Tag Archives: Clifford Brown

#ThisPlaceMatters: Legendary Blue Horizon

After the Civil War, North Broad Street became one of Philadelphia’s leading addresses. North Broad was attractive to wealthy industrialists for two reasons. First, many of their factories and mills were located in nearby industrial areas. Second, the old money crowd in Rittenhouse Square snubbed their noses at the nouveau riche businessmen.

The brownstone mansions that lined North Broad were built to house the families of the industrialists. Between May 1912 and June 1913, the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 54 acquired three brownstones to establish a new clubhouse. The buildings were renovated with the addition of an auditorium and ballroom.

blue horizon - vintage

In 1961, Jimmy Toppi Sr. purchased the property. Toppi renamed the buildings after “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” a song from the 1930 film Monte Carlo. The Blue Horizon hosted international, regional and state title fights. It was voted the #1 boxing venue in the world by The Ring magazine; Sports Illustrated called it “the last great boxing venue in the country.” The Legendary Blue Horizon closed in June 2010.

The Philadelphia Historical Commission added the Legendary Blue Horizon to the local register of historic landmarks in 2015. However, only the Broad Street façades were protected. Four years later, Orens Bros. is back before the PHC Architecture Committee to seek final approval of its design of the front façades. The developer plans to demolish the brownstones and construct a hotel.

blue horizon - front facade rendering

PHC staff recommended the Committee deny final approval of the design. And indeed it did. The Architecture Committee voted to send the developer back to the drawing board.

All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson provided public comment in support of the Commission staff’s recommendation:

The Legendary Blue Horizon is one of the few extant buildings associated with Philadelphia’s golden age of jazz. Before it was a beloved boxing venue, it was an entertainment destination. Duke Ellington performed in the ballroom that was added on by Philadelphia Lodge No. 54, Loyal Order of Moose. The members-only bar later became a nightspot open to the public. The Camero Room played host to jazz legends-in-the-making like trumpeters Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro.

The Legendary Blue Horizon holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Philadelphians as evidenced by its depiction on the Philadelphia Courthouse Mural commissioned under the Percent for Art Program. As you can see, the iconic stairs figure prominently in Philadelphians’ memories.

blue horizon - philadelphia courthouse mural

I posted the recent Philadelphia Inquirer report about the Orens Bros. proposal to All That Philly Jazz’s Facebook page. The post has gone viral. Why? This place matters.

The proposed hotel is appropriately named since it takes a lot of moxy to seek approval to cheapen a beloved historic landmark with modern add-ons, materials and signage. The proposed design erases the historic character of the front façades.

I agree with the Commission staff that the applicant’s design does not comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. It would make a mockery of historic designation if the Committee voted to ignore the standards.

I recognize that financing of the project is outside the purview of this Committee. That said, it is important to note that in an earlier iteration of the project, Orens Bros. received $7 million in grants under Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) for what was then an $18 million project.

Of the $7 million in state grants, Orens Bros. drew down $748,578; the balance of the grants expired. The applicant spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in taxpayers’ money and walked away without sealing the buildings. The historic landmark is now exposed to the elements.

The first round of RACP funding applications closes on January 31. I fully expect Orens Bros. will again rattle the cup for a public subsidy for its now $22 million project. If the proposed design is approved, Philadelphians and other taxpayers would effectively pay for the demolition and defacement of a beloved historic landmark.

Orens Bros. Real Estate does not care about the Legendary Blue Horizon, but this Committee can make them care. The application should be denied on the grounds the proposed design does not comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, specifically Standards 2, 9 and 10.

The applicant should go back to the drawing board and develop a design that does, in fact, preserve the front façades and respect their historic character.

Orens Bros. can appeal the Architecture Committee’s decision to the full Philadelphia Historical Commission. Or they can accept the “denial with hope” decision. Stay tuned.

2018 DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was 25 when he died in a car crash in 1956. His last performance was at Philadelphia’s famed Music City.

Clifford Brown Live at Music City

Although his life was cut short, Brown left an indelible impact. There are 334 versions of Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson’s composition, “I Remember Clifford.”

Since 1988, his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, has held the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. It’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Marcus Miller, Brian McKnight and Arturo Sandoval.

30th Anniversary Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

From 1953 to 1956, comedian and television pioneer Soupy Sales hosted a late-night television show in Detroit, “Soupy’s On.”

Soupy's On

A jazz head, Soupy’s guests included jazz giants like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. The only extant footage of Clifford Brown is from his 1956 appearance on the show.

For info about the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, click here.

Benny, Brownie and Dizzy

On June 26, 1956, legendary trumpet player Clifford “Brownie” Brown had just left performing at Music City in Center City when he was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He was only 25.

In tribute to his friend, Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson composed “I Remember Clifford.” In an episode of Jazz Stories by Jazz at Lincoln Center, Golson recounted how Dizzy Gillespie became the first person to hear his tribute to Brownie:

I decided I would try to write a song that would be reminiscent of Clifford. And during those days, I could write a song in one day. You know, just a half-hour or so—might not have been that great though. But this tune, because of what he meant to me as a friend and fellow musician and what I wanted the song to be, consequentially, it took me almost a whole two weeks to do it. And once I did it, I wasn’t sure what I had.

So Dizzy came in early one night and I had come with my uniform that afternoon knowing that I wouldn’t be going back to the hotel. So since he was there, I decided to ask him what he thought about it. Chairs were still up on the tables, they hadn’t really prepared, but somehow he came early. So I asked him did he have a moment to listen because I wanted him to hear something. And he said, “Okay.”

He came over and sat down at the table and I started to play this tune and he said, “Hmm…” And then he started to take his trumpet out of the case and I thought to myself, “The man doesn’t even know the tune and he’s going to try to play it!” But he fooled me.

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Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson

On June 30, 2016, Saxophonist and composer Benny Golson held forth at the Parkway Central Library.

Whisper Not
In conversation with WRTI host Jeff Duperon, the Philly native and NEA Jazz Master shared stories about John Coltrane, missed gigs and the persona behind “Killer Joe.”

A podcast of the event is available here.

Blue Horizon

The Blue Horizon was located in the former Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 54.

Blue Horizon - Moose Lodge

The property ceased operations as an active Moose lodge shortly after World War II. It remained under the organization’s ownership through the 1950s. At some point, the members-only bar was transformed into a jazz venue that was open to the public. The Camero Club played host to legends-in-the-making like trumpeters Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown.

In 1961, Jimmy Toppi Sr. purchased the property for $85,000. He renamed it after the song “Beyond the Blue Horizon” from the 1930 film “Monte Carlo.” Its limited seating capacity meant big box office fights took place elsewhere – at the Arena and Convention Hall in West Philly, and the Spectrum in South Philly.

Blue Horizon - Vintage

The Ring magazine voted the Blue Horizon the #1 boxing venue in the world; Sports Illustrated called it “the last great boxing venue in the country.”

Blue Horizon

The Blue Horizon closed in June 2010.

We Remember Clifford Brown

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car crash in 1956. His last performance was at Philadelphia’s famed Music City.

Although his life was cut short, Brown left an indelible impact. There are 334 versions of Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson’s composition, “I Remember Clifford.”

Since 1988, his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, has held the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival to honor his memory. Fittingly, it’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Norman Conners, Leela James and Pieces of a Dream.

clifford-brown-jazz-festival-2015
For the complete schedule, visit www.cliffordbrownjazzfest.org.

Music City

In 1947, drummer Ellis Tollin and his business partner William Welsh opened Music City. What started out as a drum shop became a unique performance space where top jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, held jam sessions and mentored up-and-coming musicians like Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Archie Shepp.

Music City Collage

Trumpeter Ted Curson recalled:

It was like the scene in Philadelphia for young cats and old cats. They would bring guys in from New York to play and they would have the young guys sit in with them. If you played pretty good you always ended up with some kind of gig.

Jazz legend Clifford Brown gave his last performance at Music City. He left directly from there for a gig in Chicago. He never made it. He was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, archivist and Philadelphia music historian Jack McCarthy wrote:

On Tuesday evenings in the mid 1950s, young jazz enthusiasts from all over the city would gather inside the popular music store, Music City, at what is now 1033 Chestnut Street. Some came to jam, while others sat back and listened to intimate performances by major players of the era. It was an especially fertile period in Philly jazz when the city hummed with lively clubs and was home to many of the genre’s important instrumentalists. For aspiring teenage musicians who were too young to get into the clubs, Music City was a place to trade notes with fellow young players and even to play with their musical heroes if they were lucky. Many emerging Philly jazz performers of the 1950s cut their teeth there.

[…]

[Clifford] Brown had established himself as one of the top trumpeters in jazz by the mid1950s. He was living in Philadelphia during this period and was a frequent, featured guest at Music City. As the original story went, Brown performed at the store on the evening of June 26, 1956, accompanied by Ellis Tollin on drums and several other Philly musicians, and left directly from there to drive to a gig in Chicago. With him on the trip were the pianist Richie Powell and his wife, Nancy, who did the driving. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the car ran off the road and crashed, killing all three.

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