Tag Archives: #PhillyJazzLegacy

Memphis Club

March is Women in Jazz Month. Let’s get the celebration started at Philadelphia’s Memphis Club which opened in December 1934.

Memphis Club - Gladys Bentley - 913 N. Warnock Street

Gender-bender blues singer and pianist Gladys Bentley opened the fall season. This photo is on view at the National Museum of African American History and Culture “Musical Crossroads” exhibition.

Gladys Bentley - NMAAHC

The drag king pioneer was featured in The New York Times series, “Overlooked”:

When it comes to loosening social mores, progress that isn’t made in private has often taken place onstage.

That was certainly the case at the Clam House, a Prohibition-era speakeasy in Harlem, where Gladys Bentley, one of the boldest performers of her era, held court.

In her top hat and tuxedo, Bentley belted gender-bending original blues numbers and lewd parodies of popular songs, eventually becoming Harlem royalty. When not accompanying herself with a dazzling piano, the mightily built singer often swept through the audience, flirting with women in the crowd and soliciting dirty lyrics from them as she sang.

By the early 1930s, Bentley was Harlem’s most famous lesbian figure — a significant distinction, given that gay, lesbian and gender-defying writers and performers were flourishing during the Harlem Renaissance. For a time, she was among the best-known black entertainers in the United States.

Bentley sang her bawdy, bossy songs in a thunderous voice, dipping down into a froglike growl or curling upward into a wail. In his 1940 autobiography, Langston Hughes called her “an amazing exhibition of musical energy — a large, dark, masculine lady, whose feet pounded the floor while her fingers pounded the keyboard — a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated by her own rhythm.”

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Philly Jazz Legacy Project Social and Scanning Party

You are invited to the Spring Social and Scanning Party hosted by Documenting & Interpreting the Philly Jazz Legacy Project, Jazz Bridge and Philadelphia Jazz Project on Thursday, April 11, 2019, 6-8 p.m., at the Philadelphia Clef Club for Jazz & Performing Arts.

Please come and share photographs, clippings, posters, concert programs, etc., of the jazz scene back in the day.

Spring Social and Scanning Party Flyer - Clef Club

The event is free but you must register here.

Veterans Day 2018

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

November 11 commemorates the armistice agreement Allied powers signed with Germany bringing hostilities to an end on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

In June 1954, Congress passed legislation changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.

Just six years earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. The EO signaled the government’s commitment to integrate the military.

United Service Organizations (USO) policy expressly banned racial discrimination. However, there were separate facilities for African American servicemen in the Jim Crow South and segregated North. In Philadelphia, USO sites for African Americans included Parker Hall and South Broad Street USO. Billie Holiday entertained the soldiers at both locations.

Billie Holiday - South Broad Street USO

Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.

Parker Hall - Germantown CDC

The Parker Building is now home to the ACES Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of World War II veterans and restore Parker Hall as a functioning USO for black veterans and their families. The ACES Museum is headquarters of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans.

For more information, visit www.acesmuseum.online.

Philadelphia Jazz Summit 2018

The inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Summit will be held November 2-3, 2018. Spearheaded by jazz bassist Gerald Veasley, the event will bring together musicians, jazz enthusiasts, advocates, funders, and the arts and culture community.

Veasley, president of Jazz Philadelphia, said in a statement:

The time has come for Philadelphia to be recognized as the world-class jazz destination it is. Philadelphia has been fertile soil for jazz for over 100 years. The city has served as a launching pad for the careers of legends such as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lee Morgan, Melody Gardot, Christian McBride, Grover Washington, Jr., Sun Ra and many more.

Veasley added:

Jazz Philadelphia is here to provide more opportunities for the next generation of musicians to play here, stay here, and share their talent with the world. I’ve had a wonderful career as a Philadelphia-based musician, and I want to ensure that others can do the same.

The schedule includes speakers, workshops, and panel discussions that cover a wide range of topics, including applying for grants and residencies, educating artists and audiences, and playing in unconventional spaces. I’m on the panel, “The Philadelphia Story.” I’ll talk about ongoing project to document Philly’s jazz spots from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.

All That Philly Jazz - Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue2

Nnenna Freelon, a jazz singer, composer, producer, arranger and six-time Grammy® nominee, is the keynote speaker. Freelon was selected in recognition of her cultural activism and commitment to social justice.

Nnenna Freelon

The Philadelphia Jazz Summit is free but you must register.

Share Your Story

All That Philly Jazz is a place-based public history project. We are documenting and mapping jazz spots from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.

All That Philly Jazz Map

Sadly, Philadelphia’s jazz history is largely untold; it resides in the memories of those who were there. You can help preserve this rich cultural heritage for current and future generations. Please use this short form to share stories of the jazz scene back in the day.

You also can upload photos and video to Twitter or Facebook.

27th Philadelphia Film Festival

The 27th annual Philadelphia Film Festival kicks off this week with the screening of Ben is Back starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mother and son who are grappling with a history of addiction.

The story is ripped from the headlines as Philadelphia struggles to deal with the opioid drama unfolding on the streets of Kensington.

Executive Director J. Andrew Greenblatt said in a statement:

From our powerful, socially relevant and incredibly timely Opening Night screening of Ben is Back to the definitive look at Philadelphia music legend Teddy Pendergrass for our Closing Night selection, and the incredibly diverse line-up in-between, the films premiering in this year’s Festival will be discussed and remembered for a long time to come.

Artistic Director Michael Lerman added:

Andrew and I have been doing this together for ten years and I love that we continue to find fresh, unique films that delight and challenge audiences. I’m so proud of the program the team has put together and I can’t wait to share the adventure we have in store for you.

What’s in store is a lineup of more than 100 films over 11 days. As a curator of art, technology and social change content, my must-see films include:

  • Studio 54
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Price of Everything
  • Bodied
  • General Magic
  • Empathy, Inc.
  • Green Book

The film is based on a true friendship. Art also imitates life. Before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African American motorists used the “Green Book” travel guide to vacation without humiliation.

Green Book Collage

The Closing Night film, Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me, tells the untold story of Philadelphia’s legendary R&B singer whose “For Women Only” concerts were the stuff of, well, legends.

To view the full schedule and purchase tickets, go here.

Wurlitzer Music Store

Wurlitzer’s was a musical instrumental store located in Center City. It was also known as Music City.

Wurlitzer_s Music Store4

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

#ThisPlaceMatters: The Painted Bride

When I launched All That Philly Jazz five years ago, the Painted Bride Art Center was one of the first places added to the database. Jazz on Vine was the longest, continually running jazz series in Philadelphia.

So when I read the Magic Gardens had nominated the Painted Bride for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, I had to weigh in because 230 Vine Street is one of the few extant buildings associated with Philadelphia’s jazz history. I gave public comment at the Committee on Historic Designation, which voted unanimously to add the building to the local register.

Fast forward to September 14, the nomination was before the full Commission. The room was packed with passionate people for and against the nomination. I, again, offered public comment which reads in part:

It is telling that the property owner does not dispute the historical significance of the building. Instead, their objection is based on fear that historic designation will reduce the market value of the property. However, “financial hardship,” such as it is, is not the issue before the Commission today. If the owner wants to claim “financial hardship,” a review process must be followed.

The issue before the Commission is whether the Painted Bride meets one or more criteria for historic designation. The Committee on Historic Designation got it right when they voted unanimously to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

The property owner’s concern about the safety of 230 Vine Street is situational. For historic designation purposes, the owner has taken “interim measures” and put out yellow caution tape. For programming purposes, the Bride puts out the welcome mat.

After three hours of testimony from the Bride, Magic Gardens and the public, the Commission voted on the nomination. The vote was 5-to-5. Chair Robert Thomas voted to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

It was obvious no one knew what to do in the event of a tie vote. Thomas was overheard saying a tie vote “creates problems.” But rather than take a recess to figure things out, the political hack called for a second vote. The second time around the vote was 5-to-4 to reject the nomination. Thomas told the Magic Gardens’ lawyer that he abstained “to avoid a tie vote.” In so doing, he consigned the Painted Bride to the trash heap of history.

While I am disappointed the Painted Bride will not have historic designation, I am outraged that Thomas changed his vote from “yes” to effectively “no.” Why would the chair of a commission whose mission is to preserve buildings abstain knowing the outcome of the vote is the inevitable demolition of an historic resource wrapped with Isaiah Zagar’s iconic mosaic!?

Martin-Brown-Painted-Bride-4b

It’s always shady in Philadelphia. As I walked home, the Temptations’ song with the shattered glass came to mind. It’s just a matter of time before the sound of shattered glass is heard at 230 Vine Street.

Jazz at Fay’s Theatre

Opened on August 31, 1914 as the Knickerbocker Theatre, the 2,500-seat venue was renamed Fay’s Theatre in 1918.

From West Philadelphia Collaborative History:

In its jazz heyday, Fay’s served as a symbolic place for local African Americans, if not a literal one. Fay’s booked performers like Duke Ellington—popular and highly visible members of the larger African American community—who were part of an emerging Black identity evolving in the African American press. Part of the emerging identity was a deep concern with issues of developing critical citizenship, fighting oppression, and gaining civil rights. Fay’s Theatre embodied this, having been dedicated to Florence Mills, who was remembered by the Philadelphia Tribune as a Black singer whose success in the mainstream allowed other Black musicians to succeed.

Fay’s also maintained a friendly and equitable relationship with local Black musicians. Fay’s often included performances by the Local 274, members of an African American musicians union, created to protect its members from the unethical and racist behaviors of many theater owners across the city. They performed there frequently. Famously, during a musicians’ strike in 1935 when most of the musical venues in the city went dark, shows at Fay’s kept going, thanks in part to their willingness to raise worker wages in accord with the requests of the Local 274.

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