As a young boy Steven Berry, director of “Jazz in Philadelphia,” used to shine shoes outside of the Bird Cage Lounge, which was located at Ridge Avenue and Francis Street in North Philly. One day he had a chance encounter with Charlie Parker. He later shared what happened with an uncle. His uncle’s enthusiasm was contagious – Berry was hooked on jazz for life.
As Women in Jazz Month winds down, I want to salute Pearl Bailey who began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia. She lived in this house which is located just a few blocks from North Philly’s famed “Golden Strip.”
In 1946, Bailey made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman, a musical written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.
Opened in 1947 and listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book, the Ridge Cotton Club shows the influence of Harlem and the Cotton Club. And like the legendary Harlem nightspot, it was probably controlled by the mob. The original owners, Morris Brodsky and Harry Hirsch, died within days of each other in January 1949 following “injuries inflicted by an assailant.”
The Elmer Snowden Trio played here in April 1946.
During Philadelphia’s golden age of jazz, there were jazz clubs in every neighborhood. There were so many that folks in North Philly didn’t go to joints in South Philly and vice versa. There were a handful of clubs that reached legendary status and attracted patrons from all over the city. The Blue Note at 15th Street and Ridge Avenue was “the town’s swankiest jazz emporium.”
From 15th Street to Columbia Avenue (later renamed Cecil B. Moore Avenue), Ridge Avenue was a jazz corridor where legends-in-the-making roamed.