Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s

By Ira Gitler | Go to book overview
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4
Fifty-Second Street

In September 1943 Dizzy Gillespie left Earl Hines. Oscar Pettiford, who had been with Charlie Barnet from January, left that band in May. Gillespie played with Coleman Hawkins; and, for three weeks in October, with Duke Ellington at the Capitol theatre on Broadway. Pettiford worked with Thelonious Monk at Minton's for four months before moving down to 52nd Street's Onyx Club with Roy Eldridge. Then Gillespie and Pettiford got together as coleaders of what is generally acknowledged to be the first group to formally present bebop to the general public.

AL COHN I didn't get on the scene till I was really aware of what was happening outside of what you heard on records and stage shows. I didn't hit it until about '44 when I met hipper musicians and started listening. I had heard Lester Young and Roy Eldridge and all the guys who were popular, but I didn't get to really see the scene till about '44. To hear the guys on the Street was another thing, and when I finally arrived on the Street, I guess it was the last few years. It was the few years before that that I didn't know too much about. When I got there, that's when Dizzy had the band with Oscar Pettiford, Don Byas. And then Budd Johnson was on there for a while. Then there was a band with Don and Coleman Hawkins, Benny Harris and Monk. As a matter of fact I played in the only square club on the Street for a while which was called the 51 Club. It was opposite from the Three Deuces-- the same side of the street as the Onyx Club. And they just had a little trio. Bob Baron was the leader, and piano players, there was revolving piano players in and out, and tenor. We played for a couple of singers. I don't know what that club was doing there. But it was straight . . . just a corny club. I played there a few months. And one of the piano players was Al Haig. Before he got to play with Dizzy and Bird. He was still in the Coast Guard, I believe. Apple cheeks. Clean-cut young fellow. I guess he sounded like Teddy Wilson. I don't remember too well. We didn't get a chance to play a lot down there. We just played the shows, 'cause they had dancing. But it was great 'cause I was right on the scene there, and between sets I could go to hear all

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