"sittin' in"—Jazz Clubs of the 1940s And 1950s (2 photos added)

While others tossed, self-described music executive, historian, collector, archivist and memorabilia dealer Jeff Gold (an accurate though woefully incomplete description, by the way) was one of those prescient individuals who, as a young man, saw the intrinsic value in most everything physical related to the wondrous post World War II growth of music both as culture and as business.

He deals in music collectibles and among other activities he writes music-related books, some of which like this one spring from his obsession with collecting and archiving musical ephemera.

In the book’s introduction Gold writes that there’s nothing unusual for him to spend four hours in a bank vault sorting through the contents of a kindred spirit jazz collector’s safe-deposit boxes and finding “treasures” like handbills, autographs, contracts and letters.

As Gold sorted through this particular collector’s assemblage, he found mixed in among the collection hundreds of “souvenir photos” taken at jazz clubs during the 1940s and 1950s.

As anyone of a certain age who vacationed at a Catskills or other location resort remembers, roving photographers would pose families poolside, at the front entrance or at a nightclub table and shoot quickly developed souvenir photos to sell before checkout time.

You might still have such photos in your family’s archives, but it’s not likely they include at the table Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson or Louis Armstrong all of whom are among the jazz luminaries who posed with the now unidentified club patrons (I imagine some buyers of this book might recognize a relative sitting at a table!).

an unidentified soldier at the 400 Restaurant, NYC with actress Joan Davis and Duke Ellington, 1945.

Charlie Parker with fans, Royal Roost, NYC circa 1948.
As Gold went through the jazz collector’s accumulation of souvenir photos, the idea took hold for this absolutely fascinating book that documents through photos and text what jazz pianist Jason Moran calls in one of the book’s interviews the “ecosystem” of jazz.

Gold has taken these hundreds of souvenir photos (the book includes more than 200 full-color and black and white photos plus memorabilia) plus interviews with Moran, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, cultural critic Robin Givhan and jazz historian Dan Morgenstern and turned the camera from the much photographed and documented jazz club bandstands to the every bit as fascinating and important jazz consuming audience of that time—a mixture of Black and white people, including servicemen and their dates enjoying a night out at a jazz club that most of us today would just about kill to be able to attend. Sonny Rollins said in small clubs like these, the audiences “sort of played with you. They’re like part of the band.”

In his introduction Gold cautions “If you’re looking for a comprehensive history of jazz, this isn’t it.” True, but it’s something unique that every jazz fan will surely enjoy reading and looking through the photos—especially those of the anonymous club attendees, in whose faces you will see in full flower post war optimism and an innocence seemingly wiped clean today from the face of the earth.

While many of these clubs were segregated so only whites got to sit in the audience while Black musicians entertained them, there are also photographs of integrated club tables where Blacks and whites sat together enjoying the music oblivious to the barriers the music has helped break down. Everyone looks spiffy in suits and ties, evening gowns and even military uniform.

Gold organizes the book geographically, first covering East Coast clubs and in the case of New York City further breaking it down—Harlem, Greenwich Village and of course the midtown bop “hotspot” that developed on 52nd street.

Clubs highlighted in the East Coast section include Birdland, Royal Roost, The Cotton Club, Small’s Paradise, Minton’s, Café Zanzibar, The Ubangi Club, The Village Vanguard and The Apollo Theater. Atlantic City, Boston and Washington D.C. each get their own section and more importantly Gold skillfully weaves each into a coherent overview.

Each club’s history is described and there are club menus, maps, programs, postcards and other visuals in the mix and of course those souvenir photos.

Part Two covers The Midwest—Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis. And then on to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Dan Morgenstern says to Gold “I’m amazed at the things you sent—that you were able to find these. I remember the days when you went to a nightclub and there was a cameraperson, usually a girl, and they would take photos of you with your party. And then you’d get them in a folder. I don’t know where you found these things.” Gold answers: “I bought them, most of them from one collection”.

In “sittin’ in” Gold has smartly assembled his safe deposit box haul in a thoroughly entertaining, coherent, visually enticing package you’ll surely want to read and thumb through while your favorite jazz record from this era spins on your turntable. If you are a CD person, there’s a Kindle version for you, but get serious, will ya?

sittin’ in will be available November 17th From Harper Collins and can be pre-ordered now on amazon.com.

Glotz's picture

This looks like a great read and his website is just astonishing!

(I wonder if those Prince shoes fit...)

mraudioguru's picture

collectibles website! Wish I had Gates or Zuckerberg money. I'd buy everything on there!

Intermediate Listener's picture

Jazz scene was thriving during this period - briefly including the very young Ray Charles and Quincy Jones.

Michael Fremer's picture
Quincy is interviewed in the book
Paul Boudreau's picture

I buy Kindle and hardcover books but this is definitely in the latter category. I’ve bought some amazing things from him; he always has the most amazing goodies.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Just received a signed copy from Arcana Books & it looks like they have more. I think anyone with an interest in jazz would enjoy it. https://www.arcanabooks.com/catalog/search/?query=Sittin+in