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.
The Café Society is where Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit” in January 1939.
Philly’s Café Society was located on “The Golden Strip.”
Later this year, Netflix will debut an original documentary about Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone? The film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
Rolling Stone reports:
Beginning with footage of the singer staring down an audience at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976, What Happened goes about answering its question by flipping back to Simone’s childhood, detailing her early musical ambitions to be the first black female classical pianist. Despite her talent and the financial support of well-to-do patrons, she was rejected by the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; that “early jolt of racism,” as Simone referred to the incident, became the first of several events to fuel an inexhaustible supply of anger at society. A summer gig at an Atlantic City bar gave birth to the blues chanteuse she’d eventually become, with the film tracing her rise to hit recording artist, jazz sensation, long-suffering wife (her manager/husband Andrew Stroud does not come off well), a major player in the Civil Rights movement, industry pariah, American ex-pat, playing-for-chump-change café performer and, eventually, a rediscovered legend.
In the 1920s, jazz became the soundtrack for the revolution in manners and morals that was sweeping the nation. In New York’s Harlem, South Philadelphia, the south side of Chicago, Pittsburgh’s Hill District and other northern cities, urban African Americans known as the New Negroes were finding expanded opportunities and new identities. One of the first singers to give voice to this new generation was Chester, Pennsylvania’s Ethel Waters, the first recording star of the African-American-owned Black Swan Record Company.
In the African-American-owned Standard and Dunbar theatres on South Street, Waters, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and other jazz and blues stars performed their music for black and white audiences. The Standard and Dunbar were stops on a circuit of African-American theaters that brought the best of black touring shows to their cities.
Noted author and hip-hop scholar James G. Spady wrote:
The biggest concentration of bars and clubs frequented by blacks and offering Jazz was along Columbia Avenue (later renamed Cecil B. Moore Avenue). Among what as upwards of fifteen different venues were the Crystal Ball, 820 Club, Spider Kelly’s, Watts Zanzibar — one of the few black owned venues—and the North West Club. [Lee] Morgan played at many of these with groups made up of his peers. The trumpeter Cullen Knight remembered seeing Morgan at the North West, leading a band consisting of tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and a rhythm section of McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Ronald Tucker.
Both the Zanzibar and North West were private clubs, and these were often keener to employ, under-age musicians than other venues; in addition, removed from some off the commercial concerns of the regular bars, they were thought of as sites for some degree of experiment among young musicians, as ‘hardcore’ bebop clubs where players could cultivate their jazz improvisation without needing to make concessions to dancers or casual listeners. Private venues would often pay the musicians a decent nightly fee, often around $10.
In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recalled his days on the Golden Strip with John Coltrane:
On jam days—Saturday afternoons between four and seven—John and I started at one end of Columbia Avenue, where most of the clubs were located, and proceeded toward the other end. We played at each club for an hour, then moved to the next. If we didn’t get to a particular club, we started there the following week. These clubs were small, on the ground floor of apartment houses or in storefront slots, long and narrow.
Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.
“The Golden Strip” in North Philly was on Columbia Avenue, now named Cecil B. Moore Avenue in honor of the legendary civil rights lawyer. Back in the day, Moore also spent time in West Philly on 52nd Street, aka “The Strip”:
In addition to being a civil rights leader, a community activist and a politician [Cecil B.] Moore found time to party with some of the era’s most fascinating people. His favorite stomping ground was West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street Strip, a reinvigorated area of bars and nightclubs where “blacks began buying the drinking establishments formerly owned by whites.
Joey DeFrancesco was born in 1971 in Springfield, Pennsylvania. He was born into a musical family that included three generations of jazz musicians. He was named after his grandfather, Joseph DeFrancesco, a jazz musician who played the saxophone and clarinet. His father, “Papa” John DeFrancesco, was an organist who played nationally and received the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Living Legend Award in 2013.
DeFrancesco began playing the organ at the age of 4 and was playing songs by Jimmy Smith verbatim by the time he was 5. His father John began bringing him to gigs from the age of 5, letting him sit in on sets. At the age of 10, DeFrancesco joined a band in Philadelphia that included jazz legends Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. He was considered a fixture at local jazz clubs, opening shows for Wynton Marsalis and B.B. King.
DeFrancesco attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. During his high school years, DeFrancesco won numerous awards, including the Philadelphia Jazz Society McCoy Tyner Scholarship. He was also a finalist in the first Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition.