JAZZ DANCE HALLS
KNOWN FOR ITS MUSIC, JAZZ IS THE SOUND AND SOUL OF THE CITY
The American musical art form jazz emerged in New Orleans around the advent of the 20th century. Jazz blends elements from varied traditions, including African and African American, religious, brass band, and blues styles. The improvisational music that results has a syncopated rhythm, and originally both the performers and audiences are African American.
New Orleans' Storyville, a notorious Red Light district, was home to the brothels and bars that provided the only venues for jazz, since African American performers were banned from performing at white clubs. In 1917, the U.S. Navy, fearing dissipation and violence among sailors, shut down Storyville, scattering jazz musicians, who would later join riverboat bands or move to cities such as Memphis, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, where local styles evolve.
Pythian Temple Roof Garden
FERN DANCE HALL # 2
Two popular dance halls were next to each other on Iberville Street, between Rampart and Burgundy. They were both on the ground floor. One was called the LaVida, the other the Fern. Musicians called the Fern the Budweiser-due to the sign that hung from the front of the building. The LaVida had a larger gambling room, three tables full, where stakes started at 50 cents and moved upwards. The Fern usually had the bigger crowd, perhaps due to the fact that the Fern was on the corner with the refreshment stand and the cigar stand in the front portion of the establishment with the lunch counter inside the vestibule of the hall. Each had gambling and many other similarities. The refreshment stand was the gathering place where the 'hostesses' and the men came between dances.
Originally, The Pup Café, was ‘the’ spot of the town where visiting vaudeville actors gathered to talk shop, to drink and to listen to jazz. The club lasted until prohibition. It became a taxi dance hall around 1920. It was then called Fern Café #2.
FRANCS AMIS DANCE HALL
1820 N ROBERTSON
Francs Amis Hall was a social dance hall, primarily for wealthy and light-complexioned Creoles of color where many great jazz bands played. Guitarist Johnny St. Cyr called it “a place of dignity” for downtown Creole society. It usually featured dance bands such as the John Robichaux Orchestra, the Superior Orchestra, and the Olympia Orchestra, but “hotter” uptown bands that included Pops Foster and Lee Collins reportedly played here as well. The club was popular with musicians, who earned $2.00 per engagement and ate and drank for free, according to Ricard Alexis, who played with Henry “Kid” Rena. “Wooden” Joe Nicholas, Hypolite Charles, and singer Lizzie Miles also performed here.
La Société des Francs Amis (roughly, The Society of True Friends) bought this lot in 1861, and built the hall later in the 1800s (the gothic arched windows were probably early 20th century additions). Famed civil rights activist Homer Plessy, whose 1892 challenge to segregation laws in New Orleans resulted in the Supreme Court’s infamous “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v Ferguson, was an officer of the society. Today, the building is still standing and the Genesis Missionary Baptist Church worships in the building, which it has owned since 1963.
Manuel Perez Jazz Band at Pythian
PYTHIAN TEMPLE ROOF GARDEN
234 LOYOLA AVENUE
The Pythian Temple building at Gravier and Loyola (formerly Saratoga) streets was erected in 1909, and was soundly celebrated throughout the United States in the African American press as a true monument to the literal heights of the “Negro race.” The Pythian Temple was an exciting symbol of the power of the black race in the face of growing hostilities in the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow era. The Pythian Temple building was an institution that supported African American entertainment, arts, social activities, education, business, and activism.
It was seminal in the development of Jazz, and was likely the first place that 12-year old Louis Armstrong ever performed publicly. “The Tramps” rechristened themselves as the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club after seeing a vaudeville performance at the Pythian Theater called “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me,” about the Zulu Tribe.
Part of the multi-story complex was run by the Knights of Pythia. The clients of the Pythian Temple was black affluent, representing a cross-section of New Orleans black middle and upper classes. By the mid-1920s, jazz bands were in demand at the Pythian Temple and debutante balls in the mansions of the Garden District. Jazz musicians who had been earning $1.50 a night working in dance halls and saloons in the District ten years earlier were now making $25 for a night’s work at these upscale locations. Growing social acceptance allowed jazz musicians to transcend associations with crime and poverty, which had sometimes haunted music in its earliest days.
FUNKY BUTT HALL
LIBERTY & FRANKLIN
The Union Sons Hall, also known as Kenna’s Hall and Funky Butt Hall, was one of the most popular places for dancing in Black Storyville. This “back o’ town” area was a red-light district with music clubs and houses of prostitution patronized by people who were excluded from the vice district designated for whites called Storyville. The name “Funky Butt,” also the title of a song by early jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, referred to the foul-smelling, “funky” air at dance halls like this. Bolden earned a reputation by playing in his bluesy, improvisational style late into the night, quitting in time for the building to be used as a church on Sundays.
In his autobiography, Louis Armstrong recalled:
“On Liberty, Perdido, Franklin, and Poydras there were honky-tonks at every corner and in each one of them musical instruments of all kinds were played. At the corner of the street where I lived was the famous Funky Butt Hall, where I first heard Buddy Bolden play.”
In the mid-1950s, the city tore down the original structures on this block to make way for the current City Hall.
Funky Butt Hall at 1319 Perdido, is site the location of the Louisiana State Office Building, ironically the building that holds Buddy Bolden's death certificate. Armstrong remembered Funky Butt Hall and wrote: "We kids were not allowed to go into the Funky Butt, but we could hear the orchestra from the sidewalk. In those days it was the routine when there was a ball for the band to play for at least a half hour in the front of the honky-tonk before going back into the hall to play for the dancers. This was done in all parts of the city to draw people into the hall, and it usually worked." The history of this hall is similar to that of many of the city's halls. In 1866 it was called Union Sons Hall. . . After Bolden began playing there and became its most famous occupant, it was popularly known as Funky Butt Hall.
Buddy Bolden's band
1200 FRANKLIN AVENUE
During its existence it was a hallowed jazz location. Luthjens was located at 1200 Franklin Avenue in New Orleans. The establishment was owned by Mrs. Clementine Luthjens and her son Jules. During its tenure the place was steadfast in employing the most authentic early jazzmen available. There was music usually three nights a week. It was known as a ‘family’ place, a place to bring the family and listen and dance to authentic old New Orleans jazz. Mrs. Luthjens was a semi-invalid spending much time in a wheelchair, occasionally using crutches while she was around the club. Jules was the bartender. On Jan. 30th, 1960 it was gutted by fire with the tragedy that both Mrs. Luthjen and Jules had their lives taken by the fire. The two occupied the back apartment that was connected with the main club which was an old tar paper covered building that was seen as a fire hazard to many. At one end of the club there was a small bandstand that was elevated about 2 feet off the floor. A list of early jazz bands that worked at Luthjens is impossible to enumerate and this list would be interminable, but the most everlasting musicians were Deedee and Billie Pierce. George Lewis played a long stint at the club with various sidemen and if George was playing you could be sure that “Slow Drag” Pavageau, Lawrence Marrero, Alton Purnell and Joe Watkins probably were there with him. Other jazzmen frequently performing were “Big Eye” Louis Nelson, Peter Becage and Louis Warnecke. Also playing there frequently were: Albert Glenny, Charlie Love, Ernest Rogers, Benny turner and Al “Big” Landry.
A dance hall where trombonist Kid Ory’s Creole band cultivated jazz improvisation as far back as 1910. Economy Hall was not only a legendary laboratory for jazz improvisation, as was typical of the many social aid and pleasure clubs at that time. This was the mecca for jazz in the early 1900s. Economy Hall is described as the original incubator for black jazz musicians. Economy dance hall was where jazz icon Joe Oliver and his young protegé Louis Armstrong once cut their chops.
Economy Hall — a dance hall in the Treme section, bordering on Storyville and the French Quarter. As the headquarters of the "Economy and Mutual Aid Association," the Economy was typical of numerous social aid and pleasure clubs and benevolent associations. These organizations provided a variety of social services, including brass band funerals and dances, to the New Orleans black community. Outside entrepreneurs like Ory, who maximized attendance at his dances, could also rent the Economy by renting nearby Hope’s Hall and keeping it closed. Ory’s career as a bandleader in the Crescent City (1908-1919) coincided with the years in which the "collective improvisation" approach of New Orleans musicians reached maturity. His band became an incubator for the development of black jazz talent, much as Jack Laine’s bands did for young white musicians.
BULLS CLUB UPTOWN
1913 EIGHTH ST.
There were in New Orleans many local benevolent societies and fraternal clubs; every neighborhood had them. One of the most active, and one that sponsored a brass band and gave dances in its club hall was the Bulls Club, at 1913 Eighth St. Near this club lived the popular trumpet player Lee Collins at 1816 Eighth St., and the drummer Zutty singleton, Louis Armstrong's boyhood friend and drummer, at 1716 Harmony.
THE HALFWAY HOUSE
This historic structure was named ‘Halfway House’ as it was halfway between the city of New Orleans and the southern shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The present day Causeway Highway when driving from the Super Dome to the southern lakefront passes the structure on the right halfway to the lake. The junction is now the corner of Pontchartrain Boulevard and City Park Avenue. The present I-10 was formally the Basin Street Canal and was filled in to become the I-10. The popular club opened its doors in 1915 and remained popular until about 1930. During this period it was the ‘tradition’ when going to the lake front to get away from the heat in New Orleans you would stop on the trip halfway at the club and either pick up a cold drink or different other types of beverage to make your trip more pleasant. After a time, at one of the lake camps, you might arrange time at the club to listen and dance to the great jazz music that was played there in the evening hours and enjoy a seafood dinner. You would be entertained by one of the top jazz bands of the era. Sunday evening was usually the busiest time at the Halfway House with the young people, after a day at the lake front, would come to the club and dance to the great jazz bands.
The Halfway House Orchestra:
Charlie Cordilla-Sax, Milton “Micky” Marcour-piano, Leon Roppolo-sax, Abbie Brunies-cornet, Bill Eastwood-banjo, Joe Loyacano-trombone, Leo Adde-drums. Roppolo’s last gig was at the Halfway House and ironically is buried across the street in the Archdoicesan Cemetery.
Dancers at the Dew Drop
Dew Drop Today
THE DEW DROP JAZZ & SOCIAL HALL
430 LAMARQUE ST, MANDEVILLE, LA
The Dew Drop Social Club was formed on May 5th, 1885 and may be the oldest and last existing structure of its kind. It is a prime example of a late 19th Century country dance hall – the kind of hall that nurtured early jazz. Inside there is a foot and a half high band stand fronted by a wooden banister about one and a half feet high, opened in places to admit two pairs of steps that lead up to the bandstand. The windows are large openings, each side of the hall containing four such windows 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, big enough when open to permit the breeze from the lake to cool the participants in the hall on a humid, summery night, and all the music being played to float throughout the neighborhood so that there would be no doubt that there was indeed a dance going on at the Dew Drop Dance Hall.
Built on Lamarque Street in Mandeville, LA, Dew Drop is three and a half blocks from Lake Pontchartrain. The Dew drop and later the Sons and Daughters Hall were the two social centers of colored Mandeville. Artists like Buddy Petit, Papa Celestin, Louis Armstrong, Sam Morgan, the Fritz Brothers, and many more played at the Hall on the North side of the lake.
The Dew Drop was donated to the City of Mandeville in early 2000. The City purchased the land it sits on, and is committed to leaving it in the old neighborhood and retaining its original character. Jazz was played at the Dew Drop for the first time in probably over 50 years when in April 2000 a four-hour recording session was held there under the sponsorship of the National Park Service, the New Orleans Jazz Commission, and the George Buck Foundation. As Richard Boyd wrote in The Times Picayune, “the spirits of former jazz greats who played the Dew Drop were probably in abundance as the all-star band opened with “Walking Through the Streets of the City.” In attendance were about 100 European jazz musicians and enthusiasts, who danced and second-lined. The Dew Drop was once again rocking.”