Billie Holiday was born there. John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie called it home during their lifetimes. In addition to being the “cradle of liberty” and the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Philadelphia’s contribution to America’s cultural and artistic landscape runs nearly as deep, especially when it comes to jazz.
Philadelphia’s jazz scene developed in the early 20th century, with two clubs, the Standard Theatre and the Dunbar Theatre, hosting most major acts travelling along the Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York corridor. Later, clubs opened along Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia and the Clef Club, the Showboat, and Pep’s called South Philly home. From those early beginnings Philadelphia’s association with jazz grew steadily, mirroring the meteoric rise of the art form’s popularity, on through the peak years of the 40s, 50, and 60s. In addition to the giants of jazz listed above an amazing list of jazz greats established themselves there, or called the city home (not in any special order):
Ethel Waters, Stan Getz, Clifford Brown, Philly Joe Jones, Reggie Workman, Red Rodney (with the great Frank Young on drums), Jimmy Smith, Hank Mobley, Wilbur Ware, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Odean Pope, Kenny Barron, Henry Grimes, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Fortune, Archie Shepp, Rashied Ali, Sun Ra, Stanley Clarke, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Christian McBride… Just to name a few.
Photo: Hank Mobley. Photograph by Ted Williams, circa 1956