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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

JAZZ - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

JAZZ. Cleveland began to participate in and contribute to the evolution and popularity of jazz music when the New Orleans jazz musicians moved to urban areas in the north and east after World War I. Prior to the 1920s, Will Marion Cook, who had studied at Oberlin College, first introduced the saxophone to the dance band and NOBLE SISSLE†, a graduate of Cleveland's CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, played in a World War I military band that was one of the first to record jazz. Sissle would later team with Eubie Blake to create and stage a number of black jazz-based Broadway musicals.

Local participation in jazz initially developed along racially segregated lines. White jazz musicians were members of the American Federation of Musicians Local #4 while AFRICAN AMERICANS were in Local #550; only in 1962 was integration achieved by merging the black local into Local #4, with bandleader Caesar Dameron as the prime mover. In the 1920s jazz sessions, at dance halls such as the Golden Slipper (later the Trianon Ballroom, Euclid-E. 100th St.) or at clubs and Prohibition speakeasies, were segregated by hours (i.e., white musicians and clientele until midnight, black thereafter). Among artists active locally at the time who went on to national prominence were trumpeter Pee Wee Jackson and future bandleaders Artie Shaw, Guy Lombardo, and Woody Herman; while already nationally recognized figures such as Paul Whiteman and Bix Beiderbecke made Cleveland a regular major stop on their tours. Jimmy Lunceford formed his first professional band in Cleveland during this period.

In the 1930s and 1940s, racial integration of concerts and sessions became the norm, and one club, Val's in the Alley (Cedar-E. 86th St.), became nationally famous because of Art Tatum's presence there until World War II. His reputation gave prominence to jazz piano, and often induced such internationally famous figures as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman, while on tour in Cleveland, to join in with Tatum and his group for some impromptu (and unpaid) sessions.

As jazz became more widely recognized as a major musical form, two Clevelanders, Haywood Hale Broun and Mary Karoly, pioneered in recording aging New Orleans musicians during the late 1930s and 1940s. By this time, jazz had influenced music of the "Swing Era." A number of Clevelanders playing in these the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s included George Thow, a trumpeter in the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, Morey Feld, a drummer for Benny Goodman, Jiggs Whigham, trombonist for Stan Kenton, Al Lerner, pianist for Harry, James, and Henry Mancini, pianist with Tex Benecke.

Clevelanders also contributed to the evolution of "be-bop" or "bop" jazz in the 1940s. Caesar Dameron, his brother, Tadd, and Freddie Webster were active in be-bop. At this time a number of local musicians relocated to New York City, while others, disillusioned by the continued national segregation of the musicians' locals, moved to Europe. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the growth of "cool" jazz and the development of new instruments, such as the jazz guitar, along with a general surge in popularity and intellectual respectability thanks to the rise of college campus concerts and extensive commercial exposure by radio disc jockeys. An Oberlin College concert by Dave Brubeck in 1953 inaugurated the college boom, and the recorded version inspired other jazz LP albums. These in turn were played and vigorously promoted by local radio personalities such as Henry Pildner (WGAR) and especially Bill Randle (WERE). At the time such disc jockeys were their own musical programming directors, and Randle must be credited with being among the national leaders in popularizing recorded jazz (as well as pioneering in other forms, such as early ROCK 'N' ROLL).

In the 1950s most of the nationally known jazz artists played at such Cleveland clubs as the Tia Juana on E. 105th St., the Loop Lounge at 612 Prospect, the Jazz Temple on E. 105th, Club Rendezvous at 97th and Cedar, GLEASON'S MUSICAL BAR at E. 55th and Woodland, the Modern Jazz Room near the Central Market, the Cotton Club (originally E. 4th St., then Quincy-E. 71st St.), and the Theatrical on SHORT VINCENT. During the 1960s saxophonist Albert Ayler was a leader in the free jazz movement. Trumpeter Bill Hardman performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus; guitarist Jim Hall, a graduate of the CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC, became an internationally acclaimed artist; and traditional jazz trombonist Ralph Grugel provided the first live entertainment in the Cleveland FLATS.

Jazz in Cleveland almost died in the 1970s. The only spot that regularly presented jazz was the Smiling Dog Saloon on W. 25th St. But by the early 1980s, 4 developments sparked a renaissance--the formation of the volunteer Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, the creation of an annual jazz festival at CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, the signing-on of public radio station WCPN, and the organization of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. The Jazz Society became one of only 16 groups in the U.S. to share the largest grant in jazz history. The Tri-C Jazz Fest became "the nation's leading educational jazz festival." The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra became a nationally recognized repertory big band and WCPN began programming many hours of jazz. By the late, 1980s, Clevelanders were making significant contributions to jazz education and preservation. Mark Gridley's Jazz Styles, History and Analysis became the nation's most popular introduction-to-jazz college textbook. Andrew Homzy, who grew up in suburban BROOKLYN, discovered the score to a monumental work by Charles Mingus. Representative Louis Stokes spearheaded an effort in Congress to preserve the archives of Duke Ellington and Oberlin College president Fred Starr led the drive by the Smithsonian Institution to transcribe recorded jazz classics.

By the 1990s a new generation of Cleveland jazz artists was winning international recognition. They included saxophonists Joe Lovano and Ernie Krivda, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, pianist-composers Neal Creque and Cliff Habian, and even jazz whistler Ron McCroby. TELARC INTL. of Cleveland, noted for its recordings of classical music, also became a leading producer of jazz recordings.

Chris Colombi

Joe Mosbrook


Last Modified: 26 Sep 2003 04:09:14 PM

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