THE HARLEM UPROAR HOUSE, 1937-8

Last week, the Beloved and I were in a highly-recommended multi-dealer antique store in Sebastopol, California, picking up this, commenting on that.  Happily we don’t “need” to buy everything, so we aren’t faced with housefuls of antiques.

A dull brown folder about the size of a ten-disc 78 record album caught my eye.  It contained more than a hundred matchbook covers glued to black scrapbook pages.

Its owner, I am guessing, had been a traveling salesman or the like in the late Thirties and early Forties — a cosmopolitan fellow, eating fried chicken in Utah, having drinks in Buffalo.  Some of the matchbooks were clearly early World War Two, urging the holder to do something that would take a whack at Hitler.

Many of the covers featured mildly naughty illustrations: the one at top wasn’t the most enticing, but it did stop me in my survey.  It wasn’t just the scantily clad young woman or the pun on Roosevelt’s New Deal, but I remembered the “Harlem Uproar House,” paradoxically located seventy-five blocks south in midtown, as a place with serious jazz connections.

Late in 1937, Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, a man with large dreams, rehearsed and led a mixed jazz band — Caucasian and African-American players, which he modestly called the DISCIPLES OF SWING.  I don’t  have my copy of REALLY THE BLUES nearby, but I recall the band had Frank Newton, Sidney deParis, Zutty Singleton, Gene Sedric, George Lugg, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Elmer James, and perhaps Happy Caldwell in its ranks.  But the world — even the sophisticated Broadway audience — was unwilling to countenance black and white playing together, and swastikas painted on the club ended the engagement in a week.  (It’s painful to recall, but New York was full of such sentiment: the potato farms on Long Island made room for meetings of the German-American Bund, and “America First” was part of the current dialogue.)

I wanted to offer JAZZ LIVES readers their own “nude deal,” and some online research was enlightening.  When you went to the Harlem Uproar House, there was a minimum charge of $1.00 after 10:00 PM; the drink menu started at fifty cents and went up to ten dollars for a quart of champagne.  A shrimp cocktail was fifty cents; broiled Maine lobster $1.50.

This wooden postcard obviously dates from the same time as the matchbook:

I found two other images at the blog of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History (101 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta GA 30303-2503,
404.730.4001.  Archives Division – ext. 200.  http://www.afpls.org/aarl)

http://aarlarchives.blogspot.com/2010/10/treasures-from-vertical-files-harlem.html

I note that the blue image suggests that the club offers A NEW DEAL IN NIGHT LIFE, a more well-behaved advertisement suggesting that you and your girl could go there and swing out — especially if she is so beautifully dressed.  Did NEW DEAL replace NUDE DEAL, or the reverse?  My fashion-conscious readers can tell me the name of her outfit; the dance historians among my readers can no doubt identify the swing dance they are doing.

Aside from imagining how Mezz’s band sounded and wishing for a menu with 1937 prices, this is where my research came to an end.  More information, anyone?  and if anyone has any airchecks of the Disciples of Swing, those wouldn’t do us any harm, would they?  Although I have dark imaginings that Mezz took most of the solo space or at least he played along with the other improvisers, as was his habit.  Oh well.  Anyone who even envisioned a band with Frank Newton and Zutty Singleton in it can be forgiven a great deal.

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4 responses to “THE HARLEM UPROAR HOUSE, 1937-8

  1. This is so interesting,,,,Another history lesson from my nephew. Sometimes I feel so old, but I am happy to report that some of this is before my time! Looking forward to my next lesson, AI..Thank you for the post.

  2. Sebastopol– that close? The menu was fun, i remember a song or a bit in anold TV show (age gets confusing) where the couple compared prices for dates — what $5.00 would buy fir an evening out- I think the skit was about 1960 and it was hilarious then, imagine what it would be now… Thanks for sharing this treasure.. it gave me a fun breather from all the S-H prep work I’m buried under.

  3. P>S> it looks like she could be wearing those sexy pajamas that were all the rage–my mother had some that were Japanese silk and gorgeous.

  4. I recently saw a great live performance at this unique – “in the neighborhood” Jazz venue called Manna House in East Harlem New York (www.mannahousejazz.org) it’s an intimate space where a lot of great Jazz artists play, such as Carlton Holmes and Andrei Carriere. It’s great to know jazz is still alive and well in Harlem.

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