Tag Archives: #PhillyJazzApp

Grendel’s Lair

Grendel’s Lair was a popular South Philly cabaret theater.

grendels-lair-cropped

Jazz musicians were showcased weekly.

Grendel’s Lair - Dizzy Gillespie

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.

Women in Jazz Month

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.


I also want to celebrate the pioneering women of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially-integrated all-female big band. The 17-piece band was led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn.

international-sweethearts-of-rhythm-e1425870519326

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.

Dunbar/Lincoln Theater

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.

Dunbar Theatre - Lombard Street Sign

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.

Lincoln Theater 1.2

The joint was jumping.

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.

Rendezvous Room

The Rendezvous Room was located on the first floor of the Hotel Senator. It was operated by Irvin Wolf from 1947 to 1955.

RendezVous Room - Featured Image

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!”

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3rd Annual Philadelphia United Jazz Festival

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.

3rd Annual Philadelphia Unified Jazz Festival

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.

National Dance Day 2015

National Dance Day was first celebrated in the District of Columbia and Los Angeles in 2010.

In 2012 and every year since, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced a congressional resolution to designate the last Saturday in July as National Dance Day:

National Dance Day has become a grassroots movement when Americans across the country host local events celebrating dance for fun and exercise. The contribution of National Dance Day to healthy lifestyles makes dance do double duty in a nation that wants to be fit and loves to dance.

Americans’ have a longstanding fascination with black dance. Indeed, Harlem’s legendary Savoy Ballroom was a featured exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Savoy Ballroom - 1939 World's Fair

The Savoy Ballroom was the first integrated ballroom in the country. Like jazz, swing dancing helped paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement. The jazz culture allowed black and white people to see each other and dance together. More important, blacks were social peers. For a good read on the history of swing, check out “Queen of Swing” Norma Miller’s biography Swingin’ at the Savoy: A Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.

Now 96, the grande dame of swing is scheduled to perform at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on Aug. 22, 2015.