Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 68 - Remembering the Euclid Shore Club
From 1955 until 1972, it was one of Cleveland's most popular and most unusual spots for live jazz.
The Euclid Shore Club on Lakeshore Boulevard was run by musician Hank Geer who had spent years on the road playing with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Ray Anthony, Charlie Spivak and Ralph Marterie. Geer's sister, Bertha Basler, recalled her brother was fascinated with music even as a child.
"Henry was born with music." She said, "When he was just little, he used to watch the keys go up and down on the player piano and could play the song. Later, he would sit on the basement steps and put a music stand in front of him and practice every day. He always said, 'If you want to be good at anything, you have to practice.'"
Geer, practiced so well that he not only played with Dorsey and other top big bands, he also performed with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and wrote orchestrations for movies before coming home to Cleveland in 1949 to join his family in the operation of a small motel on Lakeshore Boulevard near Euclid Beach Park.
Hank's sister told me, "My father built the motel for Henry because he didn't want him playing music out where they were selling liquor."
By 1952, they expanded the motel to 36 units and Geer decided to build a home nearby - with a front room big enough for an 18-piece band. "Henry built his house on the property," said Basler, "gathered all his musician friends together and eventually made a whole club out of it, the Euclid Shore Club. They had liquor there and our mother didn't go down to that club for two years because they had liquor."
Bertha handled the office work. She did the bookkeeping and was in charge of the membership of the private club. With food, drink and live jazz, the club quickly became very popular and soon had about 1,500 members. She recalled it didn't take much to join, "Just a recommendation by another member."
The club served lunches and dinners and "Henry could cook if the cook didn't show up. He could do everything."
Hank Geer's sister remembered one particularly hectic night at the Euclid Shore Club: "Henry was playing the organ and the electricity went off. We had to light candles. Then, the cook didn't show up and Hank had to cook in the kitchen. After that, we got a phone call that the motel had been robbed -- all in one night."
But, the main focus at the Euclid Shore Club was the music. Bertha said, "If you were interested in music, Henry was glad to have you around."
We found an old newspaper ad that announced, "Dining and dancing to Hank Geer's Big Band on Friday, dixieland jazz on Wednesday and Saturday, and new sounds on Tuesday and Thursday."
Next to the music, Geer's favorite thing was having fun. His sister recalled, "Someone gave him an umbrella that stuck to the top of his head and when they played 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,' he always put the umbrella on. We just had lots of fun there."
The dixieland jazz was provided by Ralph Grugel and a group that included Ted Witt, Emmett Wylie, Dick Smith and Dick Petcher. Witt recalled he and other engineers from General Electric started playing together for fun. "We began getting together in each other's basements on Friday nights," said Witt, "and the instrumentation that happened to show up was dixieland instrumentation."
Betha Basler remembered, "They came marching in one time. They wished they could play out somewhere, but, they didn't know how to go about it. Somebody told them, 'Go to Hank Geer's. Just go in and tell 'em you want to play.' So Henry was playing the organ and in they marched, playing. Henry just laughed about that and, sure enough, he let them play. And from then on, they played at the club."
Witt said the band played at the Euclid Shore Club for two years and Basler said, "They were just great."
Another frequent performer at Hank Geer's club was saxophonist Tony Lovano who would sometimes bring his teenaged son with him to sit in. Joe Lovano has since been voted the "Jazz Artist of the Year" three times.
From time to time, national names also visited the club. Bertha said, "We had Gene Krupa and Johnny Ray."
The Euclid Creek, next to the club and the motel, flooded three times and Euclid Shore Club members came to help clean up.
Finally, in 1972, when Hank and Bertha's mother became ill, Hank decided to sell the club and the motel. "He thought she should quit and just thought we better just sell the whole thing and be done with it. Someone wanted to buy it and so we sold."
Richard Cerri bought it, changed the name to Cerri's Supper Club. He hired Hank to play there for the next year. But the new supper club didn't last long. Basler said, "He didn't keep it up the way we always did."
Today, next to Euclid Creek on Lakeshore Boulevard there are condominiums on the site. But, Hank Geer's sister - and many others - still have vivid memories of 17 years of jazz and fun at the Euclid Shore Club.
Copyright 2002 Joe Mosbrook
CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"
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).