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.”
There are some years that were so momentous just their mention evokes milestones. Think 1776 and 1964. Or 1965 and “Bloody Sunday,” a retelling of which, “Selma,” is now playing in theaters.
1959 was the year that changed jazz. That year marked the release of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Ornette Coleman’s “Shape of Jazz to Come” and Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.”
In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the importance of jazz in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on this day in 1929.
The Jazz Connect Conference, organized by JazzTimes and the Jazz Forward Coalition, was held January 8-9, 2015, in New York City and led into the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference, as well as Winter Jazzfest. The Jazz Connect Conference featured a series of workshops, panels discussions, and keynote address by Philly-native Christian McBride.
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.