Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index

Part 138 - Lindsay’s Sky Bar

Story filed March 12, 2012

Continuing our ongoing series of detailed looks at some of Cleveland’s legendary jazz nightclubs of the past, we remember the University Circle area’s longest-running club and one of the first in Cleveland to present nationally famous jazz artists.

Sky Bar

Lindsay’s Sky Bar opened as a neighborhood tavern in December of 1936 at 10551 Euclid Avenue, behind the Fenway Hall hotel. By 1937, it was offering live entertainment with a jazz band. A struggling young singer who was living and working in Cleveland at the time, Frankie Laine, sang at the Sky Bar where he said pianist Art Cutlip taught him the song "Shine" which later became Laine’s first big national hit record.

During most of 1939, boogie woogie pianist Poison Gardner was the regular entertainer. The bar became so popular that at the end of 1939 owners Phil Bash and Earon Rein moved to larger quarters five doors east at 10625 Euclid and decorated the room in red and blue with twinkling stars in the ceiling.

Sky Bar

Fats Waller protege Una Mae Carlisle was the featured pianist during much of 1940. In early 1941, she was joined by another native of Xenia, Ohio, Rose Murphy, a pianist and singer best remembered as "The Chee-chee Girl." The Plain Dealer called them "a sparkling musical team right out of Harlem’s top shelf, giving fresh theatrical glamour to Doan’s Corners."

In October of 1941, the Sky Bar booked its first major national name, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, who had won great popularity with his recording of "Body and Soul," and was paid just $300 for a full week at the Cleveland club. In February of 1942, Glenn Pullen of The Plain Dealer wrote, "Lindsay;s Sky Bar continues to fly high as the town’s most profitable temple of feverish jive music." A month later, beginning March 27, Bash booked the very popular Nat "King" Cole Trio, which the newspaper said attracted "the cognoscenti of jive to Lindsay’s."

Cole Trio

There was a wide variety of mostly forgettable entertainers in 1942 and ‘43, including pianist and singer Nan Blakestone, who was billed as "naughty and risqué," tenor Arthur Lee Simkins, and violinist Leon Abbey. Beginning in 1944, the Sky Bar began booking boogie woogie piano players, including the team of Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons (who opened April 4). The pianists continued through 1945, ‘46, and ‘47 and included Meade Lux Lewis in November and December of ‘46.

The owners built a big new sign out front at the end of 1946. The Plain Dealer called it "a flossy new sign that tries to outshine everything else on Doan’s Corners."

Local standouts provided the music from 1947 to 1951. They included pianist and singer Rose Murphy, Gay Crosse and his Good Humor Six (a later member was John Coltrane), guitarist Tiny Grimes, and saxophonist Benny Miller.

Then, beginning in April of 1951, and continuing for a year, Bash and Earon presented most of the top names in jazz, usually for a week at a time. It was an amazing parade of jazz musicians:

  • April 1951 – Stan Getz, Flip Phillips and Bill Harris, Roy Eldridge
  • May 1951 – Charlie Parker with strings, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Herbie Fields

Jazz Temple

  • June 1951 – Georgie Auld, Johnny Hodges, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Buddy Rich
  • July 1951 – Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips and Bill Harris, Pee Wee Hunt, Art Tatum with Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner

Garner at Sky Bar

  • August 1951 – Johnny Hodges and Sonny Greer, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz
  • September 1951 – Eddie Heywood, Meade Lux Lewis, Muggsy Spanier, Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

  • October 1951 – Al Hibbler, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland
  • November 1951 – Nellie Lutcher, Charlie Barnet Sextet, Charlie Parker
  • December 1951 – Dizzy Gillespie

Diz Gillespie

  • January 1952 – George Shearing (capacity crowds)
  • February 1952 – Red Norvo
  • March 1952 – Muggsy Spanier, Tiny Grimes
It was only one year, but it was spectacular, with the biggest names in jazz performing almost every night at the University Circle Club.

But the pay scale for the musicians was climbing rapidly. George Shearing reportedly was paid $3,500 for one week in January of 1952. It was an all-time record for the Sky Bar. By April of 1952, Lindsay’s closed. Owners Bash and Rein made a short-lived and unsuccessful attempt to book what they called "black and tan reviews," but, never again did the major jazz artists play at Lindsay’s. The Plain Dealer called the closing of the club "One of the biggest flops of 1952" and blamed "too many changes of policy."

Phil Bash died in 1955 at the age of 49. Rein later ran the Virginian Restaurant in Shaker Heights.

Copyright 2012 Joe Mosbrook

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