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Saturday, August 2, 2014


West 52nd Street, New York City, 1948
Image: Library of Congress
MANHATTAN IN THE 1940S-- Here’s a snipet from Ken Burns’ film “Jazz,” which was broadcast on PBS and describes the jazz scene on the West side of New York City in the 40’s.

For the entire text of the Burns film:

“...Since the mid-1930s, the living heart of jazz in New York had been two blocks of old brownstones on the West Side — Fifty-second Street, between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. Never, not even in New Orleans at the turn of the century or along the brightly lit Chicago Stroll in the 1920s, had so much great jazz been concentrated in so small a space. Seven jazz clubs still flourished there in the early 1940s. The Spotlite, the Yacht Club, and the Three Deuces were on the south side of the block between Fifth and Sixth; Jimmy's Ryan's, the Onyx, and Tondelayo's were right across the street. And there were two more clubs a block further west — Kelly's Stable and the Hickory House.

The Street's unofficial queen was Billie Holiday. It had seemed like "a plantation" to her when she and Teddy Wilson were working there in the mid-1930s, she remembered, but now black musicians were everywhere, black and white customers mingled fairly freely, and the level of musicianship that surrounded her was simply astonishing. Her very first engagement at Kelly's Stables included on the same bill a quartet led by Coleman Hawkins; the hardest-swinging violinist in the history of the music, Stuff Smith and at intermission, the pianist Nat "King" Cole and his trio. And competing clubs up and down the Street featured attractions only slightly less stellar...”

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