Jazz at Home Club was organized in 1961 by Chet Carmichael, education director of radio station WDAS (pictured at 1963 March on Washington).
The club was launched during Philadelphia’s golden age of jazz. It was designed for casual jazz fans who were turned off by the perception that jazz clubs were for jazz aficionados. The membership dues were one dollar per year. At their Jazz Listening Session, members listened to newly released albums.
As the club grew in popularity, luminaries from the jazz world were invited to speak at the monthly meeting including Billy Taylor, Gloria Lynne, John Hammond, Art Blakey and Rufus Harley Jr., aka the “Pied Piper of Jazz,” the world’s first jazz bagpiper.
Jazz at Home bestowed the “Jazz Musician of the Year” Award on musicians who advanced the jazz culture – Jimmy Smith (1962), Clark Terry (1963), Duke Ellington (1964), Nina Simone (1966) and Horace Silver (1967).
From North Philly, “Queen of the Organ” Shirley Scott was a dear friend of mine. Saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis heard her play at the old Spider Kelly’s jazz spot in Center City, and didn’t have to persuade her to accompany him to New York City, where they would help Count Basie open a nightclub. They remained the featured attraction for several years. Scott married saxophonist Stanley Turrentine in 1960, and they toured and recorded together for the next 10 years.
Don Gardner, managing director of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, played here. Don Gardner and his Sonotones included organist Jimmy Smith.
Spider Kelly’s is where legendary bandleader Louis Jordan discovered Dottie Smith. He hired her on the spot.
In a 2005 interview with the West Philadelphia Music, a project of the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, jazz vocalist George Townes remembered:
There was a little place on Mole Street right between 15th and 16th. There’s no more Mole Street now, between Market and Ranstead, no more Mole St. And a place called Spider Kelly’s that was a club, and there was Kelly’s, um, fishery next door, but Spider Kelly’s was the place, where if you want to hide from someone, don’t go to Spider Kelly’s, ’cause they would see you there, and that was a good place.
Though he never received any exaggerated title, Jimmy Smith certainly ruled the Hammond organ in the ’50s and ’60s. He revolutionized the instrument, showing it could be creatively used in a jazz context and popularized in the process. His Blue Note sessions from 1956 to 1963 were extremely influential and are highly recommended. Smith turned the organ into almost an ensemble itself. He provided walking bass lines with his feet, left hand chordal accompaniment, solo lines in the right, and a booming, funky presence that punctuated every song, particularly the up-tempo cuts. Smith turned the fusion of R&B, blues, and gospel influences with bebop references and devices into a jubilant, attractive sound that many others immediately absorbed before following in his footsteps. Smith initially learned piano both from his parents and on his own.
Smith was born in Norristown, Pa., and attended the Hamilton School of Music in 1948, and Ornstein School of Music in 1949 and 1950 in Philadelphia. Smith began playing the Hammond in 1951, and soon earned a great reputation that followed him to New York, where he debuted at the Café Bohemia. A Birdland date and 1957 Newport Jazz Festival appearance launched Smith’s career. He toured extensively through the ’60s and ’70s. His Blue Note recordings included superb collaborations with Kenny Burrell, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec, and Stanley Turrentine, among others. He also did several trio recordings.