5 Jazz Greats Who Stand Out from the Crowd

5 Jazz Greats Who Stand Out from the Crowd

When you hear the name John Coltrane, you probably know you are hearing about a “jazz great,” but do you really know what made him stand out from the crowd? If you love jazz but have not been listening very long, then you might not be able to follow the conversation when the genre’s true aficionados really starting jamming. Check out our easy list to get a basic overview of what makes these five jazz greats just so special in the jazz books.

  1. Mary Lou Williams

For starters, Mary Lou Williams was alive for nearly the entire initial lifespan of jazz, since she was born in 1910 and died in 1981. Of course, she did not start performing at birth. She entered the jazz arena playing in a swing band but continued throughout the evolutions of the music to stay at the forefront. She also is unique because she was one of the few musicians fully accepted by the classical world at that time.

Skill Set: composer, pianist


  1. Miles Davis

Miles Davis may be best known for his 1960s recording Bitches Brew. He is also known for the strangely exotic impact a rampant heroin addiction had on his music, his life as a hustler, and his raspy voice, which he acquired in 1955 after an operation to remove polyps from his larynx. Davis was instructed by his doctors to remain silent until he healed but could not avoid an argument and permanently damaged his voice. He was also called “The Prince of Darkness” after this time.

Skill Set: prolific composer, extremely flexible musician, bandleader, trumpet, flugelhorn, electric organ


  1. Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk’s music has been called “Picasso’s work set to music.” Although his work sometimes is misconstrued as overly simplistic and minimalist, it has many layers and often includes dissonance. His piano playing changed the way musicians in multiple genres approach the instrument, thanks to a percussive style that includes lots of silent gaps and hesitations in the music. One famed critic once called him “the elephant on the keyboard.” Monk would also occasionally stand up while his fellow musicians were playing and dance for a few minutes before returning to the piano. He also had a distinct look, including suits, hats, and sunglasses.

Skill Set: piano, composer


  1. Ella Fitzgerald

No list like this could be complete without Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song. Not only did Fitzgerald collaborate with other greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, but she also performed with the Chick Webb Orchestra, often in Harlem. She was an incredible improviser and scat singer. She is known for “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. Fitzgerald’s performance career lasted nearly six decades, during which she won 14 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Skill Set: impeccable diction, vocal talent, swing, bebop, traditional pop, vocal jazz, blues, scat singing


  1. John Coltrane

After all that, we couldn’t leave John Coltrane off the list! Coltrane played truly spiritual jazz, and is known for his album, A Love Supreme. He was also at the forefront of the free jazz movement and collaborated with many other musicians throughout his career, including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. He is considered one of the greatest and most influential saxophonists in music history and was even canonized by the African Orthodox Church. He played the tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, and flute, and would sometimes keep an extra set of drums on stage so he could play those as well.

Skill Set: musician, bandleader, composer, clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax, alto sax, flute

She Built NYC Honors Billie Holiday with Monument in Queens

She Built NYC Honors Billie Holiday with Monument in Queens

There are 150 statues of historic figures in New York City, according to the organization She Built NYC. Honestly, I would have thought there were more. However, if that 150 seems small, take a look at this number: 5. That is how many of those 150 statues depict women.

She Built NYC is changing that with the addition of seven statues of trailblazing women the group is installing around the city. Naturally, at least one of those women has a tie to jazz: Billie Holiday, whose statue will be installed in Queens.

Holiday, whose given name was Eleanora Fagan, was born during the earliest days of jazz in 1915. She was nicknamed “Lady Day” by friend and music partner Lester Young, and her last name, Holiday, was a derivative her father’s last name, Halliday. She picked the name Billie in honor of actress Billie Dove.

After being arrested for prostitution (along with her mother) at the age of 13, Holiday started singing in Harlem nightclubs when she was released from prison. She quickly developed a reputation for singing in a way that was similar to improvisational jazz and, by the time she was 20, had solidified that skill into a revolutionary style wherein she improvised melodies to fit the emotions of her songs. Although her fame continued to grow, she constantly dealt with negative experiences due to the discriminatory practices that were the norm at the time, including having to use the service elevator while her white bandmates used to the passenger elevator and not being allowed to enter the bar or dining room in hotels where she performed.

Probably Holiday’s most famous song, “Strange Fruit,” is based on a poem about a lynching in the south. She later said the imagery reminded her of her father’s death, as she believed he was denied treatment for his lung disorder because of his race. When her own recording label declined to record the song, Holiday ultimately secured a one-session release from her contract so she could record it elsewhere. The recording sold one million copies, Holiday’s biggest-selling recording.

She Built NYC selected Holiday for its Queens memorial because of her role in “elevating New York’s ‘swing sing’ jazz scene to international prominence while challenging racial barriers.” Holiday was one of the first black women to sing with a white orchestra and received multiple Grammy Awards posthumously. Her statue will be placed near Queens Borough Hall.

The Unique Relationship Between Jazz Musicians and Their Audience

The Unique Relationship Between Jazz Musicians and Their Audience

Jazz is more than a century old, and it’s looking better than any other centenarian I can think of. The musical movement that started before the First World War served as an ambassador of freedom and free thinking throughout the 20th century and spawned dozens of other freestanding musical movements that have impacted our culture in meaningful and positive ways, and it is still going very, very strong. It’s kind of like the music found the fountain of youth.

I believe that the durability and endurability of jazz as a music and a movement has a lot to do with the unique relationship between jazz musicians and their audiences. While on a classical stage, the musicians occupy rarified air and are viewed almost as a performance art piece to be observed, admired, and critiqued from afar, jazz musicians have historically been very nearly part of the audience and part of the party.

There were several reasons for this close proximity, including that in the early days of jazz, there were no recordings of the music. Every experience was original, unique, and unrepeatable. The musicians also tended to perform in crowded dance halls on small stages, and their success depended nearly entirely on audience appreciation. If they could not fill the room the first night, they probably wouldn’t be back for a second performance. This led many jazz musicians to work extremely hard to develop loyal followings and reputations for surprising and outrageous antics onstage long before the concept of “going viral” or “social media followers” had entered the equation.

For example, Louis Armstrong not only was an incredible musician, he was also known for his charisma onstage. He was known for telling “tall tales” about his past and claiming any number of outrageous exploits as well as insisting he was a freemason in a nonexistent chapter of the organization. He also tended to offer free “health advice” to everyone he encountered, including handing out packets of his favorite laxatives, which were his preferred method of weight control. This deeply ingrained relationship with his audience and intensely personal method of interaction with individuals he encountered made Louis Armstrong popular with audiences, club owners, and other musicians. Since many jazz musicians forged their careers on early partnerships with more established artists, his willingness to work with other musicians further cemented his popularity with audiences and their personal interest in his career.

Of course, today we can enjoy jazz in all its forms in many different ways. We can listen to recordings, radio, or online streaming. I would argue, however, that there is nothing quite like a live jazz performance because, just as it has always been, there will never be another live performance exactly like another. In these days of lip-syncing superstars and technological auto-tunes, jazz musicians still enjoy an up-close and personal relationship with their audiences. Every time I sing, I look at the people out there behind the stage lights and I feel their energy. It affects my rendition of the great hits and imbibes the entire experience with rich dimensions unavailable in most other musical genres today.

You Can Jam All Night at This Historic Kansas City Jazz Nightspot

You Can Jam All Night at This Historic Kansas City Jazz Nightspot

Jazz musicians are known for getting lost in the music. In fact, our own group, the Scat Cats, has, on more than one occasion, “woken up” from the trance of a really great practice session to find we had gone for hours longer than we realized. When you do that, you just have to shake your head and hope your significant other didn’t get too worried. It’s part of the musical experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

If you have jazz in your heart and time has a way of getting away from you, then you won’t want to miss a Kansas City landmark that is open nightly, all night, for one long jam session. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kansas City was immune from prohibition, thanks to political boss Tom Pendergast, who was crucial to the city’s flow of alcohol during this time. As a result, the city became a mecca for entertainers of all types, and jazz musicians led the way. At one time, there were more than 100 nightclubs, all featuring jazz music on and around Kansas City’s fabled 12thStreet, the nationally known home of jazz clubs, gambling parlors, and brothels. It was this dedication to entertainment and excess that partially insulated the area from the Great Depression.

While many of the clubs are shuttered now and the brothels are either “underground” or completely gone, the jam sessions remain intact at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, a union hall (and now historic landmark) that was central to the jazz scene in the Roaring 20s and remains open for all-night sessions to this day. Hanging out with other musicians in this venue is truly an escape from reality and almost like time-traveling back to the earliest age of jazz. Everyone loves the music and loves learning from each other – just like the greats did in the 1930s.

The union hall itself is a huge part of local history. It was originally called Local 627 and was home to the African-American Musicians Union, which was founded in 1917. The MMF was incorporated to manage the building and assets for Local 627 and continued to operate the building as a social club after the union merged with Local 34 in 1970.

In addition to hosting local and traveling musicians from all backgrounds who love and perform jazz, MMF also opens its doors to everyone on the weekends for all-night jam sessions. If you have never gotten lost in the music before, this is your best bet to get there. It’s an experience you will never forget.

3 Must-See Jazz Hot Spots in New Orleans

3 Must-See Jazz Hot Spots in New Orleans

As the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, it is no wonder New Orleans makes a strong claim to be the birthplace of jazz music as well. Whether you are willing to give The Big Easy all the credit for this incredible, enduring music genre or not, you can’t deny that the jazz scene there today is still one of the hottest in the country. If you are heading south anytime soon, take a quick look at this list for three places you simply can’t afford to miss if you love jazz. Not heading south this year? Well, time to start building a bucket list, because your love of jazz just won’t be complete if you don’t have a visit to these three places in your memory banks.

  1. Steamboat Natchez

The Steamboat Natchez is not only the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River. It is home to the Dukes of Dixieland, who have been playing their Dixieland jazz on the decks for decades. The Dukes feature a rotating cast of musicians specializing in all forms of jazz and bebop, and you can enjoy the tunes from late morning, during their harbor jazz brunch, to late, late at night.

The steamboat doubles as an event venue, so you can book parties, receptions, and even weddings on board. The company bills itself as “one of the most comprehensive, completely immersive, and interactive virtual experiences in the world” thanks to its virtual tour offerings, but you can also visit the 100-year-old steam engine room in person to see how the boat has operated for a century.

  1. The People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market

The brainchild of award-winning musician Irvin Mayfield, the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market is a “local mecca for all things jazz.” Not only does the market host a performing arts venue and jazz community center, but it also boasts an actual market for performers and vendors to hawk their wares and play their tunes. The market caters to both adults and kids, with a classroom space for juvenile music-making and a digital interactive learning space showcasing how science and math form integral parts of the foundation of music.

Mayfield, who is a Grammy and Billboard-award winning jazz musician who has produced more than two dozen albums in his professional career, dreamed up the market after founding the New Orleans Symphony Jazz Orchestra. NOJO is the first performing arts group dedicated solely to developing the jazz industry. It was formed in 2002.

  1. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park

Love listening to live, free music outside in the open air? Then this national park is for you! Not only does it boast a visitors center filled with information about the emergence and evolution of jazz, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park also offers walking tours, live concerts, and a junior ranger program. If you prefer self-guided tours, the park offers these as well.

Can’t get there in person? Don’t worry about missing a single note. The park offers live-streaming options so you can enjoy jazz performed in the heart of one of its earliest homes from your home.

Time to Get on the Road

If you have never been to New Orleans or if you missed the jazz angle of the city the last time you were there, first I have to ask: How did you miss the jazz? In all seriousness, however, a true jazz lover cannot go wrong in NOLA, and these three hot spots are just the very surface of the many fantastic opportunities for jazz aficionados in The Crescent

Jazz Greats: Introducing Eubie Blake

Jazz Greats: Introducing Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was an American ragtime pianist whose groundbreaking collaboration with singer and lyricist Noble Sissle ultimately yielded a number of hits, made vaudeville history, and resulted in the debut of the first all-black Broadway show to play for full Broadway prices.

Blake is best known for his songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.” Many argue that Blake was part of the foundation of the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

Read on to learn more about Eubie Blake and why we love his work so much.

Early Life

Jazz legend has it that Eubie Blake, born James Hubert Blake around 1887, wandered into a music shop at the age of four, climbed onto the bench of an organ, and started to play. His mother, a former slave named Emily “Emma” Johnstone, found him and was informed by the store manager it “would be criminal” to deprive Blake of the chance to “make use of such sublime, God-given talent.” Blake’s parents purchased a pump organ through weekly payments of $0.25 a week, and Blake began taking lessons from an organist at the local Methodist church starting around age seven. By 15, he was playing in a Baltimore bordello, where he was eventually offered a spot at Gan’s Goldfield Hotel, owned by world champion boxer Joe Gans. Blake would play winters at the Goldfield and summers at clubs in Atlantic City.

Collaboration with Noble Sissle

Blake entered the ragtime scene during World War I and met Noble Sissle, already a vaudeville performer, shortly after the war. The two teamed up to form a vaudeville musical act called the Dixie Duo, which was unusual at the time because they did not wear blackface or use an exaggerated dialect. They began work on their Broadway Musical, Shuffle Along, and it opened at the end of May in 1921. The production closed after more than 500 performances and is considered to be a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance because it opened the way for a number of other, similar shows. The two continued to compose and perform, writing scores for USO shows during World War II.

Later Life

Blake made a comeback in the 1960s after appearing on an NBC special titled “Those Ragtime Years.” He began touring the United States and Europe, appeared on major television variety programs like Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, and was showcased in the hit Broadway show, Saturday Night Live, Eubie! He played and recorded up to his death on Feb. 12, 1982. He allegedly had just celebrated his 100thbirthday, since Blake began to claim later in life he had been born in 1882 instead of 1887.


Blake’s legacy is far-reaching thanks to his collaborations with Sissle and groundbreaking show Shuffle Along. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995. Blake received honorary doctoral degrees (some posthumously) from Rutgers University, Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, and Howard University between 1974 and 1982. He also was awarded the Johns Hopkins University George Peabody Medal in 1980 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1969.

3 Surprising Facts About Louis Armstrong’s Grave in Queens

3 Surprising Facts About Louis Armstrong’s Grave in Queens

Louis Armstrong was larger than life but, to those who knew him, a relatively quiet and simple man (they said).

His grave, which is located in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, is a testament to that quieter side of the jazz superstar who brought us “Stardust,” “What a Wonderful World,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” to name just a few.

When Armstrong died in 1971, he left behind a legacy of musical improvisation, including scat singing. Literary critic Harold Bloom placed him on par with Walt Whitman as “the genius of this nation at its best.”

Jazz aficionados who visit Armstrong’s grave may find it a bit surprising. The large, black stone is simple, engraved with nothing more than his name, Louis Armstrong, and the nickname “Satchmo” in quotes. Atop the stone lies a white marble trumpet and a white marble handkerchief.

3 Surprising Things to Know About Louis Armstrong

What does it all mean? Well, here are three things you can learn about Armstrong at his gravesite that might surprise you.

  1. Louis Armstrong had at least 3 names.

Although the gravestone itself is inscribed with the name “Louis,” Armstrong apparently used multiple spellings and pronunciations of his name throughout his life. He was most commonly referred to as “Louie” or “Lewie” and registered himself for the 1920 U.S. Census using the latter spelling. However, in his 1964 record, “Hello, Dolly,” he refers to himself as Lewis. Musicians and close friends reportedly referred to Armstrong simply as “Pops.” His third wife, Lucille Wilson, publicly referred to him as “Louie.”

  1. “Satchmo” refers to Armstrong’s early performance habits.

Armstrong was known by the nicknames “Satchmo” and “Satch” in reference to the longer version of his nickname, “Satchelmouth.” As a young boy in New Orleans, Armstrong would dance in the streets for pennies. When he received coins from an appreciative audience, he would hold them in his mouth to keep bigger children from stealing them. Another version of the story simply states that friends nicknamed Armstrong “Satchelmouth” because he had a large mouth, and the name was eventually abbreviated “Satchmo.”

  1. His white handkerchief started a trend.

Armstrong was known for using a white handkerchief to wipe his face when he perspired, particularly when he was on stage. These handkerchiefs became iconic, and many are preserved at the Louis Armstrong House Museum at Queens College today. Young people in the 1950s often carried similar white handkerchiefs and wiped their own faces with exaggerated mannerisms in an attempt to mimic Armstrong. This is one reason Armstrong’s gravestone bears a white, marble handkerchief.

Louis Armstrong was one of the best-loved musicians in American history, and he made headlines consistently during his life and after his death. In the wake of his funeral, fans actually plundered the graveside for flowers and other mementos just to remember him by. When criticized, they returned, “I just want something to remember him.”

Flowers or not, there is no forgetting Louis Armstrong.

A Closer Look at Disney’s Scat Cat Club

A Closer Look at Disney’s Scat Cat Club

Disney’s Scat Cat’s Club is located at Walt Disney World in the Port Orleans Resort section of the park and resort. The club is located just off the hotel’s main lobby and features memorabilia from great jazz musicians. The club used to have resident musicians, including Tom Casey (2013-2015) and Elliot Dyson. Both played lounge classics and guest requests. Since 2015, the club has not had a permanent resident musician, but they do feature local musicians, Disney musicians, and even DJs for live entertainment.

Since the club is our group’s namesake, we had to get around to posting a little review of the venue. While it is certainly not your typical jazz performance venue, we won’t say we would turn down the opportunity to play on that stage!


The Scat Cat’s Club operates from 4 p.m. until midnight, and earlier in the day it often serves as a “crash pad” for guests who have arrived early at the resort and are still waiting for access to their rooms. Sometimes you will see people asleep in the comfy chairs, and the venue is certainly snug and cozy. However, we’re not big fans of people who sleep through live music, so…

The décor in the club is definitely in keeping with the theme of a jazz club. It has rich woods, coffered ceilings, benches, wooden chairs around tables, and more plush seating for guests, and a great deal of jazz memorabilia. Not surprisingly, a lot of it is old sheet music covers and pictures of jazz greats, but it definitely adds to the overall jazz club vibe of the place.

Food & Service

Although Scat Cat’s Club at Disney is not considered a “destination bar” at the Walt Disney World resorts, it does play host to something called “boozy beignets,” which are those tasty, powdered-sugary pastries popular in the French Quarter paired with injectable shots of liquor like Bailey’s, RumChata, and Kahlua. The restaurant also offers fried cheese in an unusual format: round, fried balls of pimento cheese served over a sweet and spicy pepper sauce. The kitchen is best at “bar food,” so keep your expectations managed and you can enjoy some really delicious dining.


A lot of reviews you will find of the Scat Cat’s Club at Disney revolve around the current lack of a resident musician. This is definitely a little bit of a disappointment, and it also leads to a lack when it comes to real jazz being played at this jazz club. Since many musicians at the club focus on taking requests, often you end up with a little bit more of the Eagles and a little bit less of Louis or Jelly Roll than we would like. However, when the club does feature a jazz musician, they usually make sure the “greats” get into the mix along with the other tunes. Sometimes, though, you will have to make do with the player piano that definitely adds to the ambience but does not necessarily make for great entertainment.

Our Conclusion

During the review process, we encountered another patron of the Scat Cat’s Club at Disney who snarked that the bar is a must for a Walt Disney World “completionist” but otherwise not particularly a necessary stop on the tour unless you are staying at the Port Orleans resort. We would argue that the scenery and magic of the resort paired with memorabilia and a clear fondness for (if not always familiarity with) jazz clubs and the Jazz Age make this a pleasant and worthwhile stop for anyone visiting Walt Disney World.

Jelly Roll Morton: Braggart or Not, Still a Pivotal Figure in Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton: Braggart or Not, Still a Pivotal Figure in Jazz

If you love jazz, then the odds are very slim that you do not already know the name “Jelly Roll Morton.” Jelly Roll, who was born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, was the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz” and a known braggart as well as a great pianist in New Orleans during the Roaring 20s. Morton is widely recognized as a pivotal figure in jazz, but he is also often dismissed as an overly confident egomaniac. We argue that Morton was actually ahead of his time and he may even have invented his own style of piano, in part, to compensate for perceived lack of skills in the burgeoning jazz piano sector.

Read on to learn more about Jelly Roll Morton’s life and legacy.

Early Years

Morton was part of a Creole community in downtown New Orleans, and his parents could trace their Creole ancestry back to the 18thcentury. He did not have a birth certificate because this documentation was not required until some 25 years after his estimated birth in 1885 or 1890. His father was a bricklayer, and his mother was a domestic worker. The two were never married, and his father left when Morton was 3 years old. Later, his mother married William Mouton and Morton anglicized Mouton’s name to Morton before adopting it.

First Job

Morton’s first job was playing piano in a brothel, but he convinced his grandmother he was a night watchman in a barrel factory. When she discovered the truth, she disowned him. He later wrote, “[my grandmother] told me devil music would surely bring about my downfall, but I just couldn’t put it behind me.” It was while working at the brothel that Morton adopted his nickname, which was a common slang term associated with female genitalia. Around the same time, he wrote “Jelly Roll Blues” and he began traveling and recording music as well. He continued to do so for the next 25 years, recording “New Orleans Blues,” “Frog-I-More Rag,” “Animule Dance,” and King Porter Stomp.” Years later, “King Porter Stomp” would be arranged by Fletcher Henderson for Benny Goodman and become a swing standard, but Morton would not receive royalties for that recording.

Recording Contract

Morton landed a recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1926 and, two years later, married showgirl Mabel Bertrand in Gary, Indiana. However, the Great Depression cut his recording career short. Victor did not renew his contract, possibly in part because few musicians wanted to play his style of piano. This meant that while his piano solos were well-regarded, he could not compete with the emerging big-band musicians of his day.

“The Inventor of Jazz”

Interestingly, part of the murkiness around Morton’s age stems from Morton himself, who claimed in his later life to have been born in 1890. Some historians say he made up this birthdate in order to stake a better claim to the “invention” of jazz, since he would have been slightly too old to have invented the musical style if he were born in 1885, as many suspect he was. Morton officially made this claim with folklorist Alan Lomax during a series of interviews that comprised the oral history of the origins of jazz.

While it is difficult to give Morton full credit for the entire musical genre’s invention, he did create his own piano style that was a combination of secondary ragtime and “shout,” which eventually evolved to be stride piano. He would play the melody of a tune with his right thumb and harmonize with the other fingers on his right hand. His tempo tended to be a little slower than other jazz pianists of the day, and Lomax would later cite a portion of an interview in which Morton said he “used a slower tempo to permit flexibility through the use of more notes” as an indication that Jelly Roll Morton might have invented his piano style to compensate for what he perceived to be a lack of dexterity “in manipulations” on the piano.

Stabbing, Chronic Illness, and Death

In 1938, Morton was stabbed at the club he managed and suffered for hours before receiving treatment. Doctors placed ice on his wounds for several hours before treating them, and after the stabbing he often became ill and short of breath. At one point, Morton spent three months in a New York hospital and died during a trip to Los Angeles while attempting to stage a comeback with new manuscripts and arrangements.

Morton’s Legacy

As if he feared to be forgotten, several of Morton’s compositions were, essentially, musical tributes to himself. He wrote “Winin’ Boy,” “The Jelly Roll Blues,” and “Mr. Jelly Lord” all about himself. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Morton is also an elected, charter member of the Gennett Records Walk of Fame.

New Yorker’s Terrace Room Jazz Heyday Featured the Greats of the Time

New Yorker’s Terrace Room Jazz Heyday Featured the Greats of the Time

When you think of the Roaring 20s, probably the last thing that comes to mind is today’s controversial Al-Jazeera television station, based in New York City. However, Al Jazeera presently occupies a “stage” that used to belong to jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Bob Crosby. That stage is part of the now-defunct Terrace Room, which was once one of the most glamorous night spots in the Big Apple.

The Terrace Room was perhaps one of the more successful business ventures attached to the New Yorker Hotel, which opened just in time for the Great Depression and struggled to keep its doors open. Management often ordered the lights in vacant rooms left on in order to give the appearance that the hotel was doing a thriving business, but the New Yorker filed for bankruptcy in 1966. Before that sad day, however, the hotel boasted more televisions under one roof than any other building in the world (1948), operated the dining services at LaGuardia Airport in the Kitty Hawk Bar and Grill, and proudly hosted a 50-chair barber salon.

During the second World War, the New Yorker was filled with service personnel who enjoyed the night life in the Terrace Room and the luxuries and hospitality available throughout the hotel itself. Many soldiers enjoyed reminiscing about their time there so much that they would dub their dugouts on the war front “The New Yorker” with hand-painted signs. When the Terrace Room was in its heyday and Benny Goodman was often in evidence, the hotel broadcast concerts four nights a week, bringing jazz and swing to millions of homes across the United States and into those dugouts via the American Forces radio network.

In front of the stage where Goodman and others performed, a retractable floor hid a small ice stage. At times, the hotel would host an ice performance in conjunction with the musical concert, and this was the case for Goodman and his band when they played at the Terrace Room during that time.

Today, the Terrace Room is nothing but a memory. The revolving brass door that once opened into a terraced room with its central, focal ice stage below now leads into television and recording studios. Next door is the long-defunct, vacant Manufacturing Trust Bank (MTC) and a vast wall of empty safe-deposit boxes that were, thanks to the Great Depression, mostly never filled. If you listen closely, however, you might hear the faint echoes of Benny Goodman, playing tunes requested by diners eating lobster while watching one of the most glamorous shows available at the time.

The New Yorker was purchased in 1976 by the Unification Church, who used part of the building as a world mission center. The New Yorker and 1,000 rooms in the original building are now operated by the Wyndham Group. You can listen to Benny Goodman and other musicians from that era in the lobby museum.