The Elate Ballroom was located on the second floor of 711 S. Broad Street. The Elate Club was on the ground floor.
Joe Webb and his Decca Recording Orchestra, featuring Big Maybelle, played here at the “Shine on the Harvest Moon Dance” presented by legendary dance promoter Reese DuPree.
John Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter wrote:
Coltrane was hired when [Joe] Webb played for dancers in Philadelphia’s Elate Ballroom at 711 South Broad Street on Friday, September 13, 1946. Cal Massey (1928-72), a trumpeter from Pittsburgh, called “Folks” after his mother’s maiden name, happened to walk by when the band was playing and he ended up in the trumpet’s section. A lifelong friendship between Massey and Coltrane began as the two toured the country with the Webb band.
Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane: His Life and Music. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.
The Cameo Room was located in Mercantile Hall, now known as the Blue Horizon. In July 1949, the Fats Navarro Quintet performed there. Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson said it was likely the first meeting between Navarro and Clifford Brown.
Excerpt from Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter:
Benny Golson describes what was probably the first meeting between Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro. One of the Philadelphia clubs “had local talent there, Clifford Brown, an alto player and a rhythm section – and Fats was a little late getting in. Clifford was playing as he entered, and Fats sort of realized halfway between the door and the stage what was going on – you could see him slow his pace just a little and sort of look up to see where all this playing was coming from. He proceeded to take his trumpet out; he got up there, and they called another tune off and began to play. Being the star, as it were, at the time, Fats played the first solo, and then Clifford began to play. Fats held his horn in his arms the way trumpet players do, and sort of stepped back – not in awe, but sort of like in respect. And I’ll tell you, Clifford was really holding his own. In fact, as kind and meek as he was, when he picked his horn up and the tempo really went up, he became almost like a vicious person, you know – darting and dodging and badgering and manhandling – yet it was all very beautiful, very controlled and colored with emotion.
Back in the day, Ridge Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor. The heart and soul of North Philadelphia was also an entertainment district. The Blue Note was at Ridge and 15th Street.
The Bird Cage Lounge was one block up at Ridge and 16th Street. I don’t know whether it was named after him, but Charlie “Bird” Parker played there. The legendary Pearl Bailey began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater, which was at Ridge and 21st Street.
Some of the jazz giants who roamed Ridge likely stayed at the LaSalle Hotel, which was close to the Pearl Theater. The hotel was listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Point jazz spot at Ridge and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) was at the western tip of the storied “Golden Strip.”
Ridge began its steep decline in the aftermath of the 1964 Columbia Avenue race riots and construction of the Norman Blumberg Apartments public housing. Fast forward 50 years, Ridge is on the rise.
In 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its top priority. The Sharswood Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan is a massive $500 million project that would, among other things, revitalize the Ridge Avenue corridor.
In an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PHA President and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah wrote:
The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.
PHA’s revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.
In remarks before the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent conference, Marion Mollegen McFadden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted a community has both tangible and intangible assets:
I see preservation’s efforts to recognize and honor the cultural heritage of minority and ethnic groups as a valuable component of strong communities, in particular many of the communities that HUD serves. And I don’t just mean preservation of buildings and places, but also of diverse cultural ties and traditions, the intangible dimensions of heritage that together enrich us as a nation.
McFadden concluded with a quote from HUD Secretary Julián Castro:
History isn’t just a subject for books and documentaries. It’s alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from – and it’s critical that we protect our past for present and future generations.
The Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan raises the question: Does PHA value the area’s tangible and intangible assets that give the neighborhood its identity? If so, will a transformed Ridge Avenue preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage for present and future generations?
The 3rd Annual Philadelphia United Jazz Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, from noon to 10pm. The free festival will be held on South Street, between Broad and 16th streets.
The festival features an exciting lineup of talent, including Odean Pope, Sam Reed, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Warren Oree, Bobby Zankel, Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, and the U.S. Army Jazz Big Band.
For more information, visit Philadelphia United Jazz Festival.