 1939 in Mamba’s Daughter and in the 1943 film Cabin in the Sky; in the latter she introduced “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Good for Nothing Joe,” and the title cut.
In later years Waters was seen in nonmusical dramatic roles, and after 1960 she mostly confined her performances to religious work for the evangelist Billy Graham. The European Classics label has reissued all of Ethel Waters’ prime recordings and they still sound fresh and lively today.
Georgie Woods has improved, enhanced and inspired the lives of many throughout his multi-faceted career of entertainment and public service.
As “The Guy with the Goods,” Georgie Woods has entertained for five full decades on radio stations WHAT and WDAS. In 1960, Georgie became active in the civil rights movement as Vice President of the NAACP. Georgie became an outspoken advocate of equal opportunity and equal treatment for African Americans and joined the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cecil B. Moore in an ongoing campaign that took Woods from Washington, D.C., to Selma, Alabama. His other humanitarian efforts included a 17-day tour of Vietnam, as the first African American to entertain the troops.
Bob & Barbara’s Lounge has been serving cold beer, cocktails and live entertainment since 1969. Robert Porter, Owner, and Barbara Carter, Manager, were the original Bob and Barbara.
In 1994, after Barbara Carter passed away and Robert Porter retired, the current owners took over the operation of the bar. For many years, Bob & Barbara’s was the clubhouse for the Philadelphia Cartoonist Society. Naturally, they drew cartoons of the house band, the Crowd Pleasers.
In 1987, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 57 designating jazz “a rare and valuable national American treasure.” The resolution recognized jazz as a “unifying force, bridging cultural, religious, ethnic and age differences.” Indeed, jazz played an important role in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement.
The Downbeat, located at 11th and Ludlow streets in Philadelphia, was the first racially integrated club in Center City. The building is still there.
Café Society Swing, written by Alex Webb, tells the story of the legendary Café Society, the first integrated nightclub in New York City. The jazz spot played host to, among others, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ida Cox and Big Joe Turner. Philly Joe Jones was the house drummer. Café Society is where Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit” in January 1939.
By the way, Philly’s Café Society was located on “The Golden Strip.”