Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index
Part 136 - The Loop Lounge
Story filed November 3, 2011
For four years in the mid-1950s, a downtown nightclub, the Loop Lounge at 614 Prospect Avenue, presented an amazing parade of world famous jazz artists, usually for weeklong engagements.
The club opened in 1948 as "Ted’s Loop Lounge," managed by ubiquitous Cleveland jazz promoter Ted Blackmon. Beginning in April of 1948, Blackmon booked two Cleveland jazz saxophonists, Benny Miller and Harold Arnold and their trios. But, by fall, jazz took a backseat to a new thing called television. Ads in The Plain Dealer promoted "The World Series via television" at Ted’s Loop Lounge. More than 80,000 people attended that year’s Indians-Braves World Series games at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. In December, the nightclub began presenting Cleveland jazz saxophonist Rip Bivins and his Three Naturals.
In March of 1950, the club was sold to brothers Harry and Sam Meldon who changed the name to "The Loop Lounge" and said they wanted to make it "The showcase of the Midwest." The Meldons paid $1,500 a month rent, installed air conditioning, promoted amateur nights, and kept Bivens as the featured entertainer until the spring of 1953.
When Bivens left, the club began scheduling weeklong engagements by a variety of forgettable musicians. But, by the fall of 1953, the Meldons began booking a few fairly well known jazz musicians, including Big Jay McNeely, Bennie Green, Bull Moose Jackson, Bill Doggett, and Wild Bill Davis.
Beginning in 1954, the best and most famous jazz musicians of the era were playing at the Loop almost every week. In March, it was Gene Ammons, who missed one night after he was struck by a car while crossing the street at East 55th and Central, near the Majestic Hotel. The following week (March 22-28), Coleman Hawkins came to the Loop. He played with the house band led by pianist Jimmy Saunders.
In April of 1954, the house was packed for nightly performances by Charlie Parker. Harry Meldon’s son, Jeffrey, later said the club grossed about $10,000 that week. Like Hawkins, Bird performed with the house group, which also included bassist Rodney Richardson, and drummer Fats Heard. Saunders said he was so excited about playing with Parker that "I went down to the Record Rendezvous and spent all day, every day, listening to his records." On the third night, Saunders recalled, "He started playing a ballad and I didn’t recognize it!" Eventually, Richardson told Saunders, "It’s ‘Stella by Starlight’ in F sharp." Saunders didn’t know the song and when Parker finished his solo, he turned to Saunders for a piano solo, but Jimmy could do nothing but sit with his hands folded for 32 bars. "He never said anything to me after about it," said Saunders. Cleveland pianist Bobby Few, who later played for years with Steve Lacy in Europe, was there that night and recalled, "Some problem arose and Jimmy left the bandstand and Charlie just kept playing."
Longtime Cleveland jazz fan Nehemiah "Chief" Story remembered a night when Parker arrived at the Loop an hour and a half late. "Before he got half way through the bar, someone stopped him and started talking. He stood there and talked for another hour and (Harry) Meldon, the boss of the Loop Lounge said, ‘He’ll never play here again!’" He never did. A year and a half later, Parker died at the age of 35.
The week after Parker (April 28 to May 2, 1954), Dizzy Gillespie attracted even bigger crowds, "the biggest ever," said The Plain Dealer. Dizzy was followed by jazz organist Bill Doggett and singer King Pleasure who was very popular at the time with his lyrics to James Moody’s classic "Moody’s Mood For Love" ("There I go, There I go, THERE I go..."). Saunders said King Pleasure wore a robe and sat on a big throne when he sang at the Loop.
Others in 1954 included:
June - Big Jay McNeely, Flip Phillps and Jo Jones, Sonny Stitt.
July - Bull Moose Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Houston, Don Gardner.
August - Candido, "Lockjaw" Davis and J.J. Johnson, Ben Webster, Lester Young.
September - Sonny Stitt, Arnett Cobb, Chet Baker (during the World Series).
October - Rusty Bryant, Joe Loco, Eddie Chamblee, Wardell Gray.
November - Terry Gibbs, Max Roach and Clifford Brown, Lee Konitz, Coleman Hawkins, Joe Curbelo.
December - Dizzy Gillespie (two weeks), Johnny Hodges, Lester Young.
A newspaper ad said Joe Houston could "blow the sax while standing on his head."
In 1955, there was another weekly parade of major jazz artists at the Loop Lounge:
January - Ben Webster with Roy Eldridge and Bill Harris, Chet Baker, Joe Loco, Eddie Heywood.
February - James Moody, Eddie Bonnemere’s mambo band, Bull Moose Jackson.
March - Sonny Stitt, Todd Rhodes, Gene Ammons, Max Roach and Clifford Brown.
April - Buddy DeFranco, Big Jay McNeely, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Candido.
May - Sonny Stitt, Lynn Hope, Stan Getz and Bob Brookmeyer, Buddy Rich, Erroll Garner.
June - Chet Baker, Bill Doggett, the Buddy Rich big band.
July - Johnny Hodges, Illinois Jacquet, Charlie Ventura.
August - Terry Gibbs, Sonny Stitt, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan.
September - Max Roach and Clifford Brown, Don Gardner, Erroll Garner.
October - Joe Loco, Charlie Ventura and Don Elliott, Herbie Fields, Sonny Stitt.
November - Roy Eldridge, Kenny Burrell, Ilinois Jacquet, Vido Musso.
December - Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Ben Webster.
The 1956 line-up was just as impressive:
January - Choker Campbell, Joe Morris, J.J,. Johnson and Kai Winding, Bill Doggett.
February - Max Roach and Clifford Brown, Buck Clayton, Buddy DeFranco, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.
March - Terry Gibbs, Bennie Green, Miles Davis, Lester Young.
April - Billie Holiday, Art Blakey, Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson.
May - Nellie Lutcher, Shelly Manne, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Dinah Washington.
June - Chet Baker, Flip Phillips and Sonny Stitt, J.J, Johnson and Kai Winding.
July - Gene Krupa, Joe Loco, James Moody, Sharkey Bonano, Sonny Til.
August - Dave Brubeck, Illinois Jacquet.
September - Buddy and Ella Johnson, Dinah Washington, Louis Jordan, the Lionel Hampton big band.
October - Big Jay McNeely, Wild Bill Davis, Muggsy Spanier, Milt Buckner.
November - Ivory Joe Hunter, Sonny Stitt, Illinois Jacquet.
December - Roy Eldridge, Bill Doggett, Chet Baker, Gene Krupa, Erskine Hawkins.
When the young and struggling Miles Davis and his Quintet played at the Loop Lounge (March 19-25, 1956), Jeffrey Meldon said the group was paid $600 for the week – less than $20 per man per night. In contrast, Meldon said the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond got the highest fee, $2,500 for the week. When Lionel Hampton brought in his 18-piece orchestra, the club had to remove 15 tables to make room for the full band.
In December of 1956, with artists fees rising quickly, Harry and Sam Meldon sold the Loop Lounge to Harry and Dave Bushman who soon began slowly phasing out the expensive major names.
The 1957 line-up:
January - Ruth Brown, James Moody, Lester Young, Terry Gibbs.
February - Rusty Bryant, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Bull Moose Jackson.
March - Sarah McLawlor, Red Prysock, Pitts Brothers, Bud Powell.
April - Woody Herman’s Third Herd, Calypso Eddie, Milt Buckner, Sonny Stitt.
May - Jutta Hipp, Horace Silver, Illinois Jacquet, Art Blakey.
June - Don Gardner, Max Roach, Louis Jordon, Sarah McLawlor.
July - Muggsy Spanier, Milt Buckner, Al Hibbler, Sil Austin, Della Reese.
August - Red Prysock, Charlie Ventura, Illinois Jacquet.
September - Candido and Roland Kirk, Hank Marr, Chink McKinney, Johnny Smith.
Organist Johnny Smith (not to be confused with Jimmy Smith) continued as the Loop Lounge’s only entertainer from September of 1957 until January of 1958, when the once flourishing jazz club was obviously on its last legs. In early 1958, there were a few weekend floor shows with exotic dancers, but the club soon closed. It was sold and became the Domino Lounge.
The Modern Jazz Room, another club about a block away, which also presented many top national names, continued for another year, through 1958, before it also closed. The Plain Dealer reported, "Costly jazz bands and soloists have virtually priced themselves out of the range of moderate-sized nightclubs."
Ten years later, Harry and Sam Meldon had become the biggest real estate developers in Lake County, building more than 1,000 homes in Mentor. But Rip Bivens, who had been a very popular entertainer at the Loop in its early years, was convicted of selling narcotics.
Today at the Prospect Avenue site of the club that presented so many major jazz artists there is a bar called Nick’s Sports Corner.
Copyright 2011 Joe Mosbrook
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