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Music of the Fillmore - Scene

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The club that came to be known as Bop City was at the center of the Fillmore music scene after World War II. While there was a wide variety of clubs that lined the Fillmore, in every interview we conducted for the program, the musicians and former Fillmore residents cite Bop City as the club to see and be seen at, for both players and patrons alike. When people talk about Bop City, their eyes gleam with nostalgia for a lost musical era. They summon up a sense of what it must have been like to walk down those lively, music-filled streets.

The following excerpt is from an article, "Swing the Fillmore", written by The Fillmore's associate producer Elizabeth Pepin. Pepin looks back at the people and clubs who contributed to the rise of San Francisco's bebop era.
Click here for the entire "Swing the Fillmore" article.

 

As World War II ended and the decade changed, so did the music. Bebop, which had been introduced to San Francisco just after the war, was being embraced by the city's musical community like a long-lost child. Jazz clubs began opening up all over, especially in the Tenderloin and in North Beach.

Bop City sign
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Photo Credit: KRON
Bop City sign
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library
The Western Addition music scene was also growing larger. You could hear jazz, blues, and R&B at the dozens of clubs in the neighborhood. Vout City (1690 Post) was a club run by the handsome and colorful musician Slim Gaillard, who had a good ear for music but lousy business sense. The club quickly folded and Gaillard took off for Los Angeles, leaving Charles Sullivan, a prominent African American businessman and entrepreneur who owned the building, to find a new tenant. Sullivan approached Jimbo Edwards, one of San Francisco's first black automobile salesman, to rent the space. Jimbo agreed to open up a cafe, which he called Jimbo's Waffle Shop. However, local musicians had other ideas.
In an interview with Carol Chamberland, Jimbo tells more: "Now I opened up this little cafe thing with Jimbo's Waffle Shop. But there was a big old room in there. So musicians didn't have no place to play their work and whatnot. About eight, ten musicians come and say ÔLet's take this back room and have us a hangout house.' So when I opened it up, I said, yeah, OK. Now when we opened it up, we didn't even have a bandstand... So I built me a bandstand... And so that's how Bop City came. Now it didn't have no name, so we figured since Bop City's closed in New York, we might as well name it Bop City. But the bottom line, it was never Bop City, it was always Jimbo's Waffle Shop."
Inside Bop City
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library
Bop City sign
click for larger image

Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library
Bop City quickly became the place to play. After all the other clubs in the city shut down, everyone would head to 1690 Post for amazing after-hours jam sessions and parties. Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Billy Eckstine, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dinah Washington, and John Coltrane were but a few of the many musicians who graced the club's stage.
Pony Poindexter describes the scene: "One night, or should I say one morning, Art Tatum was honored with a special party at Bop City. There was lots of food... Up on the piano were cases of liquor. After everyone had stuffed himself or herself, we all settled back to look and listen to some real piano playing. Still, several hours went by and no one moved. It was daybreak. No one moved. Finally it came to an end. When I left there, I was spent -- both from playing and listening...The very next weekend we had at Bop City the big three trumpet players of the bop style: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Kenny Dorham. Dexter (Gordon) was also there. The session went on til early noon the next day. Jimbo honored them all with a special dinner. The next week the Woody Herman band came to into town, and there was another party for them. That night we heard Stan Getz and Zoot Sims stretch out."
Johnnie Ingram playing horn
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Photo Credit: Johnnie Ingram

Saxophonist John Handy, who later went on to play with Charles Mingus, began sneaking into Fillmore clubs at the age of 16 in 1949. For Handy, Bop City was like a second home, and musically it was his first home, having been a member of the house band at one time or another. He told me the club was a place where young aspiring musicians could sit mesmerized for hours, watching their heroes play on stage, and maybe even be given a chance to join them on stage.

In bebop, if you couldn't play, the musicians would tell you to get right off the stage, even during your solo," Hester says. "They didn't care. You had to be good, or forget it."

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