Jazz Returns to Seattle’s Central District: Two Evenings of Black Brilliance
There is a miracle on the corner of 12th Avenue and Jackson St. in what is now Seattle’s “Little Saigon.” In what was a traditional African American and Jewish community before the influx of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian immigrants after the war in Southeast Asia in the early 1980’s, this urban crossroads was the main pulse of an integrated nightclub scene in the 1930’s, ’40s and ’50s that featured dozens of late-night jazz clubs that not only housed the city’s thriving African American musicians, but attracted many musicians after hours from their respective gigs Downtown that featured only white audiences.
A fully integrated jazz nightclub scene was a rarity on a national scale, perhaps only fully realized along Jackson Street in Seattle, and Central Avenue in Los Angeles. The respective scenes attracted Black musicians from the Jim Crow south, in search of work and the ability to achieve artistry untethered by the tyranny experienced in southern music cities such as Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans. Even Jelly Roll Morton lived a spell in Seattle, as early as 1919. Neither prohibition, nor the Great Depression could cap the enthusiasm of the city’s bottle clubs along Jackson Street, many of which were operated by Black entrepreneurs. The most notable of these club owners was E. Russell “Noodles” Smith, who along with partner Burr “Blackie” Williams would operate the legendary Black and Tan nightclub in the basement of the aforementioned “miracle” on the corner of 12th and Jackson. In 1920, they opened The Entertainers Club in the upstairs portion of the building, and the late night Alhambra club in the basement. The downstairs nightspot then was renamed the Black and Tan, noted for its integrated, black and white clientele. Smith had arrived in Seattle in 1909, and had a sharp eye for business. With the town rife with cash from the shipyards and lumber mills following the Great War, Jackson Street was able to withstand the onslaught of prohibition, and later as mentioned, the Great Depression. To continue reading, click this link