North Beach History: When Bebop Filled The Night

Frank Phipps plays bass trumpet at The Cellar, c. 1959.

“In 1951, while I was a high-school student, my girlfriend and I would make trips from Berkeley to the corner of Turk and Hyde streets in the Tenderloin. Here, at the legendary jazz club, The Black Hawk, we would be ensconced behind a chicken-wire barrier that separated underage patrons from their hipster elders. It was from this ‘cage’’ that we would ‘dig’ the energizing sounds of Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and other jazz greats. … Ten years later, on returning to the Bay Area, I was able to drink with the big boys at The Black Hawk, but the jazz scene had shifted to North Beach, specifically to the Jazz Workshop, where the center of the action was at 473 Broadway. The Workshop was owned by lawyer Art Auerbach, who loved jazz but did not profess to be the sharpest of businessmen. Up the block from the Workshop at 401 Broadway was Basin Street West, the site of the now defunct Crowbar, where according to one report, ‘Duke Ellington held court between sets in his underwear and a silk robe, blowing air kisses to the ladies gathered there as he worked on his score for the Concert of Sacred Music to be performed at Grace Cathedral.’ Down Kearny was the Off Broadway, where a not particularly sympathetic listener claimed ‘your deaf Aunt Agatha could have tuned in on the music of Stan Kenton from three blocks away.’ Across the street from the Workshop was Sugar Hill, where Carmen McRae was a regular. On one occasion she was joined by Dizzy Gillespie, who, between sets at the Workshop, braved the mid-block Broadway traffic to cross the street and join McRae on a couple of choruses of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’’ Also on the east side of the street was El Matador, the site of the Horizon Lounge, which was owned by bon vivant and bullfighting enthusiast Barnaby Conrad. He hired John Horton Cooper as his house pianist, who, it was said, was able on a slow night to play piano and make chess moves at the same time. …”

The Blackhawk at Hyde and Turk, January 27, 1961.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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