Jeff Gold, author of Sittin’ In Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s, is among other things, a collector of music memorabilia. While looking through the safe deposit boxes of a jazz collector, he discovered a collection of photographs taken at various jazz clubs during the 1940s and 1950s, as well as programs and menus from several of the venues. Most of the photos were of customers and were taken by the club photographers who provided them at a reasonable fee to customers who wanted a reminder of their visits to the clubs. They were usually placed in a frame/folder that publicized the club.
As he looked through this collection, he was struck by the uniqueness of the photographs as they gave a perspective of the customers in the clubs rather than the performers, although some of the photos included performers posing with the customers. This provided Gold, who had written several books about popular music, with the idea of writing a volume about the jazz clubs with an emphasis on the sociological side of the club scene. He was particularly struck by the subject of race. He noticed that many of the customers were from the Black community, and that there were many photographs that showed integrated audiences. He concluded that, to at least some significant extent, the jazz club scene was far more racially mixed than the population in general.
For anyone looking for in-depth information about the jazz clubs referenced in the book, that is not what you will find, nor is that the objective of Gold’s book. He was limited by the resources available to him that motivated him to write the book, so there are many clubs that are not included in the discussions, as they were not among those from which the material was sourced. Also missing are some cities like New Orleans and Seattle that had vibrant jazz scenes.
The clubs are grouped geographically. The East Coast includes sections on New York City — subdivided by Harlem, 52nd Street, and Midtown, and Greenwich Village; Atlantic City, Washington, D.C., and Boston; the Midwest — Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis; and the West Coast — Los Angeles and San Francisco. The descriptions of the individual clubs are brief but do capture the essence of what each club presented.
To augment Gold’s analysis, he has included informative interviews with musicians such as Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins and Jason Moran; jazz historian and critic, Dan Morgenstern, and fashion writer Robin Givhan, each of whom has interesting perspectives concerning Gold’s sociological observations.
This is a book that walks the line between coffee table book and informative source. The extensive photographs capture a special part of our musical and social history. The text puts the illustrative material into an interesting perspective. For those who experienced some of the venues covered as customers, it will bring back many memories. For younger readers, it will provide an often eye-opening look at a period of jazz history that was significant. Gold has taken the concept that occurred to him upon his discovery of the resources, and has delivered a volume that is a valuable addition to jazz literature. – JOE LANG
Sittin’ In Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s,Harper Design, New York, 260 pages, 2020, $39.99; harpercollins.com)
The New Jersey Jazz Society (NJJS) is a non-profit organization of business and professional people, musicians, teachers, students and listeners working together for the purpose of advancing jazz music.