All That Philly Jazz was launched in March 2015. A place-based public history project, we are mapping Philadelphia’s lost jazz shrines from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.
I was recently interviewed on National Public Radio’s newsmagazine, “Here & Now.” The interview touched on the legacy of McCoy Tyner, Philadelphia’s jazz ecosystem that nurtured young musicians and exposed them to jazz musicians (here and here), and the campaign to save the John Coltrane House, a National Historic Landmark.
E.U. Wurlitzer was a musical instrument store located in the Watkins Building in Center City. Later under new ownership, the retail store became Music City.
During an appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1973, Philly native Bill Cosby recounts buying a drum set and taking lessons at Wurlitzer’s. The erstwhile drummer provides a snapshot of the jazz scene back in the day.
Trumpeter Clifford Brown was 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. It’s the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. This year’s lineup includes Marcus Miller, Brian McKnight and Arturo Sandoval.
From 1953 to 1956, comedian and television pioneer Soupy Sales hosted a late-night television show in Detroit, “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.
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.