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52nd Street NYC Jazz Clubs

West 52nd Street in Manhattan was, during the 1930's, simply known as "The Street", and hosted a large number of the prime jazz clubs of New York.

It was close enough to Broadway and high-life nightclubs that musicians found it easy to walk a few blocks to jam the rest of the night away.

During the height of its popularity, "The Street" hosted such jazz greats as Dizzy, Bird, Monk, Lady Day, Art Tatum, Artie Shaw, Coleman Hawkins, Billy Eckstine, and, of course, Miles; it was arguably the strongest source of bop, bebop and rebop.

By 1960, most of the clubs were gone, due to a powerful political campaign of "urban renewal" projects.

My experience on 52nd Street was one of absolute awe; I was just starting out on bass and had not yet met Ray Brown or Milt Hinton.

When I first hit "The Street", gas was rationed and you took subway or bus or walked to get there. We lived on 49th Street, so it was an easy three blocks uptown and a few blocks crosstown for me. By the time I was into playing music, it was the 1950's and the habit of spending time on "The Street" was well-implanted.

All the greats were there, and it was no sweat to sit in at some of the clubs. I soon found that cabs would not pick up a bass player hauling a big double bass, so I switched to sax and flute, which I'm still on today. The gig bags are a whole lot easier to hide -- cabbies don't generally want to pick up musicians.

I met many great jazz and R&B artists from New Orleans, such as Mack Rebbenack, who introduced me to Fess (Professor Longhair) and Alan Toussaint and to Preservation Hall when I got down there, and Chicago horn player Bob Canatsey helped me get gigs when he rolled into town.

52nd Street was a rolling, rollicking, wild place -- much more disciplined, I would say, than the bohemian, casual atmosphere downtown in Greenwich Village and far more so than the experimental space I found myself in uptown in Harlem. I miss that crazy street, now crammed with banks, boutiques and department stores.