Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Modern Jazz On The Gulf Coast In The 1950s and 1960s Downbeat Lounge Jazz Club Biloxi Mississippi Long Gone

The above photo is the only one I have been able to find so far identified as being in the Downbeat Lounge in Biloxi, Mississippi. That is Lee Charlton on the drums in 1958.
The Downbeat Lounge was torn down sometime in the 1960s. The house piano player was a guy named John Probst. As I recall he was blind or near blind. He moved on over to New Orleans and recorded with Pete Fountain. But the Downbeat Lounge in Biloxi played only modern jazz.
It was a small place and a fine jazz club. It was a long narrow club with the bandstand at the back of the club. Over the bar and around the bandstand were some pictures of nude women painted on black velvet.
 I drove by the location in the late 1960s and where it had once been was now a plot of green grass outside some Motel.

Here are some reviews of Gulf Coast Jazz from that era.
And here is some more info I found on Lee Charlton.

•Lee Charlton

Born in Attalla, Alabama, the son of a salesman who played sax, trombone and drums, Lee began playing drums at age 10, and never looked back. He was twice awarded Best Drummer in Alabama state competitions, and, as a teenager began both local and road jazz gigs, influenced early on by Shelly Manne, and later by Max Roach. During the Korean conflict, Lee was fortunate to have been surrounded by excellent musicians in the Army band. Once released, he played in bands all over the South, including Don Reitan's quintet on the Gulf Coast, and in Atlanta, played a trio gig with Wynton Kelly, and enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame playing with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Lee brought his New Orleans Quintet--which included pianist Ellis Marsalis and bassist Bun Blessey--to the Bay Area in 1963, where he has since made his home, playing for twenty years with fellow southerner Mose Allison, and recording with Mose, Vince Guaraldi, Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, Beaver & Krause, pianist-composer Bryce Rohde and experimentalist Richard Waters. Lee has also played with Red Rodney, Chet Baker, Cal Tjader and Kenny Drew, and has joined Dave Grusin, Jack Sheldon, Maynard Ferguson, June Christie and Bob Cooper on various Bay Area gigs. Lee has used Verisonic drumsticks and brushes for over 30 years and endorses them.

This is an article from The Times Picayune Newspaper in New Orleans, Louisiana. It mentions a man who was the owner of the club in 1958. The author of this article made a mistake in the location of the Downbeat Lounge in Biloxi. It was not across Highway 90 from The White House Hotel.That would have been impossible.  Across Hwy. 90 was the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The Downbeat was on Hwy 90 close to old downtown Biloxi. I believe it was located near The Buena Vista Beach Motel Hotel.

The matchbook below is from the Buena Vista Hotel. Click to enlarge.
The aerial photo above shows Biloxi,Mississippi in either the 1950s or early 1960s. Click and double click to enlarge it.  The large hotel is the Buena Vista Hotel and across from it is the Buena Vista Motel. The Downbeat Lounge Jazz Club was located near this location.
 And here is a history of the Buena Vista Hotel and what happened to it.

Bottled-up emotion

A California vintner with ties to N.O. uncorked a 'Recovery Merlot' that sold out and raised $120,000 for local schools

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Angus Lind

"New Orleans is the grande dame of the South. A mean woman named Katrina tore and tattered her clothes up a little bit, but she'll be back -- that's what I keep telling my friends," said Dr. Toad.

Dr. Toad is Todd Williams (aka The Toad), co-founder along with Rod Strong (The Badger) of Toad Hollow Vineyards, an award-winning winery in Healdsburg, Calif. That's the heart of wine country, 65 miles north of! San Francisco, where rolling valleys nestle alongside the Russian River.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Williams and Strong knew they had to do something to help.

"I've got a lot of friends from Pensacola to New Orleans," said Williams, a half-brother of actor Robin Williams. "I lived in Biloxi and New Orleans. It just upset me so much."

So he got about 1,650 cases of what he calls "pretty doggone good wine," and had his label person put their famous caricature toad in the Toad Hollow logo standing in water, wearing a hard ! hat and tool belt and clutching a hammer. They named the vintage Katrina Recovery Merlot and added the words "Proceeds to Gulf Coast Survivor Relief" on the label.

On the back label are these words: "From Plaquemines Parish to New Orleans and from Kenner to Biloxi -- devastation. But 300 years of history and culture cannot be wiped out by one hurricane. Please help the Gulf Coast recover."

The entire release of this tasty 2001 merlot sold out in less than two weeks. Williams said the winery sold it at cost and that as a result some $120,000 will be distributed to school districts in St. Bernard Parish, Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

"We thought it would be nice to throw some money at the little guys who might not be getting mentioned as much," he said.

A character of characters, Williams tells people he is "68 going on 20." He has been involved with bars and restaurants his entire life before getting involved with the wine operation ! in 1994.

He grew up in a split home, spending time in Lexington, Ky., and Chicago before running away from home at age 15. He rode to Naples, Fla., on a Whizzer motorbike and immediately got a job in a bar, the Pelican Club. "I just loved it. I loved to drink, loved the business, right away," he said. He would go on to own his first bar at 19, and by his count owned "some 17 or so joints." He owned the Downbeat Lounge in Biloxi in 1958, across U.S. 90 from the White House Hotel, and recalled that he had to pay a bootleg fee to law authorities.

Amazing what you remember about the old Gulf Coast.

He also, along the way, worked for Hyp Guinle's Famous Door on Bourbon Street.

"There are a lot of people I care about in New Orleans and along the coast," he said. "The Brennan family supports my wine; so does Muriel's. So do a lot of people down there."

In the early '90s, Williams' wife handed down an edict: No mo! re bars. He hooked up with Strong, who, according to Williams, had lived a similar life of excess, wining and dining his way through existence.

"We were just two old farts trying to stay out of trouble, trying to retire," Williams said, "and now, hell, I'm working harder at 68 than I was at 28."

What they came up with was a plot to produce high-quality wines that are interesting but not pricey.

"We have a lot of fun," Williams said. "Our labels are silly, but our wines are good." The names aren't bad either: Cacophony Zinfandel, Eye of the Toad Dry Rose, Erik's the Red (a robust red blend) and Le Faux Frog Chardonnay. The pairing was a natural. Dr. Toad, according to the vineyard's promotional information, is "a man known around the neighborhood as one who could sell sand to a sheik, as well as a consummate storyteller."

He would handle the marketing.

Mr. Badger, "a gentleman extraordinaire, who had honed ! his palate during visits to chateaus, whilst dancing for kings... would craft the wine." That's the legend, anyway -- which Williams says "isn't far" from the absolute truth.

Whatever. What's important is that Toad Hollow raised the money and Williams himself is traveling here to distribute it. He says there's little doubt that the sirens will call and he'll also slip into New Orleans for a taste of nightlife.

And already definitely on his schedule down the road is the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May.

"I'm telling all my friends to get their fannies down there," Williams said. "The city needs them."

. . . . . . . Columnist Angus Lind can be reached at or (504) 826-3449 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (504) 826-3449 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.