San Francisco’s largest jazz club
For 14 dark and glorious years, one of America’s greatest jazz clubs stood in San Francisco, on the northeast corner of Turk and Hyde. Back then, this Tenderloin intersection wasn’t as downtrodden as it is today, but the club was, not to stress too much, a dumping ground. It was slippery, unheated, dimly lit, poorly furnished, and reeked of the petrified smoke of a million cigarettes. When singer and pianist Martha Davis showed up for rehearsal one afternoon, one of the pigeons roosting in a hole in the wall flew straight at the piano. “In broad daylight,” wrote Chronicle music critic Ralph J. Gleason, “it’s absolutely disgusting.” As owner Guido Caccentii said, “I worked and worked for years to keep this place a sewer.”
Yet between 1949 and 1963, when the seedy club closed, some of the most extraordinary jazz ever created was played within its decrepit walls. Most of the great jazz musicians of that era, the golden age of modern jazz, appeared there: Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Charles Mingus, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, André Previn, George Shearing, etc. The careers of notable players such as Gerry Mulligan and Cal Tjader were launched there. Even the legendary Art Tatum played there. It’s no coincidence that club life coincided with the “Baghdad-by-the-Bay” years celebrated by columnist Herb Caen, when San Francisco nightlife was at its most sophisticated and glamorous.