Take 90: Brubeck At The Blackhawk

Dave Brubeck is spending his 90th birthday in the midst of his sizeable family and many close friends. Chances are that they will take time out to watch the documentary about his life. As they reminisce, it’s almost certain that Dave will tell a Blackhawk story or two. The club in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district was his quartet’s headquarters for years before and after they became famous. It was the location of a pilot for a television series that never get off the ground. Mort Sahl, a friend and fan of the band, introduced the show. A wide shot near the beginning gives us a full view of the little club somebody once called “the temple of gloom.” The TV lights that day probably gave it the most illumination it ever saw. It was lit up by Brubeck, Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Count Basie, Chet Baker, Art Tatum, Carmen McRae and most of the other jazz luminaries of the 1950s.
The Blackhawk is long gone. Brubeck is thriving. Here is a rare look at the classic quartet—Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello—at the Blackhawk:

Happy Birthday, Dave.

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  1. says

    Great to see the classic quartet giving a classic performance, however truncated, at the classic SF Jazz club. Also great to see Dave rock into his counterrhythmic stuff and to hear him talk to the imagined TV audience. Greatest of all to know that folks all around the world are today celebrating the great man’s birthday and wishing him well. (I second that emotion.)
    But, Doug, one tiny pedantic caveat. I know that you know that the club’s real and stubbornly claimed name was the Black Hawk, two words rather than one. The marquee showed it too.
    (I knew this would come up again. That argument was settled long ago, as I explained in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, page 127:
    “The Blackhawk had a sign out front on which a martini glass separated the syllables of the club’s name. Based on what Cacianti said was the sign painter’s mistake, the name has often appeared in print as Black Hawk, leading to a minor controversy among jazz scholars and historians. Cacianti and Noga* get the final word, singular; it was Blackhawk.”*
    *Guido Cacianti was the Blackhawk’s co-owner with John and Helen Noga.—DR)

  2. Jon Foley says

    Great to see video of one of my old hangouts, the Blackhawk. I had to laugh, though, to see – 1) the place looking neat and fairly clean (let’s just say one tried hard not to brush up against that burgundy velvet drape on the back wall, in those pre-Purell days), and 2), such a well-dressed audience (I don’t remember anyone looking like that when I hung out there). I’ll always remember the quote from Guido, the owner: “I’ve worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer.”
    As to the Blackhawk/Black Hawk controversy, I have a photograph of the club with the neon sign above the door clearly reading “Black Hawk,” with no cocktail glass between the words (there is a glass at the top of the sign). However, I also have a reproduction of a poster from the club from 1957, clearly reading “The Blackhawk.” So, go figure.
    Whatever it was, today it’s just a parking lot.

  3. says

    I sit corrected. But a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a Google for? And checking both my old LPs and that search engine, I find Fantasy 3-210, Jazz at the Black Hawk, with liner-notes interview story of the club and its two owners, Caccianti and Noga, who have “personal supervision” (!?) of the quartet, and who seem not to have objected to “Black Hawk” appearing as two words at least ten times. And then there’s the matter of the Rifftides post of May 29, 2008, where a certain Doug Ramsey has a whole different take on the club and its name… whether Manne and Men or Brubeck and Friends. So what’s a confused fan of all these elements to think?
    (Ramsey replies.
    I plead guilty to inconsistency, but I have absolution:
    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
    “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.”—Aldous Huxley
    Besides, the new information in the book supersedes the old information in the Manne notes.—DR

  4. Doug Zielke says

    “I’ve worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer.” – Guido Cacianti