From 1949 to 1963, the Black Hawk was San Francisco’s premier jazz club. It presented a
cross section of the world’s best musicians. Like legions of other fans, I spent some of the most rewarding listening hours of my life being inspired in the Black Hawk’s uninspiring surroundings and have written about it frequently. Here are the opening paragraphs of the notes for volume 5 of Shelly Manne and His Men At The Blackhawk.
During my years of labor at KGO-TV in San Francisco, I never passed the parking lot a block away at Turk and Hyde without regretting the injustice of a world that puts more value on the storage of automobiles than on preserving historical landmarks. To be accurate the Landmark Preservation Commission never actually got around to trying to save the Black Hawk or even mounting a brass plaque at space number five, the approximate location of the door where Elynore Caccienti and Susan Weiss collected one-dollar entry fees and dispensed wisdom. All right: the matter never came to a vote, never even came up for discussion.
Nonetheless, officially recognized or not, history was made in the dust and dimness of that temple of gloom. “I’ve worked and slaved to keep this place a sewer,” Guido Caccienti used to say of the joint he ran with his partner, George Weiss. In the 1950s when the club was in its florescence, Count Basie set a new world record for compacting musicians by cramming sixteen men onto the Black Hawk’s little stand, adding Joe Williams, and still finding room to swing. Cal Tjader’s and Dave Brubeck’s groups were more or less headquartered at the Black Hawk and did some of their best live recording there. The first ten-inch LP by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was made in September, 1952, while Mulligan, Chet Baker, Carson Smith and Chico Hamilton were at the Black Hawk refining their alchemy. The Miles Davis Quintet with Hank Mobley recorded two albums there, commemorating that regrettably short partnership. Although he recorded it in a hall a few blocks away, it was during a Black Hawk engagement that Thelonious Monk made a solo piano album notable for the beauty and serenity of his playing.
I bring this up because video has materialized that reveals the interior of the Black Hawk in all its–er–glory. The film was made for the pilot of a TV series that never materialized. It features the Brubeck Quartet in three numbers, with an introduction by Mort Sahl, the comic who was a fan of the band and a close friend of Paul Desmond until Mrs. Sahl and Desmond became even closer. That, of course, is another story, discreetly told in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. But, in a cheesy effort to sell a book, I digress. At any rate, the video is slightly misleading about the nature of the club because the producers somehow persuaded Guido that it was necessary to present an orderly aspect. The random distribution of miniscule tables gave way to chairs arranged in rows, as in a concert hall. The chairs are occupied not by casually dressed and relaxed Black Hawk regulars but by properly attired civilians, possibly extras hired for the occasion. Nothing was done, thank goodness, to replace the dust-laden heavy velvet curtain behind the band stand.
The band is the classic Brubeck Quartet with Desmond, Gene Wright and Joe Morello. YouTube doesn’t give us a date, but the repertoire and the appearances of the players suggest 1957 or ’58. The band opens with “The Duke” as background for Sahl’s intro and follows with a splendid “St. Louis Blues” and a perfunctory “I’m In A Dancing Mood.” During the blues we have the opportunity to see as well as hear the camaraderie between Wright and Morello. To see the video, click here.
Four years ago, another club went up at the corner of Turk and Hyde. Here’s a description from its web site:
222 Club was established in April 2004. It sits on a corner next to a parking lot and lots of action. We are a lounge with a beautiful basement, refreshing cocktails, delicious food, rotating dj’s, live bands and rotating art. Happy Hour Tuesday thru Saturday from 6-9pm $3.00 Well $2.00 PBR Positive Vibes Only~ We are happy people…..xoxoxoxox
The hugs and kisses are a nice touch, but I’ll bet the 222 Club isn’t hiring the Basie band.