Cincinnati Enquirer Magazine article from October 26,1975 by Bill Steigerwald

It’s not where the big money is or where the crowds are flocking, but jazz music is still alive and fairly well in Cincinnati. A group of local musicians and a few clubs manage to keep the fire burning despite the all too many pitfalls, waiting for the day when jazz returns in a big way.

Even when local jazz musicians get a chance to play music, they hardly ever get a chance to play jazz.

This town is blessed with a marching-bandful of good jazz musicians, yet there are only a few sanctuaries where they can play this jazz straight un-medleyed with popular music.

For the past two years, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Main Branch, a bar in Clifton called Emanon, and Soho Underground in the West End have been the only locations in Cincinnati where local jazzmen have consistently performed just jazz.

A new local group, the Classic Jazz Society of Southwestern Ohio, opens a series of classic jazz concerts today at Mike Fink's restaurant in Covington, adding one more place for jazz musicians to sit down and play real jazz.

At, the library, it's Jazz Lives! The series of free noontime concerts with the optimistic name is cosponsored by the library and the Cincinnati Musicians Association (the union), with the musicians paid through a grant from the Recording Industries Trust Fund. The hour-long concerts have been near-permanent fare at the Library one-Monday-a-month since they began in November, 1973. Although the current four-month renewal of Jazz Lives expired with the 22nd concert September 29, the series is expected to be renewed next spring.

Conducted either in the library garden or theater, depending on the time of year, each concert has entertained hundreds of downtown lunch-timers, from students and businessmen to housewives with children in tow. More importantly, the series has given area jazzmen a place to display their diverse jazz talents, not only to those in attendance, but to thousands more via radio station WGUC-FM which tapes and later broadcasts each concert.

When the musicians perform at Jazz Lives, however, they work in the best of all possible worlds. The large and enthusiastic crowd comes specifically to hear jazz. And even if the numbers are swollen because the concerts are at noon, free, and downtown, it is a jazz-appreciative audience. Thus, for an hour at least, the musicians are able to play at the library in a way they are not able to in clubs, restaurants or bars, where jazz as entertainment too often must be laced liberally with popular tunes lest non-jazz-hip customers be bored out of their minds.


EMANON, a bar on Jefferson Avenue in Clifton, jazz is not a monthly luncheon treat, but a six-night specialty of the house. Whether presented by live musicians or heard on records, jazz is Emanon's only sound.

Jazz at Emanon is synonymous with Edward Moss, a 35-year-old dedicated eccentric and piano genius who holds a master's degree in composition from Indiana University and has been a character on the city's music scene since 1965 when he played at Mahogany Hall. In Emanon's dim, comfortable front room, with its copper bar and small copper-topped tables, Ed Moss has created the perfect environment in which to serve up inside what the sign outside promises: HOT JAZZ.

Moss cooks his hot jazz on his Baldwin or Steinway two or three sets a night every night except Sunday, from a brightly spotlighted" stage in the corner, with drummer Barry Ries and bass-man Bob Bodley in front. Whether he is rolling out a boogie-woogie-like stomp, feeling his way through a Gershwin classic or improvising, his individual jazz style and skills are obvious.

With round wire-rim eyeglasses hidden by one of his ever attendant berets angled over his forehead, his ponytail and face full of beard, Moss is a living caricature of a 1950 bop jazzman. A tie and sport coat, even at times a coat and tails, reinforce the cool likeness. Moss is primarily a jazz pianist, although occasionally he grabs a saxophone or sorta-sings a few bars of "Moonlight in Vermont"

Above all, Moss plays his music when and how he wants to play it. Although he does not own Emanon, he runs it and its older satellite, the Golden Triangle, a jazzy, bookshelved coffee house on East McMillan now featuring a piano trio on weekends from 11 p.m. to dawn. Moss says he set up Emanon and the Golden Triangle, where he played piano off and on for about five years before opening Emanon in January, 1974, as places where jazz musicians could exhibit their music the way they wanted, without being told what to play by club owners. "There is no one better qualified to run a club than the musician himself," Moss says. "I'd open another club tomorrow if I had a musician who was a good player and had a good business mind. The problems of jazz clubs are solvable. You need musicians in charge or actually owning the club."

Not only does Ed Moss have the run of his personal club, where he could hum Armenian folk songs if he wanted, but he has gathered about him what he describes as a "self-contained commune" living in the building. The household members double as low-cost workers and craftsmen. They tend bar, serve food and drinks and do everything from tuning the piano each day to laying hardwood floors. In addition to this family of club employees and handymen, Moss is blessed with Ries and Bodley, who, currently anyway, have opted for musical freedom, not monetary reward. Even with these bonuses, Moss has expenses and needs customers willing to fork over $1.50 cover charge on weekends. Ever since its unheralded beginning, however, when Emanon literally did not have a name and was called "The No Name Bar," a growing number of jazz-seekers have discovered Moss and his music.


Although not a jazz shrine, Cellar I of Soho Underground on Findlay has been a local jazz spot since its inception, with many local jazz musicians appearing through the years. In fact, when Soho opened 3 or 4 years ago, Ed Moss, Grover Mooney. Jimmy McGary and Woody Evans were first to play there. Since then, the procession of local jazz artists has included Cohesion, Mary Johnson, Popeye Maupin, Sonny Miles, John Wright, and others.

Soho owner Pete Paras says his bar specializes in entertainment. Jazz is the constant in Cellar I four nights per week, while the larger Cellar II lounge features rock and rhythm and blues delivered either by local or traveling musicians. A single cover charge on Friday and Saturday night allows patrons to float freely between the two Cellars. On Thursday and Sunday there's no cover charge. Jazz organist Sonny Miles and saxophonist John Wright lately have shared Cellar I's narrow stage, each taking six-month-or-so turns as resident jazzmen. Miles, currently at Soho with sidemen Jerry Davis on guitar, Melvin Broach on drums and Earl Evans on congas, plays at Parker's Lounge or Billy's Bar when not at Cellar I.

Miles and his group create a Latin-jazz sound sprinkled with a jazz standard or more popular tune like “Goin' Out of My Head." Miles enjoys working at Soho because he has the freedom to play what he likes without having to "bend" to the audience's tastes. "If they don't like what we are playing, they can go next door to Cellar II."

Obviously, the Jazz Lives concerts, Ed Moss' place and Soho's unique two-Cellar arrangement are exceptional cases. In the real world of motels and clubs, jazz musicians do not enjoy such near-absolute freedom of musical expression. In the cruel-harsh, jazz musicians hardly get a chance to play jazz.

Frank Vincent

For example, jazz pianist Frank (Cheyenne) Vincent and his trio entertained five nights a week during August at the Hospitality Inn in Kenwood. Jammed onto a grotto-like stage behind the bar, Vincent, drummer Jimmy Seward and bassist Bill Grimes simultaneously played to families lingering over tables covered with coffee cups and rumpled napkins and to overly well-dressed loungers in the bar.

It was not a jazz crowd and Vincent's trio did not play too much jazz. They did a "Love Story/ Summertime" medley, sometimes venturing toward jazziness, but always mindful to include extra doses of melody so the listeners would not get lost. "Undecided" was followed by the appearance of singer Kathy Flynn. She did "Loving You" and "You've Got a Friend," not exactly your jazz standards.

It was what Vincent sarcastically calls "music for lobsters: music that is simple; music where you don't have to think."

When Vincent or Grimes finished a solo during one of the jazzier tunes the trio slipped in, the applause of the jazz fan rarely praised them. But the listeners did not come to hear Frank Vincent or jazz. They came to eat dinner, or have a few drinks, or because they happened to stop at the Hospitality Inn on the way to visit uncle Fred in Louisville. Count Basie could have been crammed in that arch up there, swinging with his whole band, and few would have noticed.

Although Vincent has made a career out of playing jazz, he prefers not to be associated with the label "jazz musician" and says "if you're going to eat food, you have to get rid of the jazz tag." He'd rather be known as a good musician. Whatever he is, he's not too thrilled with the current jazz picture in Cincinnati.

"You could take the best club location in Cincinnati, get a hip owner to put up the money, put a good jazz band in, and watch the place go down the toilet. If jazz is going to live, it will be in the recording studio and at concerts, not in the clubs. We had one of the best local bands around here in years at Scarlota's, but nobody showed up."

Vincent continues to earn a livelihood as a musician, from his Living Room days, through his stints at the Buccaneer with Dee Felice, his four-month engagement at Jerry Scarlota's Upstairs last fall, to the Hospitality Inn. He, like another pianist in town, Lee Stolar, has learned to bend to the audience; learned to play the musical middle. Lee Stolar accepts his musical fate less bitterly, however.

Stolar considers himself lucky to have been playing so regularly these past 20 years. "I am one of three or four jazz pianists in town who is pragmatic enough to realize that you can not educate the audience. Ten years ago I tried to do my own stuff, but you have to learn. My group now, with Mary Ellen Tanner, who's a pop singer, plays pop-oriented music, but we're a jazz group."

Stolar is part of jazz bassist Tom Letzler's "Scorpio," which until the Playboy Club downtown closed last November for remodeling, was the house trio for about two years. Though not what he considers a "jazz gig," Stolar plans to return to the Playboy Club in November and stick with it for the security it offers, hoping to get enough chances to play what he likes to keep him happy.

"There are some guys who'd rather starve than play music they don't like," he says, "but I think you have to recognize the exigencies of making a living."


Christopher von Volborth is a musically well-trained jazz saxophonist who does not earn a living playing jazz and therefore does not consider himself a professional musician. Von Volborth, German-born, approaches the grim state of the jazz art in Cincinnati in a way you might expect of someone studying for a post graduate degree in anthropology at UC.

"With its African and Western European roots, jazz is a synthesis of western civilization and an American contribution to the world. Jazz can be taken all over the world and people will dig it.

"In terms of making a living, however, jazz music is a rotten profession. It's suffering from economic pressures. To become commercially viable it must be promoted locally and nationally by record companies, television, radio, and disc-jockeys, the way rock has been. The various free concerts have been the only attempt by local people to help jazz, but they don't do it. Free is always well attended."

No one has to explain to Von Volborth the difference between free concerts and playing in a club. At each of his two Jazz Lives concerts, he played to about 250 people. Late one Friday night in East Hyde Park, in an ultra-violet-lighted former rock lounge that was trying to change its clientele by changing its music from rock to jazz. Von Volborth and the rest of his quartet did "It's Almost Like Being In Love" while the bartendress danced with the only customer.

Although the situation improved somewhat later in the evening when an older couple appeared and a few rock-age holdouts in Harley-Davidson T-shirts strolled in, it was not exactly Jazz Lives. "But Jazz Lives is free and at noon in IT WAS NOT a jazz crowd, Von Volborth notes matter of factly.


Were it not for free concerts at the library and other publicly sponsored events, a jazz ensemble called Cohesion would get few chances to perform at all.

A contemporary jazz quartet composed of drums, bass, guitar and violin, Cohesion appeared for the third time at the library's Jazz Lives series August 25. The group's repertoire includes original jazz compositions and the works of jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. True to its name, Cohesion has stuck together with the same personnel for 2 and a half years, probably longer than any other local jazz group. It has also retained its jazz purity.

The only catch is that they have played so infrequently. Bassist Jim Anderson teaches music at the Arts Consortium during the day and says that despite brief summer stints at the Club Aquarius and at Soho, "the group is lucky to get a job every two months."

Although Anderson expresses frustration at trying to play jazz in Cincinnati, an area which he says was hopping with jazz 15 to 20 years ago, Cohesion continues to rehearse three times a week. He and violinist Ed Oxley, guitarist Mario Lathan and drummer Bobby Scott keep their own jazz-flame alive so that when jazz regains its former popularity, which Anderson believes will occur, the group will be ready.

Dee Felice

Speaking of jazz flames, Dee Felice's is flickering these days. A professional jazz drummer for most of his career, the popular Felice is exploring acting and entertainment possibilities in cabaret settings. The 44-year-old Western Hills High School alumnus lately has been with Jerry Conrad's Rhythm and Brass at the Santa Fe in Sharonville, a band which Felice admits is basically a rock and roll band. But jazz is still his first love.

Felice was a drummer in the house trio at both the Old and New Living Rooms during the '60s, worked similarly at the Playboy Club. His trio, with Lee Elton Tucker and Frank Vincent, was a regular attraction at' the Buccaneer Inn on Reading Road.

He thinks the local jazz picture is bleak, yet he considers Cincinnati a good jazz town blessed with an abundance of outstanding jazzmen, including Ed Moss, guitarists Ken Poole and Cal Collins, saxophonist Jimmy McGary, and many others.

Felice is critical of club owners. "Except for a few exceptions, they have lost out completely," he says. "Where in other towns club owners will promote jazz and build a business round it, in Cincinnati they hire you and get you to do your own promoting. Several times we were hired and the owner didn't even know what kind of music we played."

Lee Elton Tucker, Dee Felice's sidekick/bassman for 12 years (who now drives a milk truck during the day), concurs with Felice about club owners. The Jazz Milkman, as he proudly calls himself, says too often club owners dictate to musicians what type of music to play, after they are hired.


It is hard to realize how many good jazz musicians there are in town. In addition to the well-known names like Felice, Vincent, Stolar, Moss and Popeye Maupin, there are scores of lesser known musicians who would love the freedom to play jazz in a club or motel without having to bend to the crowd, or, as some jazzmen might say, "sell-out."

Gordon Brisker is an example. Brisker was a saxophonist with Woody Herman's band in 1960-61. He's spent most of the last four months hiring the 18 musicians needed to fill the two nine-piece bands which worked during the summer at Kings Island. He would rather do club work, but notes that it doesn't seem like there is a club in town that can yank the jazz fans out of the comfort of their homes.

When not working or playing at Kings Island, Brisker joined Fred Lucht and Rudy Minitti's L&M Big Band for several free outdoor concert dates at county and city parks, one of which, at Winton Woods, drew more than 5000 people on a Friday evening.

The powerful L&M band duplicates many original Stan Kenton and Woody Herman big band arrangements and is formed from a pool of about 25 local musicians. According to Lucht, once a drummer in Les Elgart's band, the L&M band has been working about 10 times a year, mostly at private things like dances at hotels or country clubs.

As an example of what he and other musicians seeking regular jazz work must face, Lucht recalls the response the manager of a downtown hotel gave when he suggested that his hotel book the L&M band for weekend dance work: "He said, 'No one else in town is doing it, why should I?'"

Another almost unknown local jazzman is Sam Jackson. For awhile it looked as if he were to become the house pianist at the Celestial Restaurant on Mt. Adams. He and another jazz pianist, Judy Weech, shared Celestial, each taking three nights and playing a mixture of popular tunes and jazz standards, but a male-female duo recently replaced them. Both were supported by Allen Thompson on bass and Levi Hooks on drums. All are Jazz Lives alumni.

Jackson, who works at the Post Office during the day, would prefer regular club work. So would female jazz pianist Mary Johnson. The 27-year-old Conservatory of Music product worked most of the summer in the orchestra pit at Kings Island in one of Gordon Brisker's bands.

She, Jimmy McGary, Phillip Paul, and Bob Bodley did the May 1974, library concert as the Mary Johnson Quartet. Mary, who also sings, specializing in Carmen McCrae and Nancy Wilson standards, has worked many local clubs, including the Viking and Soho.

She, too, avoids the jazz musician label. "You don't get hired if you say you are a jazz musician. Most club managers think only commercial music will sell."

Probably, however, commercial or top-40 music is the only type that will sell these days. Lou Lausche, vice president of the Cincinnati Musicians' Association and a lawyer who keeps his hand in the jazz business by bass playing at parties, weddings and at Beverly Hills, thinks so.

“People just don't buy jazz today”, Lausche says. Club patrons either want to dance or to be entertained by something like husband-wife duos. Most motels and lounges in the area have live musical entertainment, he notes, but not jazz. It's top-40 bands and traveling rock bands.

Regardless of how tough it is to earn a living playing jazz, there are many musicians scrambling around Cincinnati trying to do it. The scene is volatile. Jazz groups form, break up and re-form. Jazz is heard here, then and there for a few weeks. The better musicians move out of the Cincinnati market to the regional circuits, such as jazz guitarist Wilbert Longmire, or move to New York, as David Matthews did. Others seek local work whenever possible.

Cal Collins, for one, has been picking jazz guitar at Whitey's on Colerain Avenue every Monday night for about five years. He and his "magic guitar" have become the nucleus of a Monday night "jazz workshop" where local jazzmen come to sit in and, as Collins says, "play jazz as they are not able to at their regular gigs."

Collins, typical of local jazz musicians, is always playing somewhere. Whether backing a national jazz name like Jeremy Steig at Gilly's in Dayton, or at Skipper's on Reading Road, Collins never stops playing jazz. Because his jazz-brothers do likewise, jazz stays alive in Cincinnati.

White-bearded Irish jazz saxophonist Jimmy McGary has played everywhere from Dilly's in Mt. Adams during the early '70s to the library with Mary Johnson's group. Daylight finds McGary working for the city. He plays jazz wherever he can at night.

An unlikely showcase for McGary's jazz sax sound was the Newport Travel Lodge's Gladiator Restaurant, where he and organist Dick Monroe labored as a duo on Friday and Saturday nights during August. While there, McGary made a statement which provides a clue to why jazz continues to be heard in Cincinnati and elsewhere, in spite of all the factors working against it.

At 2:20 a.m. on a Saturday morning the Gladiator is one of the few non-chili meals in town. While about 100 late night breakfast-gulping former revelers talked and ate at constant decibel level of 65, McGary and Monroe might as well have been playing to an empty room. Only those sitting at the small organ-bar two feet from the musicians could hear the music above the din.

When McGary closed "Green Dolphin Street," he was told, "Jimmy, no one was listening." He said, "I don't care, man, I was."