Saturday, August 8, 2015

Rochester Jazz in the 1940s

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Several weeks ago (or was it a few months ago?) I promised a final post about my research into the jazz history of Rochester, New York. What follows is a completely random listing of material taken from my notes, some of which will be reshaped in my forthcoming Pepper Adams biography. 

1940s music scene in Rochester:

1. East Avenue: Piano bars. Some of the more commercial places were along East Avenue. The 5 O'Clock Club, O'Dell's Taproom, the Diamond Bar, the Chandelier and The Willows were clustered on East Avenue.
2. Downtown Theaters: Big bands played the Temple (for example, King Cole, Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton), Loews MGM (Krupa played there), occasionally the Palace (Nat Cole and Louis Prima played there). The movie theaters downtown had programs throughout the year and were where big bands would perform. Musicians after hours would drop into the Bartlett, especially those playing the Temple Theatre and staying across South Clinton Avenue at the Seneca Hotel. The Seneca in the 1920s was known in the 1920s for its paranormal activity, with seances and so forth
3. Downtown Clubs: Squeezer's on State St, Ottman's on Front St. The Park Lane was on Chestnut Street and featured trios. Vibist Ken Purtell played there.
4. Northwest Part of Town: The Sports Arena in Edgerton Park was behind Jefferson High School. It was the kind of park that could accommodate a county fair or rodeo. Larger bands played there, such as Ellington, Charlie Barnet, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey. The Sports Arena attracted a racially mixed audience.
5. Ballrooms: Stardust Ballroom in Edgerton Park or hotel ballrooms.
6. East Side: Pierre's had out-of-town bands, such as Coleman Hawkins. It was on Ormond and Kelly Street in the black section of town. The Highland Inn was a club after World War II on South Goodman St. Hank Berger played the Citadel on Smith Avenue.
7.West Side (Clarissa Street/Third Ward): The Colored Elks had name groups. The Elite was a dance hall on the second floor in a racially mixed neighborhood. Pepper Adams felt that the Elite band was the best band in town. It was certainly the most authentic small jazz group and the most swinging band of its time. The Pythodd (much later, at Clarissa and Spring, near the Elite) was next door to the Black Elks. The Elite was next to, or across the street from, the Old B&O Building on West Main. Nick's Hots was there. The area of the Elite had many speakeasies and, well before that, opium dens.
8. West Side (but really Southwest): Bartlett's was a nightclub (near Plymouth Avenue and Jefferson, between Third and Nineteenth Ward).
9. Midwinter Fireman's Ball or Policeman's Ball: It may have had its origins in the Rochester militia units and volunteer fire companies that held balls as far back as the 1840s. In March, the Policeman's Ball would have acts such as Harry James. They'd play at the Main Street Armory or Masonic Temple. According to Raymond Murphy, this attracted name groups such as Armstrong's Big Band, Basie (without Prez), Ellington in 1943 with Ben Webster. Events were held in Edgerton Park's Stardust Ballroom or in other hotel ballrooms.

10. Some after-hours clubs or private parties had music after the bars closed. One club on State Street had the prohibition speakeasy vibe, with the sliding panel in the front door.
11. The Triton started around 1946. East Main Street on the East Side had some local talent, but, generally speaking, larger, more commercial acts from out of town.
12. 1940s music scene in suburban Rochester included Manitou Beach, strictly in the summer. It was a big dance hall. Ray McKinley with Will Bradley played there.

Key Jazz Musicians in Rochester in the Early 1940s:
Several important musicians would have been on the scene when Pepper was evolving in Rochester as a young musician. The most important of these are pianist Herbie Brock, organist/pianist Doug Duke, and clarinetist Jack End.

Herbie Brock
Brock, a blind pianist and part-time tenor saxophonist, was arguably the dominant small-group musician in town. He was, according to Raymond Murphy, an Art Tatum disciple who was finally recorded first by Savoy in 1955. A piece done by Marc Myers on Brock (see discusses Brock's recordings and his adoption of a Bud Powell type of pianism. From the little I've heard, Brock—much like Hank Jones, Barry Harris and other Detroit pianists of that period—moved away from an overt late-stride, advanced harmonies, Tatum sensibility to a more streamlined, less orchestral, swinging, right-hand-dominated approach more akin to Powell.

Brock was the local star player. He played solo piano and also with small groups. Brock played at the House of Foran before the war. Jimmy "The Lion" Stewart was a white pianist who played at the House of Foran too. He was obliquely related to Herbie Brock by marrying Brock's sister. Stewart played at the Elite with Pepper Adams. Brock and Tatum got together in the mid 1940s in Buffalo to play duets. Bassist Al Bruno drove him there. Brock was born in Rochester. On tenor he played with a big sound. Brock's father and brother were also blind.

Ottman's on Front Street (mostly in the 1940s) was a former meat market, a narrow room with terrazzo tile floors. They had great quality meat, according to pianist Fred Remington, and they threw the scraps in the Genesee River. Herbie Brock often played at Ottman's. According to Lowell Miller, Ottman's was a place that musicians, especially those playing in the 'straight show' bands, would go to when their gigs were over.

Doug Duke
Inventor of the Hammond organ with Leslie. Originally, Duke would play spread-eagle, reaching an organ with his left hand so he could play melodic lines on a piano with his right hand. Obviously, incorporating both into a three-keyboard instrument was far less burdensome. Duke liked to alternate between the two textures of the organ and piano, as if to intimate two separate instruments or players, or to affect a sense of accompaniment.

Pianist Doug Duke returned to his hometown of Rochester in early 1942, after traveling with bands since the mid-1930s as a teenager. He had been traveling in the Orient when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The U.S. Government advised all Americans to return home. Duke was denied entrance into the service due to a medical condition, possibly a burst eardrum. Instead, he worked in 1942 with Gene Leonard, then a longer stint with Shep Fields. Upon the recommendation of stride pianist Dick Mullaney, by late 1944 or early 1945 Duke took up a residency as the pianist at O'Dell's Taproom. Odell's, along with the 5 O'Clock Club, the Diamond Bar, the Chandelier and The Willows, were some of the piano bars clustered on East Avenue. According to Mullaney, Duke played in a Tatum style and stayed at O'Dells until possibly as late as 1946. During this time he also had a weekly radio show on WSAY.

Duke also played Breaker's near Ontario Beach sometime during the 1940s.

Pepper may have sat in with his band c. 1947 at Squeezer's, a club in downtown Rochester. "Doug Duke," a stage name for Ovidio Fernandez, was Argentinian by birth and came to Rochester in 1922, his mother's hometown, when he was two years old. Duke was the son of a concert violinist father and a vocalist mother.

I think he was a better organist than pianist, because he had more control over his right-hand figurations with the easier action of the organ. He deserves a ton of credit for innovating the Hammond with Leslies, creating a new thing for jazz and spawning a legion of followers. His penchant for using the piano and organ interchangeably to add more color and texture to his playing remains quite unique.

Apparently, there was less of a demand for nightclub entertainment in Rochester in the period after the war ended in September, 1945. Could that be due to families more focused on reuniting, dealing with adjustment issues (post-traumatic stress), etc? Squeezer's resuscitated Duke's career, before which he was inactive and on his heels.

Duke was an important jam session guy at Squeezer's. It's not known at what point he started playing both piano and organ, though it seems he focused more on organ by 1947, when he possibly started his very popular gig at Squeezer's. Duke played Squeezer's 5-6 nights a week. He was the headliner and was packing them in. Jams often took place on the weekend. Joe Strazzeri sat in occasionally at his own club. 

From John Dunlap, piano: "Squeezer's brought in everybody. He had a headliner every week. Joe "Squeezer" Strazzeri was a really good pianist." 

From Leo Petix, trumpet: "Squeezer's was a place to jam at almost every night of the week. Pepper used to stop in there and just get on the 'stand.' He was around town. He was looking to get with a group and get on the road." Joe Strazzeri Sr. ran the club at 420 State St., across the street from the Kodak office. It was a bar and lounge and was open from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s. 

Squeezer's had a U-shaped bar and there was a doorway connecting the bar area with the dining room. Duke was placed in the bar but close enough to both rooms so he could be heard in both rooms.

Paul Preo about Joe Squeezer's: "It was a small place but it was very popular. Joe was a very nice man. He had a phone booth, but it was inside the building, opposite the bar. When Doug came in and set up his equipment, the only place that seemed logical to put up his two Leslie speakers was next to the phone booth. So he had them piled up, one on top of the other, next to the booth. Nobody gave much thought about it because who wants to call during the music?" Except that Doug Duke, much like Charles Mingus years later, expected an audience to listen attentively and make the music paramount. If he felt the musicians were being disrespected, he'd stop playing. Or, "every once and awhile," said Paul Preo about Duke at Squeezer's, "he'd wait until [patrons] went into the booth, close the door, and he'd play the loudest chord you could think of. People inside, you couldn't believe it! They'd come out blanched white from the sound. . . . It was fun for the rest of us." 

The U.S. Patent for the Duke-a-Tron (Duke's combined piano and Hammond organ with Leslies) was officially approved in 1949. He built the Duke-a-Tron in the dining room at Squeezer's. It had a piano harp built into the Hammond chassis, with two keyboards for the organ and a full set of organ pedals. Sometime at Squeezer's, Duke was building the instrument, part by part in one corner of Squeezer's dining room. The patent issued in August, 1949 refers to the instrument as a "Piano Organ" but Duke and others called it a "Duke-a-Tron."

From Hank Berger, trombone: "He was a mechanical person too. He rebuilt an organ, a Hammond, into what he called a 'Duke-a-Tron.' He had a couple of Leslies. It really had power. It was fantastic, really! Duke played Squeezer's for a long time."

From Chris Melito, trumpet: Duke may have gone to New York between his O'Dell's and Squeezer's gigs. Both Melito and Al Bruno feel that Duke couldn't have played Squeezer's until 1948 at the earliest, and maybe 1949 or 1950, after he left Hampton.

After hearing Duke play a gig in Harlem in 1949, Lionel Hampton added Duke to his group, beginning with an engagement at the Apollo Theater. Duke's playing influenced the entire lineage of jazz organ playing to this day. Milt Buckner, then Hampton's pianist, took up the instrument after Duke left the group in 1950. Buckner in turn influenced Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett, who influenced Jimmy Smith and all organists to follow.

From Paul Preo: "The Hammond that he played, as I recall, had been tweaked up a little bit too. Electronics was not new but it was coming along in spurts. You didn't experiment too much because everything then was vacuum-tube technology." Duke's M-3 Hammond sounded like no other, said Preo: "sharper and harder, approaching the B-3 up to a point. Of course, he almost doubled the output so he could run his Leslies and really blast if he wanted to--and he loved it loud."

The electric organ was first invented in 1934 by Laurens Hammond and sold in 1935. Doug Duke was the father of the jazz organ. He was first musician to play the instrument in a jazz band, as such liberating it from its pipe organ roots as commonly heard in churches, movie theaters and skating rinks. 

Duke's instrumental invention--taking the Hammond M-3, incorporating electronic modifications to boost power and adding Leslie speakers--created jazz's first modern Hammond organ. 

Jack End
Along with Brock and Doug Duke, the third leg of the early 1940s Rochester-musician stool is Jack End. A clarinetist and graduate of Eastman, who led his own band, jammed with the musicians such as Brock and Duke, got back on the faculty of Eastman, and pushed the Eastman envelope to begin to embrace jazz. He was the pivotal, prime mover at Eastman that paved the way for Everett Gates to roll out a jazz curriculum. According to pianist Dick Mullaney, an Eastman graduate, in around 1945 Jack End began jazz studies at Eastman: "Jack End was the fellow who originated and sold Eastman School on jazz studies. They didn't recognize jazz studies until Jack End." End had a small commercial dance band of six pieces that he could expand up to sixteen pieces. He used Sal Sperazza and Ted Betts on trumpets, and Joe Sperazza on drums.

From Fred Remington, piano: End was the intermediary step between no jazz at Eastman and Everett Gates' first bonafide program. President Howard Hanson of Eastman allowed Jack End, an Eastman graduate, to run a jazz band at Eastman. In this way, Hanson indulged him at Eastman. My sense is it wasn't a part of the curriculum but, rather, an outlet. I believe it was End that convinced Eastman to bring Benny Goodman to Eastman for their first jazz concert. I was a huge success. At one point, End's student jazz band played a jazz version of a theme from one of Howard Hanson's symphonies with Hanson in the audience. End wrote an arrangement of it for a performance at Eastman's Kilbourn Hall.

Great Musicians on the Scene in 1945-1947:

Dave Remington, trombone: He may have played as a teen in dance bands around town but left for the Navy in October, 1944, returning in October, 1946. He would have been on the scene in late 1946-1947. Teagarden wanted to take lessons from him! His style was inspired by Teagarden, Lou McGarity and Bill Harris. Remington played in late '46-'47 with Chris Melito in drummer Jerry Santoro's band. According to his cousin Fred Remington, he sat in with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and said about it, "I finally realized the goal of a lifetime."

Hank Berger, trombone: Berger had a jazz band (he played valve trombone here) from 1938-42 at the Corner House Hotel in Greece. The band was all 18-year-olds. He returned from Air Force in c1947. Berger played the Citadel. According to bassist Lowell Miller, he sounded like an early Carl Fontana. According to Berger, there were three important jazz groups in Rochester right after the war:

1. John Albert. Albert has a bop band, probably the first in Rochester. He played Woody Herman things with six members (2 ts; tb (probably Berger); rhythm section.
2. Hank Berger band. Straight-ahead jazz band until 1951. Joe Romano joined in 1948/49. Romano was a few year younger than Pepper and the same age as bassist Lowell Miller.
3. Dixieland Ramblers. Run by Max McCarthy. Berger, who didn't care for Dixieland, broke up his band in 1951 and joined to run the group. They were based at the Golden Grill in Charlotte on Lake Street, one block from Lake Ontario.

Lowell Miller, bass: Miller played with Joe Nolan's band (non-union) in the 1940s. They played every Friday night at the Immaculate Conception Church in the Third Ward/Plymouth St. He sat in with Gus Mancuso and Joe Mancuso, Joe Romano, and Tommy Acquino (who moved to Detroit). In the 1960s he toured with Al Hirt and Pete Fountain.

Joe Strazzeri, piano
Al Bruno bass (house bassist at Squeezer's)
Barney Mallon, bass
Eddie DeMatteo, bass
Sal Sperazza, trumpet
Sibby Brock, bass. Born as Sebastian Viavatni. A fine bass player, according to Lowell Miller.

What was Everett Gates doing up until 1948? He played viola in the Rochester Symphony while studying for his masters degree at Eastman. Gates also played saxophone and did gigs on occasion.

Two other good non-union bands were led by drummer Bill O'Brien and trumpeter Bob Lang. Both were 14- to 16-piece dance bands that played in the mid-1940s at churches and other social events. Joe Strazzeri played drums in Lang's band in 1943 or 1944.

Dance band musicians who played in the commercial bands of the 30s and 40s:
Syl Novelli, Sax Smith, Gene Zacher and Darrell Gifford led commercial dance bands in the 1930s and 1940s. They performed at proms, balls, nightclubs and country clubs, especially the tony Genesee Valley Club, sometimes for Saturday afternoon dances. Smith played White City in the Windsor Hotel in Summerville. Dances also took place in Long Point Park in the nearby Finger Lakes, mostly in the summer. Carl Dengler led a society band, in the style of Guy Lombardo, at Odenbach in Manitou Beach. The repertoire of these bands ranged from "sweet" music in the Lombardo style to that of Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman. The brothers Sam and Russ Musseri were great saxophonists at this time. They played in some of these commercial dance bands, and ultimately in the Glenn Miller Band led by Buddy DeFranco. These bands were successful in Rochester until after the war, when big bands disbanded.

The Elite Club (pronounced Eee-Light):
From Ralph Dickinson, alto sax: "It was a big hall, probably a meeting hall for unions, with a stage and some folding chairs around the side. People mainly came to dance. All of the arrangements were head arrangements we heard other groups play. Bop was just beginning to get started. We tried to do some things like that, not too much: "How High the Moon," because everybody played that, and some of the standard blues figures that the guys could think of to play. We were playing more blues-type of things, kind of a jump band. As far as swinging, I think we were the swingingest thing in town." 

"It was upstairs. West Main Street, at Ford Street, near Broad. The building isn't there any more because of the Inner Loop. It was a black neighborhood. We played for dances. They would charge at the door. I think they did have some "pop," but there was no alcohol. Jimmy 'The Lion' Stewart's band: He was a piano player and the leader. He was a pretty old fellow. Jim 'Smitty' Smith was in the band. He was a trumpet player. I was playing alto. I had just come out of the Army. The bass player was Walter Washington. He was a good bass player. He had been playing years ago with Lucky Millinder. The drummer's name, I think, was Frank Brown. He was kind of old too. Now and then we'd have a guitar player. He had a nickname, "Spoons." Here's the strange thing about this cat: He played good jazz guitar at that particular time--and blues--and he used a dime for a pick. He had a long cigar hanging out of his mouth and he could get off on the guitar real good. You'd think it would bust the strings!"

"[Pepper] wasn't a full member of the group but he'd be there every week. His mother used to come with him all the time. She didn't dance. She'd sit off to the side. It was a little strange but we didn't ostracize her. I don't know if this was out of fear to protect him. This was a black club. He was 15, 16 years old. He was able to play but he didn't play very well. He was only playing soprano at that time. He didn't sound too good, he was just learning. More Dixieland type, at that particular time. He was kind of fumbling to get started. We gave him solos. He was trying. Tell you the truth, I never thought he'd be able to play. Made a fool out of me! As far as I'm concerned, he was a much better baritone player than any of them out there! His ideas were really hip."

"He was very quiet, like a young person that's around older people. He was thin. He stood overly straight, almost like a soldier. He'd just come to play, we'd get through, divvy up the money and he'd go on his way. I'd imagine it was $5 or $6--it wasn't a whole lot. At that time, if you made ten bucks, you'd be rich! I think he got more by listening. He had a good ear. Some of the things we were playing, he'd pick up on easily--at least the lead part of it, beginning figures."

Pepper Adams' Time in Rochester (from Interviews):
It appears that Pepper Adams only took a handful of paying lessons at either Columbia Music or Levis Music. Columbia Music was owned by Morrie Silver, after whom they named Silver Stadium in gratitude for him saving the Red Wings baseball team from bankruptcy. As a widowed school teacher, his mom was pretty short on money. That's one of the reasons they moved back to Detroit. He mostly learned by practicing with older friends, on the bandstand, and from established musicians. One notable teacher was Ellington tenor saxophonist Skippy Williams. Skippy helped Pepper in New York City, when he was in between Rochester and Detroit. Williams only gave Pepper lessons once or twice. Adams' great strides were made after he moved to Detroit. It was like going from the minor leagues to the majors. Pepper immediately fell in with that great clique of Detroit musicians of his generation--Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Burrell, Louis Hayes, Yusef Lateef, etc--that changed music forever.

Morrie Silver (from Wikipedia):
In 1937, Silver founded a school, the Columbia Music Store. He later opened a music store that was very successful during the postwar recorded music boom, the store at one time becoming the highest-grossing record store in the United States.

John Albert Letter to Gary Carner (7/15/88):
By 1947, sixteen-year-old Adams had a conception of what he was doing as a soloist, even though he was far from being an accomplished player. Pianist John Albert heard him once in a Rochester club and told me the following:

"He was playing soprano sax. The rhythm section (I don't remember who they were) responded to his playing. He was a good 'time' player and left holes they could fill in. That's what I remember most about his style. He would blow a single note or a phrase and then wait for the rhythm to come to the next change or even go by it, and then he would dig in and catch up, with great time and ideas. This, to me, was different than the other horn men; they seemed to stay on top of the beat and didn't seem to use the rhythm section to their best advantage, or let them have some fun too on the chorus. What I heard that made him different and new was a thinner, biting sound. He played more notes and more interesting melodic flights, and used the rhythm section like Miles Davis."

Chris Melito (trumpet):
Chris Melito and Pepper both took music lessons at Columbia Music Store. Pepper took sax lessons, Melito took trumpet. Pepper's mother dropped him off for lessons and picked him up. The lessons took place in booths at Columbia. Pepper and Chris would wait outside a closed door for their lessons with John Wade. Pepper possibly only went to Columbia for six months or a year. "I remember him as being very enthusiastic about music, really a joyful kid," said Melito. "Whereas most kids start taking off in music and they become timid in their approach to things, he came across as being more, 'Well, I can do it, I'm gonna do it, and here it is!' He was one of the very few kids who played without squeaking too much." He may have started first on a C-Melody saxophone.

Melito was hired at the Columbia Music Store so he could listen to the records. Pepper followed a year or so later. Pepper, according to Melito, was "very thin and fragile. He was just a guy who was enthused about music and wanted to learn the instrument. He was never disrespectful. In his language, it wasn't dirty or anything like that."

Regarding Pepper's sound, approach and technique:
He wasn't tentative or worried about mistakes, according to Melito. He just went for it with a measure of confidence.

About Rochester race relations:
"I'm not saying there was a lot of love. It was tempered a bit, but we got along."

"There were three or four music stores in the city that gave music lessons for a dollar. You rented a horn from them and, eventually, someone would come around and try to sell you the thing. A lot of kids started off that way, and later either went on to Eastman or private lessons. At public school you usually got the odd instruments, like tuba or bassoon, that no one else wanted," not tenor sax, alto, or trumpet. "I don't remember school bands having soprano saxophone." That's why it's likely that Pepper rented and later bought his soprano.

Lowell Miller, Bassist, About the Rochester Scene:
"When I was a kid, I had the full run of the Eastman School of Music. I could walk from high school, take a bow and a resin bag, walk up to Eastman, grab a bass off the wall--they had all these school instruments--and just play in any of the millions of rehearsal orchestras they had going on. So, I was able to get a free concert training. When I was thirteen, I was playing jobs and taking lessons at fifty cents a lesson from all these whizzbangs that were with Glenn Miller's band and in the Service. . . We were just kids and we had that type of training. When jazz came on the scene, we had all sorts of technique. It was a great place to grow up. There were some great players around here: The Mancusos (Gus and Joe), [pianist Tommy] Acquino, Herbie Brock, Sibby Brock. Joe Romano was a giant here. I had a hell of a background because of that. It seemed like it was exploding with people, and then we had the influence of the Eastman guys coming in and out all the time. There wasn't much jazz being played at Eastman. In fact, if you did that, you were some kind of scumbag." It was in this kind of environment that clarinetist Jack End worked to establish a presence for jazz at the Eastman School.

Raymond Murphy:
Murphy and Adams listened to standard Dixieland type things, the Condon Gang, Pee Wee Russell, Commodore Recordings, Coleman Hawkins. Pepper had an "all-encompassing interest in jazz. "He was serious about it from the word 'go.'"

When they first met at Columbia Music Store in the summer of 1944 on Clinton Avenue in downtown Rochester, Murphy was eighteen years old, in between his senior year of high school and his first year of college at the University of Rochester. He was working as a mail order clerk there. Pepper, thirteen, didn't know that much about jazz at the time.

Post-1947 or Later Information about the Rochester Scene:

1. The Ridge Crest, on Ridge Road, stated around 1954. It was a commercial nightclub. Billie Holiday played there.
2. The Pythodd was also started around this time. It was at Clarissa and Troup. happened-pythodd-club/28939711/
3. Roy McCurdy was from Rochester. Joe Romano also.
4. Sal Nistico was from Syracuse but played a lot in Rochester.
5. Top of the Plaza ran in the 1970s at Midtown Plaza.
6. Spencer Walker, a bass player, possibly played the Pythodd before Ron Carter. 
7. Frank Strazzeri, piano.

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