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

Part 6 - First Live Entertainment in the Flats
Story filed June 24, 1996

The Cleveland Flats, an almost endless string of nightclubs on both sides of the Cuyahoga River, has become one of the leading entertainment areas of the Midwest. This part of the Flats made the transition from industry to entertainment party because of jazz -- dixieland jazz.

It was 1962. Trombonist Ralph Grugel, a huge man with a huge sense of humor and love for what he calls "authenic early American music," had a traditional jazz band at the lone nightclub in the Flats with live entertainment.

Grugel says, "We were at Faganís for nine years. I left the band and they stayed another two years after that. It was the only place that was open down there. Harry Fagan, the owner, named us `The Bourbon Street Bumsí and advertised `The Bums of Faganís,í and `Find us and have fun at Faganís.í Another ad said, `New Yearís Eve every Saturday night.í Then, went started playing Friday nights and Thursday nights and, boy, the crowds really picked up!"

Cleveland clarinetist Ted Witt remembers Grugelís band in the early 1960s. "That was the band," says Witt. "They started everything down in the Flats."

In the wake of Grugelís success along the river, other nightclubs opened and began attracting good crowds for traditional jazz -- at least for a while.

Grugel remembers, "Diamond Jimís had a band. There was a band across the street at the Warehouse. Pickle Billís had Sam Finger and his band. There were a couple of others. There were maybe five or six joints that had just dixieland. Then, a little bit by a little, rock came into it."

But Grugel continued playing dixieland jazz through the Ď60s, Ď70s, Ď80s and Ď90s. Almost singlehandedly, he carried the banner of traditional jazz music in Cleveland with his Eagle Jazz Band. Many of the musicians in his band have been playing with him since those days at Faganís.

In the 1970s, Grugelís band played at the Market Street Exchange on the near West Side. In the Ď80s, he played at Sea World and returned to the Flats, playing at a club called The Cleaveland (spelled with an "a") Crate and Trucking Company, at the site of the new RTA rapid station.

Looking back, Grugel can rightfully claim much of the credit for the creation of one of the most popular entertainment areas in the Midwest.

Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook


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