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Cafe Society by Terry Trilling-Josephson

Caf? Society and The Cookery: The Right Place for the Right People

When did you last read a life story of a "Saloon Impresario" whose nightclub attracted the hoi-polloi with the slogan "The wrong place for the Right people?" Right capitalized for effect.

Barney Josephson, a shoe salesman from Trenton (NJ) and a jazz fan, narrates the occurrences and happenings of opening three nightclubs and the ups and downs of surviving from Christmas week 1938 to 1982 in New York City. Caf? Society, the first to present jazz, blues and comedy performers to an integrated audience, became a Mecca for the sophisticated, progressive uptown crowd. Compiled from tape recordings, performer interviews and personal recollections by Terry Trilling-Josephson (his last wife) fill 376 pages with insight into the social and political foibles of the entertainment business. I'll let them reveal Swing-Jazz history in their own words.

"You have a feeling, " Barney Josephson recounted. "You hear something and you say, 'This is it!' You go ahead and do it. You don't analyze. You have to follow your own hunches. I've Always been instinctive about discoveries."

He was referring to the opening night with trumpeter Frankie Newton's 7 piece band, boogie-woogie pianists' Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, MC Jack Gilford and vocalist Billie Holiday. Over the years many soon to be famous: vocalist Lena Horne, comedian Imogene Coca, trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen, violinist Eddie South, clarinetist Edmond Hall, pianist Art Tatum, bassist Johnny Williams Jr., trumpeter Emmett Berry, saxophonist Lester Young, trumpeter Buck Clayton, drummer "Big Sid" Catlett, Sarah Vaughn, comic vocalist Zero Mostel, and the already respected Paul Robeson. All were hired without a contract.

The New York Times review made it the talk of the town:
"A lively and highly diverting addition to Manhattan's nigh spots is Caf? society which opened recently in the redecorated basement at 2 Sheridan Square . . . The entertainment includes topnotch Negro purveyors of swing to rival the 52nd street clubs"

Pianist Teddy Wilson was quoted:
"There is not a nightclub owner who even talked or thought or acted like Barney. . . . He was a fine person with class. . . . Barney was politically aware. He knew everything that was going on. Nightclub owners in those days, you couldn't even carry on a conversation with them."

Talent Scout, philanthropist and the clubs first investor, John Hammond reported:
"I thought this was a wonderful place in New York where I could bring my friends; where talent was properly presented; where Negro talent was not exploited, as they were, utterly, in those days. And Barney was a straight decent man. That's what attracted me to him."

Mr. Josephson reports:
"I opened Uptown (128 E. 58th Street) and they all flocked into the place. Opening night was a special treat. Without any announcement Benny Goodman stepped up right out of the audience with his clarinet and sent out ' Somebody Stole My Gal'." . . . Downtown was now a smash . . . I paid off John Hammond and Benny Goodman's loans.

"Barney, there's a woman whom I consider the worlds first white jazz singer, Mildred Bailey," John Hammond said. In fact Mildred was part Native American born on a reservation near Spokane, WA and proud of it ( later she married Red Norvo as Mr. and Mrs. Swing.)

Political pressure from the Un-American Activities Committee and legal expenses forced the closing of Uptown but Mr. Josephson was able to keep Downtown another year till March of 1949. After two failed lunchtime deli's he opened The Cookery in 1955 on University Place and 8th Street in the East Village but didn't have entertainment until Mary Lou Williams bought a piano for the opening night in November1970. "Live at the Cookery" was recorded by Hank O'Neal's Chiaroscuro Records in 1975 to "save jazz." Among his "discoveries" were pianists Marian McPartland, Eddie Heywood, Teddy Wilson, Susannah McCorkle, Dick Hyman, Chuck Folds and entertaining vocalists Nellie Lutcher, Helen Humes, Ruth Brown, Marian Williams, Sylvia Syms, Oscar Brand, Adelaide Hall with Ronny Whyte at the piano, Frank Tate or Jay Leonhart on String Bass among others and Alberta Hunter who in the end helped him stay open a few extra years.

Village Gate proprietor D'Lugoff, spoke at the November 16th, 1988 St. Peters Church memorial:
"we all owe a great debt to Barney, the life we live today, the music, the ideas, the thoughts. His was not just a jazz club. I learned from him very early. It was jazz, it was comedy, it was folk, it was ethnic, it was people, it was taste . . . I think Caf? Society should be the story that should be told about our century."

There's much more to learn in that Terry Josephson has lovingly, truthfully, painstakingly related the joy of the people in Barney Josephson's life, revealed the national political scene and how he fostered camaraderie between the races. He was a successful Saloon Impresario.

Daniel Kassell
Watch Jazz Happen
All Rights Reserved

Additional Info

  • Book Title: Cafe Society
  • Author: Terry Trilling-Josephson
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Year Published: 2009
  • Book Type:: Biography
  • ISBN: 13 978-0-252-03413-8
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 376
Dan Kassell

Dan Kassell expands his curiosity by attending concerts, conventions, lectures and movies to take note of the History of Jazz from the indigenous Caribes in the Caribbean to Algiers New Orleans, Chicago and New York. As a member of the Jersey Jazz Society since 1972 he's witnessed musicians who learned from jazz's founders. Reviews also appear in, Amazon and and historically in AllAboutJazz-New York, Mississippi Rag or Jersey Jazz since 1972.

First inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller playing "Your Feet's Too Big," Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, Louis Armstrong solos, Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra and Bob Wilber with Marty Gross and Kenny Davern's Soprano Summit he's also became fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of Free Jazz while working on publicity for Chico Freeman.

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