Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 61 - The Blue Monday Parties
The Blue Monday Parties at the Rose Room nightclub of the old Majestic Hotel at East 55th and Central were probably the most memorable jam sessions in Cleveland jazz history.
The Majestic, Cleveland's African-American hotel during the long period when Negroes were not permitted to stay at the major downtown hotels, played host to a constant stream of black entertainers and sports figures. It was almost automatic that the Majestic would present jazz entertainment. As early as 1931, the hotel had a jazz nightclub called the Furnace Room. Later, the name was changed to the Heat Wave. By the 1950s, the Majestic's nightclub had become the Rose Room. Pianist Duke Jenkins and his group played at the Rose Room from 1952 to 1957.
"I had the house band there," said Jenkins, "and gosh, all the big names that came through there in that time - Erroll Garner, Arthur Prysock, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson!"
Jenkins and his group played for dancing and listening six days a week at the Rose Room and attracted large crowds almost every night. But, what most people remember were the jam sessions that were held early Monday mornings. "Every Monday morning from five a.m. until ten o'clock, we had a 'Blue Monday' party," said Jenkins. "You couldn't get near the place. People lined up to get in. You couldn't even get a seat because we had all the celebrities, who were working in different clubs, would come in and perform. It was a show you couldn't pay to see really. All kinds of entertainers -- girl singers, dancers, male singers, quartets, you name them, like the Ink Spots, those kind of people."
Jenkins and his band played Sunday nights and then went up in the hotel to sleep for a couple of hours before getting up to play the early morning jam sessions.
A singer who took part in the Blue Monday Party early morning jam sessions at the Rose Room in the early 1950s was a then-unknown vocalist from Cincinnati, Nancy Wilson. Jenkins said, "People went crazy because she was so good."
Later, after she had become nationally famous, Jenkins and his group were playing one night in Columbus. He recalled he was doing one of her songs and had his eyes closed. As he was singing, he heard a voice say, "Would you mind if I sang the second chorus?" When he opened his eyes, Jenkins discovered Nancy Wilson standing in front of him. Of course, she sang the second chorus.
The Blue Monday Parties at the Rose Room were only one part of the week-long entertainment at the Majestic Hotel. Jenkins said, "On Tuesday, they had Cha Cha Night and on Thursday, Mambo Night." He said the place was crowded all the time. But, the big attraction for jazz fans were the Blue Monday parties that drew some of the biggest names in jazz, early Monday mornings, jamming with Duke Jenkins' group.
While the Majestic was a hotel catering to African-Americans in the black section of Cleveland, the audiences at the Rose Room were both black and white. In fact, Jenkins said most of the local judges came to the Rose Room with their wives.
A member of Jenkins' group at the time was bassist Junior Raglin who had played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1941 until 1945 and recorded a classic "Jack the Bear" with Ellington. According to Jenkins, "Raglin and Ellington didn't get along too well. He quit the band and I hired him to play with me." One day when Ellington was in Cleveland and staying at the Majestic, he called Jenkins and invited him to lunch. "He wanted to talk about Junior," said Jenkins. "He wanted to find out how he was doing. He told me, 'You've done more with Junior than anything I could do.'"
The Majestic Hotel was torn down years ago. Today, the Goodwill Industries building stands on the site where many of the giants of jazz would come early Monday mornings to sit in and jam with Duke Jenkins and his group.
"It was quite a place!," said Jenkins. "We don't have any places like that any more. Every time we drive down there, we look at the corner and think about the Majestic and the Rose Room."
Copyright 2001 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).