Sunday, June 4, 2017

Detroit Cats and Clubs

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Here's some random historical information about Detroit's jazz history that I've collected from my many Pepper Adams interviews. It pertains mosty to Detroit in the 1940s and '50s. Because it's not likely to be used in my Pepper Adams biography, I'm posting it here to make it available to researchers.

Elvin Jones:
"I used to peep in the window [at the Blue Bird] and watch him. I always used to tell him, 'Keep the curtain open so I can watch you and see what you're doing.' And he did. I was watching him because the drums were right there by the window. (Roy Brooks used to stand out there sometimes.) I think he was playing more then than he was later on in life. He didn't have more chops. He had more swing and more drive. He began to get it together there. Billy Mitchell told me that when Elvin came out of the Air Force, his right hand was weak. When he'd be playing the ride cymbal, instead of getting a clear ti-ti-TING, he'd get a ti-TING, ti-TING. So Billy Mitchell told him, 'Look, your right hand is weak. Fill in with your left hand.' And that's what he would do. Elvin, and all of the Jones', had an uncanny sense of time--like Thad. So, Elvin too, it seemed like he was playing in three a lot, but you don't know that because the four is there too! Elvin was dynamite!" - Frant Gant

"The Paradise Valley was a cluster of many clubs. . . A gorgeous place to be, safe, everybody had a ball going from place to place. It was downtown, about four or five blocks from the heart of town. All the entertainment was there. That's where all the big stars went. Hastings Street bordered it. It was between Hastings Street and Brush Street, bordered by Adams and St. Antoine and Gratiot Avenue, that whole area of six or eight blocks square." - Maurice King

The Valley was really buzzing before 1938, when Maurice King arrived in town. It stayed that way until 1943, when the riot broke out. After that, wealthy whites stopped visiting. Then, the clubs moved north, closer to Wayne University, such as the Flame Showbar, which looked like a Las Vegas club. Two others within a block or two were the Frolic Showbar and Chesterfield Lounge.

"In the early '40s, there were many clubs in The Valley: small clubs where there was music, all up and down Hastings Street, extended all the way to the north end, which became Oakland Avenue. Later on, the clubs started moving to the west side, like the Blue Bird, like Klein's on Twelfth Street. Hastings more or less died. In fact, there is no more Hastings now. It's the Chrysler Freeway. City planning changes the complexion of cities. That's what happened." - Yusef Lateef

“The Valley was only maybe two or three or four blocks long, from Hastings Street and Adams to, say, John R and Adams.” - Charles Boles

"There were many bars, all of which had live music. The first beginning of it was the Sportree's, a club. It started from The Valley, going up Hastings Street. The most famous place on Hastings Street was the Cozy Corner. That was the most plush nightclub. It had a Copa atmosphere. Just a place where people would go to dance. They had a cover charge and had dinner. It was a supper club." - Maurice King

Hastings Street had prostitution. “It had all the evils that any major city had.” - Charles Johnson

The Club Sudan was downtown. Kenny Burrell played there.

The Flame was on John R and Garfield.

The El Sino and The Three Sixes (666) were near each other in The Valley.

When Thad and Billy Mitchell had their band in 1949-1950 or so: "The jazz scene was hot during that time. The Blue Bird was going six nights a week and it was packed every night." - Bob Pierson

"I got into Bizerte and Royal Blue occasionally when underage. - Bob Pierson

The Pine Grove, the Black Hawk: little bars on the Near West Side; Clarence Beasley and Pepper Adams played at these clubs after 1948.

"We first began to hear Sonny Stitt when we were still going to dances as teenagers." -Clarence Beasley

Sonny Stitt's father was a minister and he allowed all these aspiring youngsters to jam at his church. At that time, Stitt played the Iragon Ballroom on Woodward, near the Mirror Ballroom (where Bird played). Beasley and his cohort hung out at the Iragon from their middle teens until around 19 years old, when they started branching out and getting their own gigs and moving away from the dance scene.

The Brady Bar was going on the East Side in 1955. Barry Harris played there, as did Pepper Adams.  Harris' nickname was "Little Bud."

Gigs in Detroit took place from 9-2. After the gig, all the musicians in town used to congregate across the street from the Bowl-o-Drome (12707 Dexter Blvd. near Davison or Burlingame) at the Esquire Restaurant for breakfast. Roland Hanna, Barry Harris and Harold McKinney, however, didn't hang out. They were very studious.

The Paradise Theater in Detroit: "They had the best black talent in the world. It was another Apollo. In fact, it might have been a couple degrees above it. You go see a movie and then you stay and see the stage show. You could stay as long as you wanted." - Oliver Shearer

Local musicians:
Eddie Jamison, a great local alto player, "had a distinctive sound," according to Clarence Beasley. "It was soulful."

Willie Anderson: "So many big names tried to get him out of Detroit and he would not go. He never had the confidence in himself because he never had the formal training, the building blocks that he could use. He simply refused to go out of town with these bands. He didn't want to be pigeonholed or whatnot, but, my God, did he have a reputation for being one of the finest pianists locally. He was a fantastic jazz player." - Clarence Beasley

"Hugh Lawson had a very fine, strong left hand." - Clarence Beasley

Tim Kennedy was a very fine Detroit drummer, about five years older. He played with Illinois Jacquet.
- Clarence Beasley

"Johnny Allen was a really good pianist on the scene and a fantastic arranger. He was from Chicago and went to school with Nat Cole but relocated in Detroit. He played the Silver Slipper with Tate Houston when Eckstine worked there."  - Clarence Beasley

Willie Wells dissipated with drugs, and was sad to see, but a great player on the scene.

Joe Brazil hosted jam sessions at his house that Wells and a lot of the youngsters played.

Jimmy Glover, a real good bass player out of Detroit. - Bob Pierson

"A lot of guys never made it. There was Will Davis, a real good piano player, and Bu Bu Turner, another good piano player. . . . There were some real good tenor players. Tommy Barnet, and Lefty Edwards--they were a little bit older, more mature." - Bob Pierson

Abe Woodley: "Abe was something! I'll tell ya, next to Milt, he had the best feel I ever heard on vibes and he could play some great bebop piano too!" - Bob Pierson

Bu Bu Turner: "Great player, great accompanist, too, for a horn player, and he could burn his ass off playing jazz." - Bob Pierson

Art Mardigan sound: "He had a great feel and you could hear the beat of the stick on the cymbal. He had the best sound out of the cymbal I've ever heard and I've heard them all. Art had that, and a lot of guys that played around Detroit got that from him. They all got the nice sound out of the cymbal." - Bob Pierson

Warren Hickey: "A tenor player. A wonderful player." - Bob Pierson

Other fine Detroit players, as per Bob Pierson: Leon Rice (dm), Willie Wells (before junk got to him), Gus Rosario.

Tate Houston had a nice sound.

Lefty Edwards was a good tenor player.

Claire Roquemore: “couldn’t stay out of jail.” - Charles Johnson

Roquemore: "He was a wonderful, young, Caucasian-looking trumpet player. He was very fair-skinned, blonde-haired. He probably had a white mother and a mixed father. He looked white but he wasn't white. He was mixed. Whenever Claire had a gig, he'd use Pepper." - Roland Hanna

“The great Claire Rocquemore? He could play anything. He’d wear Miles out. He’d wear anybody out. Donald didn’t want to get on the bandstand with him. He ended up being strung out. And he didn’t go anywhere. He would always be around, when he could keep it together, and kick everybody’s butt. He was at Barry’s house all the time.” - Charles Boles

"There was a guy named Benny Benjamin. He was a guy that went with Motown. He was a bad sucker! He could play in any kind of groove--bebop, or the blues. He had the feeling. He was a bitch! Wilbur Harden, this trumpet player [moved to Detroit in 57 and played with Yusef, was sick for four years then played with Curtis], and Teeter Ford [in Barry Harris' group in the early 50s, replacing Claire Roquemore, with Sonny Red.] - Frank Gant

                                              (Elvin Jones)

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