Coming from New York, most of the guys here were strange. You know, they didn't dig New Yorkers at all. They said we had an attitude, and I guess we did. Well at that time I was under that false impression that these guys didn't know anything out here, you know, this West Coast jazz. Everything here was so laid-back.
The first summer I came out here, I worked with the Sweethearts of Rhythm at the Million Dollar Theater. I worked one week with them down there. They had a chaperone, Miss Rae Lee Jones, and she wanted me to travel with them. My dad and I were still living out here on Adams and St. Andrews Place, and I went home the first day and told my dad about how these girls were feeling on each other's boobs and patting each other on the butt and kissing. Daddy said, "You come home."
During her years on the road with the big bands, Melba was severely abused by several fellow musicians.
Rapes and everything. I've been going through that stuff for all my life. I'd just go to the doctor and tell him, and that was that. Anyway that's not - I don't even want to hear about - I mean, I don't want to talk about that.
It was all right. When I started going with Gerald [Wilson's band] I was okay, because I had his support. So I didn't have to worry. But then I left in '55, and I went back to Dizzy's band, it was the same thing all over again. Yeah, well, you know, it's a broad, and she's by herself. That's that.
Most of the cops Chief Parker would hire, he would get from down South. All the cops in Watts came from down South. There was discrimination everywhere; there wasn't supposed to be, but there was in some parts of Los Angeles. You couldn't go to Compton. Well, we'd go over there shopping. It's just that you couldn't live there.
And we played at Billy Berg's during '48, '49. We were the house band. We would play for intermissions, when the featured attraction would take their breaks. Then we played all around. The Brass Rail in Glendale. Just a club. Very prejudiced during that time. Glendale has always been prejudiced. Cops harassed us all the time. They wanted to look at my cigarettes to see if I had any dope in them. I never gave that a thought, because I didn't have no marijuana. I smoked some, but I didn't smoke any around like that. I wouldn't dare do anything like that. They harassed us on the streets, not in the clubs.
Glendale was the type of city where black guys didn't hang out on the streets, but in the clubs things were all right. But you wouldn't dare be caught walking around the streets there at night. As soon as your gig was over, you'd get into your little buggy and get back across town. We had a lot of places like that. We always referred to those areas as "Little Texas" or "Little Mississippi."
William "Brother" Woodman Jr.
The Melody Club on Slauson. I'll tell you what happened there. Well, as I said before, I wasn't used to prejudice. I just didn't see how it even existed. I was born in Watts, and at Jordan High there was a mixture of various races: white, Mexican, Oriental. We all got along wonderful together. At the Melody Club people were coming in, the place began to pack, and they had "reserved" signs on almost all the tables. I wondered about that within myself. White people would come in. It was packed every night. Then the blacks would be coming in, and they'd turn them away. And that really got to me.
So I went to Jessie Price. I said, "Man, did you see those colored people?"
"Yeah, man. I don't like it either, but there ain't nothing you can do about it."
"Well, man, why don't you talk to the man and ask him what's happening?"
"No, man. I can't do that. That's just the way it is."
"Well, I'll talk to him." So I spoke to him. I forget his name. He was a Jewish fellow. I asked him, "Why is it that the colored people come in here, and you're turning them down, and these reserved signs on the table surely aren't reserved for everybody? But the reason why you've got them reserved is because it seems like you just want to make the colored people think that all these tables are reserved."
"Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Woodman, that's just the way it is. That's the way it is, and there's nothing I can do about it."