Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series

Part 89 - The Hot Club of Cleveland
Story filed September 10, 2004

The Northeast Ohio Jazz Society has been the Cleveland area’s volunteer jazz promotion organization since 1978, but the NOJS was not the first jazz support group here. As early as 1940, there was an organization in Cleveland called "The Hot Club of Cleveland." It was formed by a 29-year-old newspaperman named Julian Krawcheck.

In a 1993 interview, Krawcheck told me, "I had come to Cleveland in 1937 to work at the old Cleveland News, and there was a fellow there named Paul Myhre, who was a great friend of some of the musicians in the Bob Crosby band," which was playing at the Great Lakes Exposition on the Cleveland lakefront. The newspapermen loved the style of jazz played by the Crosby band, based on New Orleans dixieland, and wanted to hear more of it live. To do that, Krawcheck said he and others decided to form a jazz club.

There was a famous club in France which presented concerts by gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. That club was called "The Hot Club of France." Krawcheck said the Clevelanders decided to model their club after the French organization and call it "The Hot Club of Cleveland."

Krawcheck began organizing traditional jazz sessions every other week at various places around the city. "A favorite place," said Krawcheck, "was the old Artists Club in the 80s between Euclid and Carnegie. Some of the jam sessions were at the Cabin Club, beneath Diamond’s Delicatessen on the south side of Euclid Avenue between East 105th and East 107th. "That was quite a place," remembered Krawcheck. "People would go down there to listen to the music, but they also danced." They also had Hot Club jam sessions at the Jade Room of the old Fenwick Hotel.

The Hot Club of Cleveland did not pay the musicians. They wanted to come and play just for the fun of it. In fact, Krawcheck laughed, "Those musicians had to pay $2 monthly dues in order to come down and play for nothing."

Krawcheck got married shortly before one of the Hot Club sessions. He remembered, "When we got back from our honeymoon, they played when I came in (Freddie Slack’s) ‘Beat Me, Daddy, Eight To the Bar.’ I blushed like hell."

Krawcheck’s wife Marie said her new husband spent most of his nights going around town scouting jazz musicians for the Hot Club sessions. "Somebody would tell me of a good trombone player," remembered Krawcheck, "and I would go alone on the street car and listen to him. If I thought he was good, I would ask him to come down to the next session."

Among the young musicians who took part in the bi-weekly Hot Club jam sessions was singer Frankie Laine, who at the time was working in a defense plant in Cleveland and singing at the Wade Tavern on Wade Park Avenue. Krawcheck said he believed Laine was a better singer at the Hot Club jazz sessions than he was later when he became nationally famous and had hit records with such songs as "Shrimp Boats Are Coming."

"Another one," recalled the retired editor and columnist, "was Morey Feld, who I always thought played too loud." Feld later recorded with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra.

"There were all kinds of odd guys," said Krawcheck. "There was a trombone player named Bob Freeberger. He was marvelous. He was a Jack Teagarden-type trombonist but he was a little crazy. He stayed in a rented room on Payne Avenue. I went up to his room one time and he had pasted up over his bed little reminders to do things, such as ‘Remember to write Mama Friday night!’"

"There were a couple of brothers in the group, Art and Dick Cutlip. Dick played the bass and his older brother played the piano. He was wonderful, but he couldn’t stand Freeberger. They just didn’t get along. In arranging these sessions, and getting together different musicians, I had to learn who liked whom and that sort of thing and try to keep them apart so they wouldn’t get in fights."

Other musicians taking part in the Hot Club sessions included trumpeter Wiz Rosenberg (who sent a trumpet to aging New Orleans pioneer Bunk Johnson for his first recording session), Jasper Wood, Ray Raysor, Lanny Scott, and Caesar Dameron. Krawcheck said he believed Caesar was a much better musician than his younger brother, Tadd, who became a respected bop pioneer.

"One of the regulars," said Krawcheck, "was Johnny Huntington, from a society family. He would come down with some of his society friends and play a tenor saxophone very much like Bud Freeman."

Some of the musicians who played at the Hot Club jam sessions formed a band they called the Dixie Dandies, a band that played for years in Cleveland. Included were clarinetist Sam Finger, pianist George Quittner, guitarist Freddy Sharp, trombonist Kenny Emerson, and drummer Orly May. May attracted the attention of a national band leader. Krawcheck remembered taking Red Nichols to Fleet’s Inn at East 9th and Lakeside to hear singer June Hart, but Nichols was so impressed with drummer May that he ignored the singer and offered May a job.

Veteran Cleveland jazz saxophonist Hank Geer remembered he was only 15 when he sat in with Krawcheck’s Hot Club group. One night, Geer said band leader Charlie Spivak, who was leading the house band at the Trianon Ballroom, showed up at a Hot Club session and liked Geer’s playing. He offered the schoolboy a job with his band.

Another well-known musician who sat in during the club sessions was pianist Cow Cow Davenport, who claimed he had originated the boogie-woogie style of piano and had moved to Cleveland in 1930. Davenport married singer Peggy Taylor who was also a snake charmer. Krawcheck recalled, "One night, he brought his wife to sing at the Cabin Club at East 105th and Euclid and she brought a snake with her! I was scared to death! I wanted to stop the music and tell the people to run like hell!" Krawcheck said Davenport’s wife was never invited back.

The Hot Club of Cleveland continued for three years, until 1943, when Krawcheck left his newspaper job for military service. "I hate to say it," recalled the courtly Krawcheck, who grew up in the South, "but it fell apart when I went into the Army. I suppose I would have to say that I was the prime mover in the thing and seemed to hold it together."

Krawcheck, who died at age 87 in 1999, also remembered there was a short-lived Cleveland Jazz Society here in the early 1950s. Also in the ‘50s, there was a group called "Jazz Ohio," formed by disc jockey Tom Brown and drummer Tony Soria. They met at the Modern Jazz Room and took local fans on several bus trips to the Newport Jazz Festival.

Copyright 2004 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. The greatly-expanded second edition of Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History book is available from the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, 4614 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44193.