Jazz is a uniquely American art form that has helped shape so much of our world — from the early forms of stride piano, to music for film, smoky jazz clubs, glittering dance halls, opera and the symphony orchestra stage.
Jazz also has deep roots in St. Petersburg. Just down the street from the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum sits the site of the historic Manhattan Casino, which hosted concerts from jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and more. The dance hall was an important hub of activity for the African-American community, and its rich history is a vibrant thread in the fabric of St. Petersburg. Several of the composers you’ll hear at this concert performed at the Manhattan Casino during its heyday.
Learn more about the Manhattan Casino by watching a short oral history collected by the Tampa Bay Times.
EXPLORE THE CONCERT AND BEYOND
Below are links to some of the bios and music that inspired each of the pieces on this concert. Enjoy exploring the music and history of “America’s classical music” – jazz.
C. LUCKYTH “LUCKEY” ROBERTS (1887-1968): Luckey Roberts was an American composer and one of the leading pianists in Harlem after settling there in 1910. Along with James P. Johnson (the composer of the Charleston), he developed the stride piano style around 1919. Click here for his bio.
For an example of “Luckey” Roberts playing stride piano click here.
THOMAS “FATS” WALLER (1904-1943): One of the many African-American artists who visited the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg was Fats Waller, a composer, pianist, singer, and entertainer. He innovated on the stride piano style developed by Luckey Roberts to create what would eventually become modern jazz piano. Ain’t Misbehavin’ was one of Waller’s most popular songs, and was re-recorded for the 1943 film Stormy Weather, a showcase for the best African-American musicians of the time. It should be noted that African-Americans were not typically showcased in lead roles in Hollywood at the time.
Watch Fats Waller perform Ain’t Misbehavin’ in Stormy Weather.
HENRY MANCINI (1924-1994): Henry Mancini is considered one of the greatest composers of film music during the 20th century. A pianist and flutist, Mancini’s interest in jazz started with his early music lessons with Max Adkins, a musician who taught arranging and composition in the basement of the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. Before he became a film composer, Mancini arranged and composed for the Glenn Miller Band.
Mancini wrote The Pink Panther Theme. In this cartoon short, the Pink Panther interrupts a symphony rehearsal during Pink, Plunk, Plink. This was the only Pink Panther cartoon in which Mancini himself appeared.
LUTHER HENDERSON (1919-2003): Luther Henderson was known for his contributions to Broadway musicals, including the first production of Ain’t Misbehavin’, for which he was also the original production’s pianist. At age 4, Henderson’s family moved to Harlem, where they became neighbors with Duke Ellington, who became a major influence. Luther Henderson eventually became Ellington’s classical arranger.
Listen to Luther Henderson talk about “classicalizing” jazz.
EDWARD “DUKE” ELLINGTON (1899-1974): Duke Ellington was another one of the jazz greats to perform at the Manhattan Casino. A prolific composer, jazz orchestra leader and jazz pianist, Ellington’s career spanned six decades. Come Sunday is a movement from Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige suite, composed for his first performance at Carnegie Hall. The piece is written as a musical history of African-Americans. At the first performance, Ellington said of the piece, “We thought we wouldn’t play it (Black, Brown and Beige) in its entirety tonight because it represents an awfully long and important story and that I don’t think too many people are familiar with the story. This is the one we dedicate to the 700 Negroes who came from Haiti to save Savannah during the Revolutionary War.”
Listen to Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson’s recording of Come Sunday.
IF YOU GO: The Florida Orchestra Brass Quintet concert is 3 pm Sunday (Mar 1) at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg. Admission is pay what you can at the door; seating is limited. The Florida Orchestra musicians performing this week are Robert Smith and Federico Montes, trumpet; Alex Lane, horn; Jöel Vaisse, trombone; Thomas “TJ” Graf, tuba. (Note: This concert was reschedule from
The Woodson Concert Series is generously sponsored by Bill and Suzanne Garth.