Jazz clubs upped old Milwaukee's hipster quotient
Robles was a regular at Curro's.
"I was there many many times," he says. "Nice lounge-type place. They didn't have food or anything just featured name jazz, they did Count Basie, Pepper Adams and Donald Byrd, Illinois Jacquet. They'd bring in big names and sometimes there'd only be a handful of people there."
There was also The Scenic Lounge, which, according to Robles was short-lived. But it survived long enough to host Coltrane when he was a Miles Davis sideman. Unsurprisingly, Robles was there.
"That was the only time I saw him here in Milwaukee. It would have been between about 1958 and 1960, probably closer to '60."
Robles remembers that also in the band were bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianist Wynton Kelly.
"It was quite crowded and, surprisingly, there were a lot of black people there," Robles recalls. "A lot of times I went to shows in Milwaukee with Art Blakey and Roland Kirk and people like that, and they would get hacked off because there would be few black people there."
One Scenic Lounge regular was pianist Claude Dorsey -- "Milwaukee's Favorite Entertainer," according to a 1950s Scenic Lounge ad -- who continues to perform in Milwaukee to this day.
The 3 Dolls was also on 3rd Street, but a bit further up and featured mostly local musicians, but also brought in some names, like Spanier, who played two stints there in '54.
Scaler's House of Jazz was on 3rd Street, too, making that thoroughfare the hub of jazz in Milwaukee during the 1950s. Drummer Jo Jones brought his group, which included Wardell Gray and Duke Jordan, there in the mid-'50s. Just up the road was Basin Street, where you could catch out-there cats like Roland Kirk and a host of local talent.
On Wells Street there was Frank Balistrieri's The Ad Lib, which like The Brass Rail was birthed as a jazz club but died a strip joint. Across the river on Front Street you could often catch Scat Johnson at The Tunnel Inn.
You could hit Stage Door Johnny's to see national acts or out of downtown, there was Club 26 on 26th and North; the Harris Lounge on Walnut Street, which also hosted Roland Kirk; The Bar -- now home to Shank Hall -- brought in the likes of Art Blakey and Les McCann; The New Lounge on Hopkins had fellows like Benny Carter; The Lion's Den on Center Street in Riverwest; Kodric's on 5th and National in Walker's Point, where local guys like Frank DeMiles would play; Club Everleigh on 55th and Center. The list goes on and on.
Later, places like The Jazz Gallery in Riverwest would emerge. Folks around town still talk about the time Bill Cosby sat in on drums with organist Jimmy Smith there. Into the '80s you could catch local guitarist George Pritchett around town at places like The Estate on Murray Avenue.
Claude Dorsey, Berkeley Fudge and Manty Ellis are all still playing, but Milwaukee just isn't the jazz hub it once was. Let's hope that changes.
Of course, there were other places in town for jazz of every variety. Add your memories using the talkback feature below.
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What a great article - it makes me wish I had been born fifty years earlier! Can someone tell me a place to go now-a-days for some great jazz?
Gloria Anderson said: What about the Bull Ring, the Bamboo Room, the Flame, and the one on Farwell, where Penny Goodman was a regular. The Main event Brothers Lounge Satin Dolls.
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