Music, Art and Culture are always evolving. It never really goes back, but often we loop back to integrate aspects of past experience to chart a new way forward. In creating The Bohemian in Cedar Rapids, we have sought out key aspects of our historic legacy to call on as we build our local culture in the present moment. In the visual arts, there is a strong movement toward “New Realism” that refers back to the painterly skills of “Old Masters” with contemporary subject matter. In music, there is a growing interest in Jazz, R and B, Blues and American roots music; We reach back into the past, integrate that experience and move on into present and future music. Evidence of this is the popularity of the 2017 film La La Land, and emerging new music groups such as Post Modern Juke Box and Lake Street Dive that have achieved recent global fame.
During the years that the Richards family lived in New York City, we heard “oldtimers” speaking lovingly and longingly about the kind of authentic music clubs of New York’s rich past. During the mid-1950s, Cafe Bohemia was one of the most happening jazz clubs in New York City, a Greenwich Village club where Manhattan’s infections art and intellectual scene thrived. On any given night a visitor might hear Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, or Kenny Dorham holding down the stage, with future cult figure Herbie Nichols taking a turn as intermission pianist.
Jazz greats often frequented Café Bohemia as listeners, too — Sonny Rollins, Max Roach and Thelonious Monk among them – checking out the music in the middle of the Greenwich Village scene. Other patrons included novelist Jack Kerouac and painter Larry Rivers. Cafe Bohemia was where saxophonist Cannonball Adderley made his electrifying national-scene debut, Miles Davis got his first great group up to speed on this small stage, and half a dozen standout records were made in this legendary performance space. The style of jazz played there was progressive hardbop, often in a minor key, and executed with world-class levels of passion and precision. The Night Lights show Live at Cafe Bohemia features live recordings made at the club by Mingus, Davis, Blakey, Dorham’s short-lived Jazz Prophets group, and pianists Randy Weston and George Wallington.
This is the kind of artistic and social space that we are working to create here at The Bohemian in Cedar Rapids. The success of KCCK jazz radio here in town is testament to the fact that many music fans in the Eastern Iowa region are ready for this kind of intimate and authentic music club.
We don’t need to go all the way to the past of New York City to capture our inspiration for exceptional music clubs. Legends exist in our own past here in Cedar Rapids:
Back in the Sixties, the most happening place for jazz in Iowa was a Cedar Rapids night spot called “The Tender Trap”. The Trap was owned by a music legend in his own right; percussionist Joe Abodeely. Joe ruled his club and the musicians who played there from his personal “throne” the stool above his drum set. From this perch, Joe barked orders to waitresses, bartenders, and his fellow musicians. He’d stop the music mid-song if a careless patron put out a cigarette on the floor.
The Trap was best known for a legendary night when a star was born. Cal Besemer, the house pianist at the club had recently played a gig at Currier Hall at the University of Iowa. A student came out of the audience and asked if he could sing a few numbers with Cal. Cal goodheartedly welcomed this enthusiastic student onto the stage. Cal immediately recognized such talent, -so he invited the college student to come up to Cedar Rapids the next night.
When Cal showed up at the Trap, the house was packed with a crowd of out of town women who had come over from the hotel next door where they were attending a bowling conference. A nice looking young man in a smart tux came up to the stage and took the microphone. Joe protested from his throne; “your bringing in some new guy when the house is packed?”. Cal persisted; “just let the guy sing one song”. The young guest performer sang his heart out. The crowd went wild, clapping and screamin’. The roof was raised and the doors were propped open with people leaning in to listen from the street. This guy became a regular on Joe’s stage at The Trap. Jarreau was even married on this same stage. He made his first recording with Abodeely, Cal and the Trap house band. He’d found his calling. He finished his degree at the U of I, -but he knew that music was now his career.
A star was born in Cedar Rapids; Jazz vocal phenomenon, Al Jarreau.
Two decades earlier, a few blocks away the stage at The Foxhead Tavern was the fertile seed bed for a shift into a new music form that no one had heard or named yet. ‘40’s band leader Louis Jordan was hired to lead the Foxhead house band. In bigger cities such as Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, Jordan kept his repertoire focused on the swing music the crowd had came for. Cedar Rapids was more laid back, so Louis Jordan began to experiment with new rhythms, new beats, new forms of lyrics and catchy choreography to go with his rockin’ and rollin’ up tempo tunes.
By the time Jordan headed back out on the road to higher paying gigs in the big cities of the East and the West Coast, he took along with him his joyful new music that had first taken root in Cedar Rapids. Emerging 50’s musicians such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard took note and followed suit. Berry and Little Richard spent decades arguing about which one of them was really the “Father of Rock and Roll”… -but Chuck Berry and Little Richard both knew that the Grandaddy of Rock and Roll was Louis Jordan, -and that these new sounds were first heard at the Foxhead in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Our goal here at The Bohemian is to provide fertile artistic ground for new legends to emerge.