Photograph by Roger Wood, circa 1965

The Metropole in New York City was on Broadway and had a large bar near the front and the musicians played on a stand within the bar. The front window had been removed so passers-by could see and hear them. Dick Wellstood played there with a trad group. He told me that when they were hired the owner told them, “I do not want to interfere with your artistic integrity. You can play anything you want, provided you play loud.”


  1. What a GREAT club. Remember the ‘Copper Rail’ too? An era which at the moment is deeply under-appreciated in jazz history!Documentaries like ‘A Great Day in Harlem’ speak of the players who typify that period (like Henry ‘Red’ Allen) as figures from deep history, rather than artists whose work is as cogent – and artistically viable – tday as it was then. Something should (and must be done) to redress this balance. A Renaissance for the classic artists of jazz is well overdue – all we need is current journalists/commentators of sufficient knowledge/artistic judgment to redress the balance. Plus books on the subject which set down in tecnical terms what were the innovations of what has (so far) remained an aural tradition rather than the intellectual innovations of bebop and after – far more easily set down in technical terms within the current books on jazz education and which therefore tend to over-ride the current limitations of formalized jazz education. Authors/writers:step forward please!

  2. Sorry: I should have written ‘technical’ first time round. And it might have been better not to labour the point by writing it twice in two sentences! Apologies everyone – but it’s 2.30am in the UK and my proof-reader is asleep!

  3. Dear Digby (if I may),
    I’m honored to have you as a reader — I admire your playing and your prose! And I share your point of view for sure. For me, Sidney Catlett and Walter Page, Joe Thomas and Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton and Vic Dickenson . . . I could go on . . . are all alive. NOW! Not as dusty figures from the aesthetic-museum-of-dead-people, but as CREATORS. I would make anyone who argued that point listen to an hour of Keynotes, Blue Notes, Commodores, Buck Clayton Jam Sessions, etc. Very much alive. As far as getting people to write about this, I am doing what I can in this blog and, with my videocamera, capturing people who live within that world — but I think I’ve given up on large-scale conversions or enlightenments, especially within jazz academia. Trying to explain to new jazz scholars that the music didn’t spring full-blown from the brow of Bird or Miles or Coltrane is a tiring job. We must cultivate our garden(s). Welcome! Michael

  4. I had an after school job in Manhattan when the Metropole converted from a Gay 90s revue to jazz. I would rush my deliveries to have more time to stand outside on the 7th Avenue sidewalk and look and listen. Red Allen, Sol Yaged, Cozy Cole, etc. I learned that a Coke was 75 cents (this was 1953 or so), which took the pain out of not being able to enter. After a few years away I returned to NYC to find this once landmark jazz island was featuring go-go dancers. End of the Metropole chapter.


  6. Diggin’ Jack & Digby- … and there was a full length-of-bar mirror, floor to ceiling too, behind the musicians as they stood up high on the long and narrow bandstand behind the bar. 1955-57 in the USN / 72 hour liberty pass / trains and buses back and forth from upstate NY to Norfolk, Va. (fondly in sailor speak- “No-fuck”) / a beeline from Grand Central to The Metropole / Who’d I see there? Herb Flemming, Buster Bailey, Red Allen, Claude Hopkins, Eddie “mole” Bourne- a monster drummer nobody knows of today, Sol Yaged, Terry Gibbs, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Gene Krupa, Marty Napoleon, Charlie Ventura / others I can’t remember / sometimes with my Navy pal Jim Hilbrandt from Tivoli, NY who took pictures to prove it / beat it over to Port Authority and catch the last Trailways to Norfolk / two pillows for a buck / Sack out / arrive dockside at sun-up / shower and muster in @ 8am / 2 glorious years of this! / “Just A Lucky So And So” and “Thanks For The Memories” – mb

  7. To a teenage jazz fan in the early-to-mid 1950s, the draft card was your passport to the magical Land of Jazz, and I was too young to have one. Thus my memories of the Metropole – precious, indelible memories of hearing live jazz for the first time – are of being on the outside looking in.

    The drill was always the same: Sea Beach Express from Bay Ridge to Madison Square Garden – the old Garden at 49th Street – for a Knicks game or a college basketball doubleheader (our off-season sports fix while waiting for April and the Dodgers). Then later, before the long subway ride home to Brooklyn, I’d convince my buddies to join the cluster of tourists, deadbeats, teenagers, and deadbeat-teenagers and linger awhile outside the Metropole, where you could see the bandstand and hear the music from the sidewalk. Sometimes it was Sol Yaged playing, but usually it was Henry “Red” Allen and the same band as on the Bluebird CD, WORLD ON A STRING: Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, J.C. Higginbotham, Marty Napoleon, Cozy Cole. And it seems there was always a guy at the bar requesting RIDE, RED, RIDE.

    Outside it may have been winter-cold, but inside it was always party-time when Red was leading the band. In the YouTube of my memory, he’ll ride, ride forever.

  8. Although I am relatively new to the world of jazz, as you say, a new jazz scholar, I do realize that jazz didn’t spring from the bell of Miles Davis, nor from John Coltrane’s saxophone. Rather, jazz sprang, by all technicalities from those of a darker race (I don’t want to say African American because that’s not always correct and I don’t want to say black because it just sounds a little harsh). Cultivating the gardens, at least in my generation, is much more difficult than it sounds…”Jazz is for old people,” I can hear my friends say. I must disagree with my fellow teenagers. Jazz permeates everything we hear today, just as the mixture of the blues scale and the smallest bit of classical music permeates jazz. And though I realize that jazz didn’t just spring out of the most well-known jazz artists, it is difficult for my “pupils” to understand this crucial fact. Benny Goodman did not begin swing, he merely made it popular. Dixieland isn’t exclusive to Bob Crosby, nor is the dance tune only Glenn Miller’s. But once they get stuck on one way of thinking, good luck in changing their minds….

  9. Music school: Come to think of it The Metropole was one of my favorite classes. Thank Gaud they didn’t teach jazz in the NYS country central school systems, nor art! If you wanted that you found it on your own. I did. From a few of the Condon Town Hall concerts, to his place downtown (getting in without being asked for a draft card I didn’t have)- before that “Child’s Paramount” with my girlfriend Joann, to “Lou Terrasi’s” off Times Square with high school pals Warren Briggs and Tom? – and finally “The Pole” in my sailor uniform. That was my education, those places my classrooms- being there, seeing them- Bill Davison, Ed Hall, Cutty, Gene Schraeder, Leeman, Maxie and Wettling, Page, Jo Jones, Lee Wiley, Sonny Greer, Ray McKinley and a hundred more… all my teachers! They dance through my mind. mb

  10. I absolutely agree on all points. And I have to add that cultivating the individual garden is perhaps all that anyone can do. If everyone tried to improve their relations and their enlightenment in their own little plot of experience, the cosmos would be better . . . so it’s always difficult and always worthwhile. Maybe you need to let your friends hear something good without preamble, without telling them it is J**Z? Happy trails!

  11. Lucky fellow you are to have had such friends and Sages and Teachers!

  12. The Metropole and the Copper Rail were across the street from each other. Great places that have given me precious memories. I share some of them on my blog. Here–if Michael doesn’t mind–is a direct link to one of the posts.

  13. Not only doesn’t Michael mind; he’s dee-lighted! Cheers, Chris! MS

  14. The Metropole also had a room upstairs. One night (in ’61?) when Red Allen was on the bar we went upstairs where Gene Krupa and Max Kaminsky were the whole group. What an experience.

  15. Wait, wait, Dick! Do you mean that Gene and Max played duets? Oh, my goodness! Thanks for the memory for sure . . . Michael

  16. That’s a little hard with all of them knowing the basic sounds of a Big Band….maybe a little Cuban flavor will help.

  17. Merritt McGlothlin

    I was in the Army at Ft. Devens in late 50’s and every weekend we would come to NY for the music and head straight to the Metropole. Henry Red Allen was playing and Charlie Shavers was also part of the group. JC Higgenbotham, and Buster Bailey were all part of the group can’t remember the drummer and piano. Being GI’s we would nurse our drinks and close the place on Fri. & Sat. nights. Every now and then they would have someone up-stairs, one Sat. nite Henry and boys were down stairs behind the bar, and upstairs were Bobby Hackett, and Ruby Braff. They didn’t even charge a cover in those days. I miss those days, but more than that I miss that music live at a club.

  18. I was in NYC with Rufus Jones (Speedy) what a drummer!…he had been w/ Hamp…then went to the “Pole” w/ Red…later he was w/Basie, Ellington, Ferguson etc..died in Vegas 1980….let me know if anyone has more info on seeing him or related stories…Thanks!!…Don Jack

  19. Charlie Knight

    Lots of nights at the Metropole, standing at the bar. I remember Rufus Jones well. He was way out of his element there and I believe I may have been the one who got Maynard Ferguson and Rufus together when Ferguson was at Birdland around 1961 and needed to find a drummer.
    Took my fiance there to see Gene Krupa, my hero as I was a budding drummer. She went upstairs to the head and did not come back for a long time. I went up to check on her and Krupa had her against the wall with his arms on both sides. I had to pull him away. Her recall was “he had the most beautiful eyes”.
    Charlie Knight

  20. Spending a nostalgic night. My father would take my brother (now 63) and me (soon to be 60) on the train from Philly for a night at the Metropole. It was the late 50’s ( and yes, my brother and I were just youngsters), and we would take in a set. My father was friend with Redd and Eddie Locke (who often would visit us when as he was on the road and my father’s transfers would take us to Pittsburgh, Chicago and KC). Have sighed photos of us from Redd, Sol, and others who came through the club. My memories are dim due youth at the time… but I also remember the bar area (which I was quickly walked past) and the band.

  21. Eileen Olmsted

    Found this site by Googling the Metropole to see who played there when I was going there in the late fifties. Don’t remember who I heard play but it was a great adventure for a good Catholic girl from Jersey (probably was there with one of those GI’s from Ft. Dix!!) Now that I live in Pittsburgh and am mourning the loss of a great jazz station, DUQ, I was remembering all those wonderful nights listening to jazz from behind the bar.

  22. Chris Roberts

    My 1st night in the US and there was Louis Armstrong in the Metropole 20 feet away. 1964 was a hot summer but there was so much good music. I had 99 days for $99 on Greyhound and went coast to coast “who’s playing?” everywhere the bus stopped – wow! Too late for Parker and I wish now I had seen Coltrane.


  23. I met Louie Armstrong in the Central Plaza jazz club. Anybody remember that place? Conrad Janis used to play there … The greatest trombone player I’ve ever seen in person.

    I became friendly with Satchmo. I remember Louie Armstrong inviting my friend and I into the Metropole. It must have been 1957-1958. (He saw us on the street through the front window.) Of course we couldn’t get in; we were not old enough.

  24. Grew up on West 51st Street between 8th and 9th Avenue,
    a couple of blocks from the Metropole and the old Madison Square Garden. Used to know a jazz drummer, Jack Casey, who played with some of the greats, and may have played at the Metropole. Does anybody know him?

  25. I had run away from home on Long Island and escaped to Times Square. It was the early 50’s. I was probably 13 or 14. I was at an all night movie theatre where they had burlesque at one time, sitting in the balcony and this older lady (maybe 40 or 45) picked me up and took me for a drink at the Metropole. I was amazed to get served, but seeing they seem to know her there was no questions. We sat at one of those tiny round tables witht a black shinny top. I can’t remember what I ordered! I was thrilled to be in there and listening to the greatest musicians I had ever heard. Marie took me home that night. She had an apartment on West 54th St. I went out looking for a job the next morning, and when I got back to West 54th St. there were police, and an ambulance and that yellow tape blocking the entrance. Someone had jumped from the 11th floor! It was Marie!

  26. I remember the free pastrami sandwiches that came with the $1 beer, watching Gene Krupa and falling in love with Floyd Cramer and his “Last Date”.

  27. Rita Nally Ambrozy

    I remember Gene Krupa snd Louie Armstrong
    1958 – fun times
    Rita Nally 1956.

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