“At the Trocadero” Brings a New Song to an Old Club

Tribute to 1950s club in Kansas City joins a surprisingly lean list of joints commemorated in jazz.

New song is featured on the album, “The Drummer Loves Ballads,” available for Christmas

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Nov. 29, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — When John Armato co-wrote “At the Trocadero” with pianist Wayne Hawkins for Armato’s album, “The Drummer Loves Ballads,” he thought of it as another in a long line of songs memorializing jazz clubs. But the list isn’t as long as he thought.

“Once you get past a very few especially famous clubs that have been commemorated in song, people are hard pressed to come up with others,” said Armato. “I know, because I asked a lot of jazz players to name some.”

There are songs about jazz cities and areas, like “Kansas City” and “Basin Street Blues,” but Armato was looking for clubs. There’s “Lush Life,” which describes such clubs in general but not a particular one. And when well-meaning friends suggested “Copacabana,” well, no offense to Barry Manilow, but his “Copa” was pure pop and Armato was looking for jazz.

“Four clubs kept coming up,” said Armato. “There are more, to be sure, but as I talked to musicians, only a few were top of mind.” Here they are:

No. 1 – Birdland

Inevitably, the first club to be mentioned was Birdland, named for saxophonist, Charlie “Bird” Parker. The club opened in New York City in 1949 and three years later George Shearing and George David Weiss wrote “Lullaby of Birdland.” The hit tune “Birdland,” made famous by fusion band Weather Report and later by vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, also takes its name from the club.

No. 2 – The Savoy

The Savoy Ballroom, a legendary Harlem nightclub, was Edgar Sampson’s muse in 1933 when he wrote “Stompin’ at the Savoy” as a theme song for the Rex Stewart orchestra. Benny Goodman’s recording made it famous. Now a jazz standard, the tune has been covered by hundreds of artists, from Judy Garland to the Boston Pops.

No. 3 – Tin Roof Café

It would be a surprise if a New Orleans jazz joint weren’t on the list. There is, but technically, it was a café, not a club — The Tin Roof Café on Washington Avenue. The café/club inspired members of the

New Orleans Rhythm Kings to write and record “Tin Roof Blues” in 1923. It has since become one of the most recorded and frequently played Crescent City compositions.

No. 4 Duke’s Place

In 1948, the legendary pianist, composer, and big band leader, Duke Ellington, opened a nightclub in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Officially, it was named “Duke Ellington’s” but it quickly became known simply as “Duke’s Place.” Unfortunately, it folded just as quickly. The name lived on, though, when Ellington borrowed it for the title of a tune on his 1961 album with Louis Armstrong, “Recording Together for the First Time.” He borrowed the melody too, from his own “C-Jam Blues.” “Duke’s Place” gained popularity when Ellington and Armstrong performed it live on The Ed Sullivan Show.

NEW — The Trocadero

Pick your city. In the 50s it probably had a club named “The Trocadero.” The one in Kansas City, Missouri, featured a rather half-hearted attempt at exotic décor and just enough room for a trio. Armato’s parents, Frank and Millie, frequented the club while dating in 1955. Years later, whenever they heard a particularly mellow ballad or smooth saxophone, they’d say “that’s just the kind of music we used to hear at the Troc.” Armato turned their memories into lyrics, and pianist Wayne Hawkins turned his lyrics into song: “At the Trocadero,” featured on Armato’s 2021 release, “The Drummer Loves Ballads.”

A Jazz Lover’s Christmas Gift

“The Drummer Loves Ballads” is a soundtrack for lazy afternoons, romantic evenings, and melancholy midnights. It spent 16 weeks on the JazzWeek charts and has received airplay worldwide. Critics have called it “an exceptional album,” “musically impeccable and deliberately hushed,” “easily recommended,” and “sultry, playful, and melodic.” It is available everywhere, including the album website, and Amazon.

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SOURCE John Armato