SFMA History: Jazz Remembered

In the 1960's the Jazz scene was in its last zenith. In New York, Chicago Los Angeles, and even smaller cities, jazz was experiencing its last hurrah. Miami was no exception. We were playing the hotel circuit on Miami Beach, but when we really wanted to get into the music of Ellington, Basie, Mingus, Miles and Monk we headed to Overtown after hours. The Hampton House was a structure of regal splendor, where big name Jazz and Blues artists performed regularly. The food and accommodations equaled the excellence of the music. Having been friends with tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, my friends and I were invited to sit in with Eddie and others with the Count Basie Band. Other local musicians were ask to sit in and it was a swinging free-for-all that could rival any Jazz at the Philharmonic concert. Such luminaries as Duke Ellington and blues great B.B. King and song stylists the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sara Vaughn, and Carmine McCrea would perform regularly.

Also in Miami was the Surf Club, were legendary drummer Buddy Rich fronted a small group featuring tenor man Flip Phillips. Further up the road in Hollywood was the Gulf Stream Club which featured top national and local musicians .Yours truly had the great honor of sitting in with the great Charlie Ventura, who in 1948 placed second only to Charlie Parker in the alto saxophone division in the Downbeat Readers Poll and placed third only behind Coleman Hawkins and Lester young in the tenor sax division. Ventura was also lead tenor saxophonist in the Gene Krupa Orchestra and Trio.

As we glide up to Ft Lauderdale, we would come to Bubba's, a Jazz Club of the highest order, where such jazz juggernauts as tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, drummer Art Blakey, and The Jazz Messengers would perform. Having played with saxophonist Sonny Stitt several times in Baltimore, the great reedman invited me to sit in at Bubba's. When I arrived with my wife, I was so nervous to see that Sonny was on stage with the aforementioned Lockjaw Davis and trumpeter legend Roy Elridge that I sat on the table instead of the bench. Each table had a large bowl of Cashew nuts for the patrons to enjoy. By sitting on the table in my nervousness, I automatically hurled the large bowl of nuts in the air, showering the musicians on stage with cashews. Needless to say, I made a quick retreat to the parking lot.

In Deerfield Beach, Brooks Restaurant nestled comfortably on Federal Highway. But back in the 1970's, the Beowulf Jazz Club burned nightly with Hot Jazz. And thank heavens the jazz was hot because the temperature inside the Beowulf was always freezing. There was a small dance floor in the corner, and most people took advantage of it more to generate warmth than musical expression. The above mentioned Flip Phillips, famed tenor saxophonist with the Woody Herman Orchestra and Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, held forth. These clubs are now but a distant memory but they did much to create a solid jazz foundation in south Florida.

Joey Pacenza, guitarist and South Florida Musicians Association member


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