Tag Archives: Jazz

Chasing Trane

September 23rd marked the 90th anniversary of John Coltrane’s birthday. The milestone was celebrated across the country.

The documentary, Chasing Trane, may be coming to a theater near you. From the Hollywood Reporter:

A music titan gets his cinematic due in Chasing Trane, a comprehensive, engrossing and, it’s tempting to say, worshipful account of the life of John Coltrane, the alto sax player and composer most aficionados would agree deserves a spot on the jazz equivalent of Mount Rushmore. Smartly shaped and vigorously told by prolific documentarian John Scheinfeld (Who Is Harry Nilsson, The U.S. vs. John Lennon), the film bulges with insights offered by everyone from family members and close collaborators to the likes of Cornel West and Bill Clinton. The incessant rush of the innovator’s music should spike the interest of younger viewers insufficiently exposed to the man’s short career, pointing to an extensive life in all markets, domestic and international, wherever interest in great jazz still flourishes.

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The Met

Located on North Broad Street, the Metropolitan Opera House was known as “The Met.”

#JanesWalkPHL - The Met2

From Curbed Philadelphia:

The Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein I, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II. Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, it sat some 4,000 people, becoming the largest theater of its kind in the world. After some time Hammerstein I fell into debt and sold the property, which then went through a number of owners. Over the years it’s served as a movie theater, circus venue, ballroom, and most recently, a church.

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UPDATE: Developer Eric Blumenfeld is restoring the Metropolitan Opera House to its original glory. The historic entertainment venue is scheduled to reopen in December 2018 as a Live Nation venue.

Met-Opera-House

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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Wharton Settlement House

Legendary saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson began his career in Philadelphia with Benjamin Clarence “Bull Moose” Jackson. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted:

Three weeks after I joined the band, we landed a gig at the Wharton Settlement, 22nd Street and Columbia Avenue, a public venue for basketball, dances, swimming, checkers (anything to keep kids from idleness on city streets). We were paid: too good to be true, but welcome. Jackson’s band played stock arrangements that cost seventy-five cents each, most of which written by Spud Murphy or Van Alexander (who recently died at age one hundred) and other writers I have forgotten. Our repertoire included “Take the A Train,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “The 9:20 Special,” “Stardust,” “Down for Double,” and a variety of honorable standards. Sure enough, I received four dollars that night. It was months before I actually spent those precious few dollars, but I was on my way.

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.

Ridge Point Cafe

The Ridge Point Cafe, aka the Crossroads Bar, was located at the crossroads of Ridge Avenue, 23rd Street and Columbia Avenue. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master shared a story about John Coltrane’s gig at this North Philly club:

Philadelphia boasted many jazz clubs at that time, and John and I continued to gig often. John, however, soon got a very strange gig. Word came to me that John was working at a club called The Ridge Point. We called it The Point because of the street configuration there, where instead of bisecting each other, three streets crossed—Columbia Avenue, 23rd Street, and Ridge Avenue—such that the shape of the building at that intersection resembled a large slice of pie—much like the famous Flatiron Building in Manhattan. The bar’s shape mimicked the building. The bandstand was at the wide end of the pie. The tip, or the point, was the main entrance. All that was interesting, but The Point was not a bona fide jazz club. Eddie Woodland, a tenor player, usually held forth. Woodland was a “boot ‘em up” tenor player with a circus aura, who held audiences in the palm of his hand by walking the bar, with bravado. Crowds loved him, but for some reason, he took a leave of absence. Maybe he was sick. Then word went around that my pal John was playing at The Point, and I knew John wasn’t that kind of saxophone player. The Point was definitely not a hip jazz club, and regulars expected every artist to walk the bar.

Woodland’s “boot ’em up” saxophone can be heard on “Stranger in Town.”

More from Golson:

I could not believe what I saw. This wasn’t Eddie at all, but John! John Coltrane was up on the bar at the small end, at the tip of the mud pie, honking, grooving, preparing to go down to the far end and back to the bandstand again. He was cranked up, playing low B-flats, nimbly stepping over drinks like a mountain goat on slippery terrain. He didn’t see me right away. But when he came up from one of his low horn-swooping movements, he looked in my direction. His eyes got wide and he stopped right in the middle of a group of low B-flats. He took the horn out of his mouth, stood straight up, and said, “Oh, no!” I fell against the wall, dying with laughter. I’d busted him. He was humiliated, but he finished his slumming bar performance.

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.

Café Society

Located on the Golden Strip, the Café Society was listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book.

In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted:

I used to dream of playing with Philly Joe. He played with all my recorded heroes when they came to town: Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Eddie Heywood. I came home from my first year in college, in 1948, and “Bass” Ashford, a mainstay on the local scene, asked me to join his quartet for the entire summer season at Café Society, at 13th Street and Columbia Avenue. Café Society was a very popular jazz spot in North Philly, not far from where I lived and only three blocks from John Coltrane’s house. John often popped in while the group played there. I showed up for the first rehearsal to find that Philly Joe would be our percussionist! I almost fainted. I acted as if nothing were unusual, but I was flying.

Cafe Society - Philly Joe Jones - Benny Golson - Caption

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.

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.