Live Jazz Returns to Kentucky Avenue

The newly opened Redding's in Atlantic City kicked off its 'Jazz Alive' series with Hammond B3 great Joey DeFrancesco Tuesday night, Feb. 8.

By Jeff Schwachter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Feb. 9, 2011

Share this Story:

For most of the 1950s and '60s, Atlantic City's Kentucky Avenue was a mecca for live jazz music. 
As the historical marker on the Atlantic City Boardwalk at Kentucky Avenue reads, "For more than four decades Kentucky Avenue ruled the East Coast music scene. The greatest jazz and blues [and soul] stars of all time filled its many clubs with round-the-clock entertainment, including Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Atlantic City's national treasure, drummer Chris Columbo and his Swing Crew in the forties and fifties." 
The night spots that helped make Atlantic City the destination resort that it was in its heyday, all of which have since been demolished without a trace, such as the Club Harlem and Grace's Little Belmont, featured live jazz when the American music was still evolving and its players' creative juices were flowing like wild fire. Folks who are lucky enough to remember what it was like to be at one of those shows, recall the energy, the power, and the joy that filled the rooms.
As the late Atlantic City historian and former Club Harlem house band drummer Sid Trusty once said, "Every night was our party. And we invited the world."
And during those many Atlantic City summers of yesteryear the world came. And they took in the music. It seeped through their sun-tanned pores. 
For many top-name Hammond B3 organ players in particular, Kentucky Avenue's many clubs were where they spent many a summer's day.  
Jazz organ greats such as Wild Bill Davis, Lonnie Smith, Groove Holmes, Larry Young, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff were frequently booked at the many popular jazz clubs that once lined the famous avenue, fondly known as "Ky & the Curb." 
Margate resident and world-class Hammond B3 player Dan Fogel, who still appears in the area on occasion playing behind his organ, but mostly performs overseas, spent many days and nights of his childhood at the clubs on Kentucky Avenue.
"I just knew I wanted to be there," says Fogel, "but nobody would go with me — 10 years old on the Northside — there were a lot of phobias about being over there."
But the young Fogel would sneak out of his bedroom and take the bus to Kentucky Avenue. He started shining shoes outside the clubs as a child, then went on to learn how to play the Hammond B3 by watching and listening to the legends playing inside. By age 16 Fogel was playing regularly at a club called the Wonder Gardens. (His band also featured Fogel's Atlantic City High School classmate Harvey Mason, who would go on to become one of the busiest session drummers in the music business for decades, and who is a member of the group Fourplay.) 
Why does any of this matter in February 2011?
Because Feb. 8, 2011, to be precise, will go down in history as the night live jazz music returned — triumphantly — to Kentucky Avenue.
It came courtesy of the hard work and passion of many people, but especially two men in particular — Harlem transplant Carl Redding and Brigantine producer Joe Donofrio
Staring out the window of the large restaurant, which also includes a bar area to the side, on this extremely cold night, one could see the street sign "Kentucky Avenue" on the corner while munching on items such as sweet potato soufflé, Chef Redding's "Soul Roll," southern fried catfish and banana pudding.
But as much as the night was about highlighting the amazing food at Redding's, the newly opened southern cuisine restaurant in Atlantic City, it was also about looking back in order to look ahead into the resort town's future. 
It may have been serendipity, but Redding's kicked off its much anticipated "Jazz Alive" series with Hammond B3 maestro Joey Defrancesco. His trio tore up the joint, which was packed with patrons of all stripes for the first of the evening's two sets. Among the tunes played were the jazz standard "Embraceable You" and DeFrancesco's tribute to Michael Jackson.
Despite Atlantic City's rich jazz history, Francesco, who had been working on a recording project with the late great jazz organist Jimmy Smith just days before he died in 2005, told the large crowd it was his first appearance in Atlantic City. 
Still, it was a fitting connection for Donofrio, whose production company is booking the jazz series at Redding's, to have a Hammond B3 giant kick off what many people hope will be a successful and long-term music program at the restaurant. 
"Jazz has been a part of my life since I was like three years old," Redding told AC Weekly during the event, adding that he can play various woodwind instruments himself. "So the idea to bring live jazz here was a no brainer for me. I'm from New York and I didn't even learn about places like Club Harlem until I came [to Atlantic City], so this is pretty cool."
More than 60 years after the jazz age in Atlantic City, live jazz music has returned to Kentucky Avenue.
It may have been a happy accident, but most important is the "happy" part. 
And for the folks — young and old — who braved the cutting winds and low temps, many of them locals and some from Philadelphia, New York and points beyond, it was a night to celebrate.
Kentucky Avenue is back in business, Atlantic City has a new attraction, and live music is being embraced like it used to be "back in the day."
As for Redding's, with its urban vibe, sophisticated atmosphere, large street-side windows, incredible food and the renowned jazz trio on the bandstand, it seemed, Tuesday night, that the future of Atlantic City may be in its storied past.
Who knows, a few years from now, you may see people lining up around the block waiting to get into Redding's as they once did to get into the Club Harlem's 6am Sunday Breakfast Show. 
Anything could happen.
Click here to read about the late jazz legend Art Blakey and his deep connection to the Atlantic City area. Read more here.

What do you think about live jazz returning to Atlantic City's famed Kentucky Avenue?

Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 10 of 10
Report Violation

1. geoff rosenberger said... on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:18PM

“Spend 5 minutes with carl redding... you'll know you are with a man of great vision and industry. Congrats to he and Donofrio for the jazz series. A related side story should note that Miss Audrey Hart & M.K.Thomas of the ACBCA (Atlantic City Business and Citizens Association, Steven Young and Cornell Davis, of Polaris Development group met in the governor's office last Thurs to bring to light plans to return elements of Kentucky Avenue that should never have been destroyed. They were favorably received, and believe Kentucky Ave shall be recreated bigger and better than ever... good job to all involved.”

Report Violation

2. JazzHead said... on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:32PM

“That would be the best thing AC could do ... bring back Kentucky Avenue. It should have never been destroyed in the first f-in place.”

Report Violation

3. Turiya said... on Feb 9, 2011 at 02:58PM

“Let's hope this is just the beginning! I know it can be done if all parties involved pull together. Sorry I missed the 1st night, just can't get to everything.”

Report Violation

4. sandy warren said... on Feb 9, 2011 at 08:26PM

“The spirits of Art Blakey and other jazz greats from the AC area are full of smiles as are all of us jazz fans who have been waiting for this day for so long!”

Report Violation

5. Jazz Organist! Dan Fogel said... on Feb 10, 2011 at 01:40AM

“Harvey Mason and I were the Houseband mentioned in this article at the Wonder Gardens for many years. We would start work early in the morning from 6:00 am -10:00am sometimes playing till noon depending on the crowd. We also played the the regular evening shows between headliners.
I recall one evening in particular when my dear friend Organist Jimmy McGriff was headlining that week and he asked Harvey and me and our guitarist to fill in for him as he had to go out for a minute. I'll never forget that evening as he never returned and all these people were coming in to see Jimmy McGriff and instead saw this little white boy up there ;of course Harvey Mason and me tearing up the Hammond B-3; and taking no prisoners ( no pun intended). Jimmy finally returned at the end of the night but the crowd seemed no less disappointed by our soulful performance. I was 13 yrs. old. For more stories on KY Ave. - Videos at Chickenbone Beach and my life - go to option Press section”

Report Violation

6. Rev. Gil Caldwell said... on Feb 10, 2011 at 05:36AM

“55 years ago, I came to Atlantic City in the summers to earn money
for my tutition at North Carolina A. & T College in Greensboro. I will
never forget standing on Kentucky Avenue listening to the bold and
creative sounds of Jazz coming from inside Club Harlem and Grace's
Little Belmont. I particularly enjoyed the organ music of Jimmy Smith.

How great it is that Jazz has returned to Kentucky Avenue at Reddings. There is a universality about Jazz that breaks through all of the artificial fences we create to separate ourselves. The late/great pianist/educator
Billy Taylor wrote the song that has the words; " I wish I knew how it feels to be free, to break all the chains that are holding me." Thanks to Chef Carl
and Joe Donofrio for sponsoring and promoting a music form that is indigenous to the USA; Jazz. May the Jazz back on Kentucky Avenue break through any of the chains that may be holding Atlantic City back.

Pastor Caldwell, Asbury Church”

Report Violation

7. Cornell Davis said... on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:02AM

“Kentucky Avenue is the one area in AC that offers the opportunity for grass roots entertainment done in the 21st century. Restoring KY Ave and will bridge the Northside and Southside together and create that drawing hub for persons from all walks of life local and extended to enjoy Atlantic City, NJ 08401”

Report Violation

8. "Action" JACKSON said... on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:47AM

“Well, i am so glad to see this type of progress taking place in this city. So many negatives, yet with a glimps of light from a visionary man, Mr. Redding, my hat goes off to you. I am excited to see what type of additional synergies with success will begin to sprout up from this. My great uncle Tommy Flannagan would be so happy to see what has happened. Lets get to the heart of the matter, put aside stupid political agendas and make this city what it should be...things don't happen until they are ready to is time.”

Report Violation

9. Cinematic Moments Video said... on Feb 14, 2011 at 09:05AM

“Gotta love the resurgence of jazz in South Jersey!”

Report Violation

10. Anonymous said... on May 3, 2011 at 09:10AM

“I am encouraging my family whose reunion will be held in A.C. July 8, 9, and 19, 2011 to visit Reddings. My husband and I ate there earlier this year and loved it.”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)

Related Content

Coasting: DO B3 Starting Halloween Night at Chelsea Pub

By Jeff Schwachter

Atlantic City’s Kentucky Avenue was once a hotbed of jazz activity, with the best of the best players from the 1950s-’70s performing on the legendary strip known as “KY & the Curb,” making it one of Atlantic City’s premier live music attractions.

RELATED: Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors' at Eagle Theatre The Beer Buzz
 Coasting: Claridge Atlantic City Sold
 Top 11 Things a Phish Fan Should Do While in Atlantic City Phish Heads Neil Young Does A.C. Proud Four Cats Called Phish 

Related Content

Reuben Wilson to Kick Off 2013 Jazz at the Beach Series
By Lori Hoffman

Plus, BBQ Championship and Anglesea Blues Festival in Wildwood, Seashore Gardens Gala Preview and 'Summer Spotlight Classes' at Landis Theater.

RELATED: Atlantic City's Star-Spangled Celebration Jazz on the Beach Series Local Scene The Swing King of Marven Gardens

Related Content

Club Harlem Exhibit Planned for New Smithsonian Museum
By Jeff Schwachter 

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, groundbreaking will commence on the newest Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s 19th museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will occupy a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W., between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

RELATED: Coasting: Silent Film Screening to Benefit A.C.’s Historic Organ Coasting: ‘The Way We Were’ Exhibit at Noyes Arts Garage Ralph Hunter at Home in Atlantic City: African American Heritage Museum Opens at New Arts Garage George Clinton Interview: The Mothership Is Coming to Atlantic City Bill Haley: Rockin' Around the Jersey Shore
 Kelsey's: Rekindling KY & the Curb
 Aretha Now!
 Interview with the Queen of Soul Queen Qulits Exhibit Jazz, Blues and Views
 Sonny Fortune: Still Chasing the Trane
 ‘Atlantic City Jackpot’ 
 The Milans: Keeping Black History Alive Today Watch the Conversations and Storytelling Web Video Series! The Other A.C. Trusty's Dream Meet the Real Pattie Harris Jazz Vespers Salute Atlantic City's Legendary Chris Columbo Remembering Grace's Little Belmont

Related Content

Dave Matthews Band 'Live in Atlantic City' on Sale Now
By Jeff Schwachter

Dave Matthews Band 'Live in Atlantic City' is available for pre-ordering. The 2-CD set will be released Dec. 13, and will include the band’s headlining concert on June 26, the final night of the Atlantic City DMBC festival.

RELATED: Grace & Glory Dave Matthews Band Caravan Returning? Dave Matthews Band to Release ‘Live from Atlantic City’
 Live Coverage of Dave Matthews Band Caravan Dave Matthews Band Caravan Line-Up

Related Content

Down by Chicken Bone Beach
By Turiya S.A. Raheem

Atlantic City, like many other U.S. cities, once had segregated beaches, but they didn't start out that way. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Blacks and whites lived side-by-side, worked side-by-side and played side-by-side.

RELATED: Local Youth Benefit from Professionals, Volunteers Free Concert Series Abound in Atlantic City this Summer
 Community Updates: Pennsylvania Avenue School and More Music, Music Everywhere Atlantic City Beach Guide 2012 Great Celebrations Galore Remembering Dr. Derrick Bell and Rev. Fred Shuttleworth Winding Down from Summer, Up for School. Staying Connected with Summertime Reunions Remembering and Revitalizing Historic Kentucky Avenue Still Telling the Story Shelton Hangs On

Related Content

Carl Redding: 'IHOP's Chicken and Waffles Have No Soul'
By Jeff Schwachter

I've tasted IHop's new [chicken and waffles] dish and they're missing the key ingredient — soul! Eating chicken and waffles at IHOP is like eating a Philly cheesesteak in Montana. It's not even close." See photos and video...

RELATED: Kelsey and Kim's Coming to Kentucky and Pacific Avenues Geoff's Page: 13 Things Atlantic City Needs 2010: New Places to Dine at Jersey Shore Comic Relief at Redding’s

Related Content

Northside's Unsung Heroes Causing Stir
By Geoff Rosenberger

Judge Nelson Johnson's latest book 'The Northside,' on Atlantic City's history of African-Americans, is missing key components says community leader. Johnson's previous book Boardwalk Empire was turned into the 2010 HBO series, the second season of which is filming now.

RELATED: AAHMSNJ Honored with Rosa Parks Stamp Unveiling Tyrone Hart Creating Courthouse Mural Disaster Relief Efforts Big Help to the 'Other Atlantic City' Chief Jubilee and the A.C.P.D. An Educator’s Untimely End Southern New Jersey Celebrates Black History Month 
 The Civil Rights Garden on MLK Day How 'Boardwalk Empire' Found Nelson Johnson Out and About – On the First Day of Kwanzaa... The Great Migration to Atlantic City 10 Reasons Why The African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey Should Be in Atlantic City 5 Questions With Author Turiya S.A. Raheem Photos, Video and Observations from HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' Premiere Party at Caesars Atlantic City City Beat Nucky Goes North Pop Lloyd’s Northside Empire Empire Builders: From Plexus to HBO

Related Content

Salute to Mr. Soul, Sam Cooke.
By Jeff Schwachter

A banner with the name Slappy White on it hung across Kentucky Avenue all summer. The late comedian and actor (who died in Brigantine in 1995) was booked for the entire season at Atlantic City’s famed Club Harlem. On this particular summer night, however — July 24, 1964, to be precise — hanging above the banner was yet another banner. It read: “Sam Cooke.”

RELATED: Coasting: Beatles Weekend at Hamilton Mall
 Bette Davis Tries
 Dr. Cornel West Speaks at Stockton College The Story Behind Rydell’s ‘Wildwood Days’
 Soul Food Supper Club Black History, Jazz and Poetry Atlantic City Multi-Cultural Heritage Festival
 Interview: Robert "Kool" Bell of Kool & The Gang Dancing Midget? Nina Simone

Related Content

Local Music Issue

The truth is, our region has been a live-music mecca since the early 1900s, when cats like Eubie Blake and Eddie Cantor hung out for summers and performed at local clubs. Decades later the Atlantic City jazz scene was as hot as they come, with internationally heralded performers from Billy Eckstine and Louis Armstrong playing residencies at some of the hottest clubs on the East Coast, namely the venues on Atlantic City’s fabled Kentucky Avenue — all of them are gone now — including the Club Harlem.

RELATED: Ventnor Coffee Is Asked: 'Live Music at a Coffee House?' The Pedestrians — Playing in the Band
 Elephants for Autism: Banding Together Again Margate’s Music Revival Gold Thrust
 She’s a ...
 Trop Unites Again at 5th Annual Taste of the Quarter Remembering Musician George Mesterhazy Rock Battle On
 at Hard Rock A Grammy Win for Atlantic City Music for the Soul
 Music Man Tom Pacitti ‘Atlantic City’ — the 1944 Movie Local Music Needs to Be Heard
 Music Beats On and On
 The Music Beats — On and On
 ‘Fame’ for ChARTer Tech Students Hard to Say Goodbye Pete's Pistol Packin’ Party in Pleasantville Band on the Rise: GoodMan Fiske Reality Series Casting at NJ Home & Garden Show Harvest of Hope: Wine, Food and Philanthropy for the Alcove Eden Lounge Turns Up the Music Benefit for Bobby Campanell Johnny Andrews 1934-2010: Atlantic City Loses a Gentleman of Jazz All Access Pass Back Stage Will The Boneyard Become New Venue for Local Bands? Art of Electronica Brings Eddie Thoneick to Club Worship Everybody’s a Music Mogul: Kickstarter and Anj Granieri Hard Rock Rising 2014

Related Content

Live From Club Harlem
By Jim Waltzer

Summertime, and the groovin’ is easy. Tourists fatten the regular jazz crowd cramming Kentucky Avenue, where the night never dies. Inside Club Harlem, they press against the bar and each other, as the organist and his quartet tune up on the bandstand. The music comes fast and the band is tight and the organ looses a torrent of sound. And there’s an added bonus for posterity: the live session is being recorded for an album, a rare occurrence in Atlantic City. This was the scene on the Saturday night of Aug. 9, 1969, when master jazz organist Lonnie Smith and company cut Move Your Hand, an exemplar of ’60s soul jazz, for the legendary Blue Note label. The title song, which became a hit, borrowed its lyric from a joke that Smith’s drummer told about a substitute preacher who couldn’t deliver the sermon because someone else’s hand was covering the text. (The joke is less than hysterical, but the number’s a grabber.) “One night, I was playing a little lick and just happened to say [“move your hand”] to the fellows in the band,” says Smith, now 67 and as busy as ever. “People loved it and always requested it.” It became...

Related Content

Welcome to the Club
By Ray Schweibert

At a fraction the size of the Showboat House of Blues' main music hall, one might assume that the Club Harlem Ballroom is reserved for lesser-known acts, or those that don't have the drawing power to...

Related Content

Club Harlem at K.Y. and the Curb
By Jim Waltzer

THE ADDRESS WAS 32 North Kentucky Avenue, and it was a place where the music -- and the night -- never died. If the entire block, including the likes of Grace's Little Belmont and the Wonder Garden b...

RELATED: Third Annual Kentucky Avenue Renaissance Festival Meeting Atlantic City's Democratic Mayoral Candidates The LP Debuted in Atlantic City
 When Walt Whitman Did AC
 Old Atlantic City: Pre-Gaming Era Chicken Bone Beach Jazz Camp a Success! Atlantic City Nightlife Circa 1920s

Related Content

Redding’s Opens in Atlantic City
By Frank Gabriel

After nearly six months of endless construction, Redding’s Restaurant on Pacific Avenue opened its doors two weeks ago.

RELATED: 32nd Atlantic City Boat Show

Related Content

Joey DeFrancesco: Jazz Nobility
By Ray Schweibert

At one time Atlantic City was a must-stop destination among the greatest names in the genre of jazz music, and a strong correlation exists between the city and the DeFrancesco surname. But Joey DeFrancesco, who has been hailed as one of the greatest jazz organists of all time, has never before performed in A.C. as a professional musician.

RELATED: Hittin’ It Big
 (Band) Style

Related Content

Representing KY & the Curb: Harvey Mason
By Eugene Holley Jr.

Chameleon is an apt nickname for the Atlantic City-born drummer/bandleader Harvey Mason. For four decades he’s played on nearly 1,500 recordings as a sideman with everybody from James Brown, Barbra Streisand and Beyoncé, to Frank Sinatra, Santana, Gil Scott-Heron and Michael Jackson.

RELATED: Jazz at the PAC Keeping the Jazz Alive Borgata Hosts WPT TV World Championship