Located on the corner of 16th and South streets, Budweiser was popular throughout Philadelphia. According to saxophonist Sam Reed, Billie Holiday performed here.
Saxophonist Benny Carter played here with Jimmy Tisdale and his orchestra.
Grendel’s Lair was a popular South Philly cabaret theater.
Jazz musicians were showcased weekly.
Regina DeAngelo shared her story:
It was around 1987. I was 22. I brought my mom with me to see Dizzy Gillespie at Grendel’s Lair. As Dizzy warmed up on stage, he looked out at the audience. “A lot of young people,” he said. “I don’t see any old people like me.” My mom lifted her bourbon into the air and shouted “I’m old!”
After the show, we waited at 4th and South for my father to come and pick us up. He must have been late because we were still waiting when Dizzy and the band came out. They crossed the street to a busted old white station wagon. They opened the doors, sat sideways facing the street, and had some fun blowing off bottle rockets.
Regina is a technical writer with Keeley DeAngelo LLP.
Owned by Paul Myers, the Aqua Lounge was the heart of “The Strip” during the 1960s and ’70s. The first jazz club on S. 52nd Street, the Aqua Lounge played host to jazz and blues greats including Roy Ayers, Jimmy Smith, Dave Burrell, Bootsie Barnes, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Coles, Joe Henderson, Lee Morgan and Irene Reid.
In an interview with the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences’ West Philadelphia Music Project, jazz drummer Lucky Thompson shared his memories of the Aqua Lounge:
And right along 52nd street, there was a club called the Aqua Lounge, it used to bring a lot of famous musicians through there, like Miles, Max [unclear], and I mean they would come out and stand in one of the corners smoking a cigarette, and Philly Joe Jones, and umm, a lot of Shirley Scott, a lot of famous musicians. Called the Aqua Lounge. That was one of the clubs known for being on the strip.
March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz.
As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate the role that women in jazz played in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement. While Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-documented, Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.
The Sweethearts were popular in the 1940s. Indeed, they were one of the top swing bands, appearing on radio broadcasts, and touring the U.S. and Europe.
The group disbanded in 1949.
African American bankers E. C. Brown and Andrew Stevens opened the Dunbar Theater in 1919, with plans to offer refined entertainment. However, within two years, business floundered and Brown and Stevens sold the theater to John T. Gibson, the black owner of the more raucous Standard Theater on South Street.
Later during the Depression, Gibson was forced to sell the theater to white owners who renamed it the Lincoln Theater.
From the 1920s to 1940s, the 1600-seat theater hosted major performers such as Duke Ellington, Louise Beavers, Willie Bryant, Lena Horne, Don Redman, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson and Fats Waller.
The joint was jumping.
Gus “Mr. Silk” Lacey, was the unofficial mayor of 52nd Street, aka “the Strip.” He and his wife, Virginia, owned Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and music legends Cab Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities who frequented Silk’s.
Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott performed here. In his biography, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott, he recounted the neon sign outside read: “Always Touch Third Base Before You Go Home.”
Silk’s 3rd Base was featured in the 1972 blaxploitation film Trick Baby.
Film critic Dan Buskirk wrote:
Between “White Folks” and Blue, we see both sides of the city: from a posh dinner party where “White Folks” meets well-heeled businessmen whose greed makes them potential marks as well as the raucous scene at “Mr. Silk’s Third Base” a West Philly nightclub that functions as Blue’s unofficial office. We see a lot of the warm glowing interior of Mr. Silk’s. The club was a real place, a center of African American nightlife at 52nd and Spruce (their slogan was “You have to touch 3rd Base before you go home”). Owner Gus Lacy was “Mr. Silk,” by all accounts a bon vivant who received his smooth moniker by selling ladies’ undergarments along his postal route. He was also known as “The Mayor of 52nd Street” and before it closed in 1985 politicians, pimps and regular folks rubbed shoulders with stars like Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and James Earl Jones. It’s a blessing that this little corner of the world was captured on film.
A blessing indeed.
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.
Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.
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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!”
The 3rd Annual Philadelphia United Jazz Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, from noon to 10pm. The free festival will be held on South Street, between Broad and 16th streets.
The festival features an exciting lineup of talent, including Odean Pope, Sam Reed, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Warren Oree, Bobby Zankel, Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, and the U.S. Army Jazz Big Band.
For more information, visit Philadelphia United Jazz Festival.