The Fillmore mess around - Page 2

Players recall the once sizzling, oft-forgotten Western Addition jazz era

There was always somebody that could take your place."

Bop City was owned by promoter Charles Sullivan, who in the 1950s and early '60s was presenting such attractions as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, and Ike and Tina Turner at the Fillmore Auditorium before Bill Graham ever set eyes on the building. The after-hours club opened in 1949 and was originally called Vout City, with Slim Gaillard as host and attraction.

Famous for such songs as "Flat Foot Floogie," "Vout Oreenee," and "Popity Pop," Gaillard was a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and purveyor of jive talk. "He spoke several different languages and invented some of his own," says Jackson, who was a member of Gaillard's band at Vout City. The eccentric Gaillard was as likely to bake a cake in the club's kitchen and serve it to customers as he was to perform. After several months Sullivan let Gaillard go and hired Jimbo Edwards to run the room.

"Jimbo was a used-car salesman downtown or somewhere," Jackson says. "He knew absolutely nothing about jazz, but he got his jazz lessons right there with Bop City as his workshop. He got to know exactly what was going on and who was doing what and whether they were good at it."

Besides such then–resident musicians as Handy, Pony Poindexter, Dexter Gordon, and Teddy Edwards, Jackson remembers playing during his seven years at Bop City with many out-of-town talents, including Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Frank Foster, Stuff Smith, Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, and Philly Joe Jones. And he especially remembers the night his idol, pianist extraordinaire Art Tatum, came in to listen but not to play. "They gave him a seat right by the piano," Jackson says. "I did not wanna play. The place was packed. There were seven or eight piano players in the house, but nobody wanted to come up and play."

Edwards relocated the club to Fillmore Street in the mid-'60s, but it closed shortly thereafter. The action had shifted to Soulville at McAllister and Webster streets, where younger players like Dewey Redman and Pharoah Sanders jammed, and to the Half Note on Haight Street, where George Duke led a trio with vocalist Al Jarreau. And just down the street Handy's explosive quintet with violinist Michael White appeared regularly at the Both/And, which also presented such touring artists as Betty Carter, Milt Jackson, Roland Kirk, and Archie Shepp.


By the end of the '60s, however, jazz was all but dead in the Western Addition. Only Jack's, which had moved from Sutter Street to the corner of Fillmore and Geary in the building that is now the Boom Boom Room, survived into the '70s. Some, like Handy, blame the decline of jazz on the popularity of rock, others on rising crime and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

"To me, they just destroyed the area," Jackson says of the city agency. "They took away the music. They took away homes from people. They were in a hurry to get people out of their homes."

Allen Smith's son Peter Fitzsimmons has long been active in efforts to bring jazz back to the Fillmore and currently runs the Jazz Heritage Center, which includes an art gallery, a screening room, and a gift shop. "There were a lot of variables in place that kinda brought down the jazz scene," he says. "The music trends went away from jazz into the big stadium-rock concerts. There were some black families moving out of the Fillmore, so there wasn't as much nightlife. And it got a little more dangerous. Like in major cities everywhere else, destitute people, drugs, and other things came into the sociological picture.

"In the '50s and early '60s, Jimbo was there," Fitzsimmons adds. "He marshaled his club. It wasn't a dangerous place.

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