The Rendezvous Club was located in the basement of the 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.
The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the 1409 Hotel, formerly the Douglass Hotel.
The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”
In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the property and renamed the jazz spot in the basement “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving off the “e”). All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson interviewed Spivak on International Jazz Day 2019.
Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.
On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane Quartet recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
The Rendezvous Room was located on the first floor of the Hotel Senator. It was operated by Irvin Wolf from 1947 to 1955.
In a piece for the Tri-state Jazz Society, Rabbi Lou Kaplan wrote:
Located at 915 Walnut Street in the Hotel Senator, the Rendezvous was owned by jazz enthusiast Lee Guber. It opened January 22, 1947. After entering, one saw a long U-shaped bar on the right, behind which the bandstand was situated. To the left were tables for customers. More tables were available in the back of the room than in the narrow front section. A large photomural blowup of Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians painting dominated a corner wall.
Many singers who later became big names made their first or an early start in the Rendezvous: Rosemary Clooney, Eydie Gorme, Joni James, Patti Page, to list a few. Later came such well-known vocalists as Thelma Carpenter, Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Mae Morse, Maxine Sullivan, Sarah Vaughan, and Lee Wiley. (I recall marveling one night at how Billie Holiday’s relaxed, syncopated phrasing reshaped each number.) Booked, too, were folk singers Harry Belafonte, Burl Ives, and Josh White; actor John Carradine; musicians Earl Hines, Gene Krupa, Meade Lux Lewis, Charlie Parker, and Artie Shaw; and many other “greats.”
While the Rendezvous engaged various types of entertainment, most prominent was Dixieland jazz. The number one jazz attraction was Bechet, who, for instance, was featured four times in one 12- month period, each for a minimum of two weeks. Actress Tallulah Bankhead, a Bechet devotee and friend, came to the club whenever possible if he was playing. One night she asked Guber, “Would you like to sell twice as much whiskey?” After the owner’s obvious reply, Bankhead, in her husky baritone voice, laughingly advised, “Well, try filling up the glasses!”
In Jimmy Heath’s autobiography “I Walked with Giants,” drummer Roy Haynes recounted:
I met Jimmy around 1946 when I was with Luis Russell and we played the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. A lot of the big bands would come through the Earle. We stayed at the Douglas Hotel, which was in South Philly. That was the hotel where a lot of the big black bands stayed.
The building is still there. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday lived here when she was in town.
The Douglass Hotel, later renamed 1409 Hotel, was not just a place to lay one’s head. The legendary Showboat was located in the basement.
After the Showboat, the space became the Bijou Café. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded live from the Bijou Café in 1977.
The basement of 1409 Lombard Street was a magical space.