Tag Archives: Sunset Cafe

MASTERS OF SOUND, 1943

On the surface, the two performances that follow are very simple, possibly hackneyed: a fast blues with a boogie-woogie underpinning and some Basie riffs at the end, followed by a slow blues.

But for those willing to listen deeply, these two familiar recordings are astonishing evidence of the vocalized sounds the great instrumental masters obtained through wood, metal, animal skins and taut strings.  The players worked for Barney Josephson at his Cafe Society Downtown and Uptown in 1943, and recorded these 12″78 sides for Milt Gabler of Commodore Records.  The label credits the Edmond Hall Sextet: Edmond Hall (clarinet), Emmett Berry (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Eddie Heywood (piano), Billy Taylor (double bass) and Big Sid Catlett (drums)

DOWNTOWN CAFE BOOGIE and UPTOWN CAFE BLUES are marvelous syntheses of the music of this century — and they seem vivid in ours as well.  In these performances, I hear country blues figures older than records, and Bessie Smith and the singers of the Twenties.  I hear Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page, the Sunset Cafe and the Reno Club, the piano figures of Cow Cow Davenport and sleek intensity of Charlie Christian.  And more.  Marvel!

May your happiness increase.

“GOD IS LAUGHING”: CHICAGO JAZZ HISTORY

sunset-cafe-1About two blocks west of the Supreme Life building is a site that once housed a legendary nightclub, the Sunset Cafe at 315 E. 35th St.

Louis Armstrong, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Benny Goodman all played the Sunset, which was transformed from a garage in 1921 to one of the city’s hottest jazz venues. Armstrong wrote a song and named it “Sunset Cafe Stomp.” In 1937 the nightclub was remodeled again and was renamed the Grand Terrace Cafe. It continued to be a nightclub until 1950.

In the 1960s, the building was transformed into a hardware store. David Meyers, who owns the store with his brother, Daniel, often takes tourists up a short flight of stairs in the back to his office, which used to be the Sunset’s stage. “You’re standing on holy, sacred ground; that’s what a jazz musician told me when he came to see the place,” Meyers says. “I autograph plungers for people all the time.”

In 2005 eight German jazz musicians asked Meyers for more than a souvenir. They wanted to hold a jam session on the old stage. Meyers said yes.

“Imagine,” Meyers says. “Eight German musicians come to play in a black neighborhood in a hardware store owned by a Jew. God is laughing.”

(This is an excerpt from the long story by Don Terry published in the Chicago Tribune on February 1, 2009.)