Toronto's long lost jazz clubs take centre stage in new exhibit
St. Lawrence Market Gallery show highlights 'architecture of entertainment' in past clubs
Billie Holiday appears lost in song on the Town Tavern stage, her riveted audience close enough to reach out and touch.
Behind her, Toronto's star drummer Archie Alleyne keeps the rhythm on a white kit that matches Holiday's dress. Later he'd write about that special night, and the story stuck with jazz historian Ralph Coram.
"It was a noisy club and when she came out on stage everybody was quiet, even the kitchen staff stopped working and they came out to watch her," Coram told CBC Toronto as he looked at the black-and-white image.
The picture is one of dozens on display as part of the Notes in the Night exhibit, which is running at the St. Lawrence Market Gallery until late June. Coram spent years assembling the show, which focuses not on the musicians but the long-lost jazz clubs that once sprang up throughout downtown Toronto. The "architecture of entertainment," as he puts it.
"I'm looking for the background of the clubs, the audience ... the vibe."
The Town Tavern was just one of some 75 clubs that have come and gone since 1946. Few are still standing today.
Bob Ross owns The Rex Hotel, on Queen Street West, which is still open today. Touring the exhibit, Ross was enthralled with the glimpses back at long lost clubs, like George's Spaghetti House.
"Bad corner, but great club," he said.
"The waiters would go by — 'Who's got the spaghetti and meatballs?' — right in front of the horn player, you know. It was great, wonderful!"
As clubs like The Savarin Tavern, The Colonial and The Bermuda Onion closed down, Ross managed to keep his venue running, sometimes salvaging bits of brass rail from old clubs to add to the ambiance of his place.