By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
There was this guy named Larry in Pasadena who was the No. 1 book for Mickey Cohen. I became good friends with him, and I worked in his restaurant for a year, and I did good business. And then Larry gave me this radio show. And he said, Jimmie, if you ever wanna buy a club, do anything at all, you call me and I’ll give you the money to get started.
Well, I had already saved a few bucks, and then I got this job in Hollywood at a club called the Sanbah Room, that was where Hollywood and Sunset meet, a nice little club. So then I call Larry, I said, I found a club that I like and I’d like to buy it, so I have a place to hang my hat. He came and looked at it, and then we talked to the owner, who wanted to get rid of it, ’cause the guy running it was stealing him blind or something, so that’s how I got in the club business.How did the word get around on a new club back then?
Same as today: If you have the thing that people want, they’ll find you.Did you do any advertising?
Yeah, I had ads in the Daily News, and another thing was that I got doing these arthritis telethons with Jack Rourke —Yeah, he used to do TV game shows.
Yeah, Fred MacMurray’s brother, his half-brother. Jack put me on the telethon and I became an associate producer — I used to help ’em book their acts. That got me exposure on television, and I took off like a shot. And then Larry Finley had a show starting on KTLA, it must have been around ’53 or ’54, and he said, You wanna be the band on my TV show on Channel 5? So I was on The Larry Finley Show every night for an hour, the biggest show on nighttime television. He had everybody on it — Sammy Davis, anybody who played at Ciro’s, the Mocambo or Trocadero. And Dick Grove — you’ve heard of the Grove School of Music — he was the piano player. I worked there five nights a week, from 11 to 12:30.The Sanbah Room must have been quite a hot spot.
Ornette Coleman played the Sanbah in 1959, with Don Cherry. He didn’t do too well, ’cause it was too weird for most people. Billie Holiday used to come in there when she was in town. She hung out till morning after her other gigs. Nat and Cannonball Adderley played — Cannonball was a huge influence on Eric Dolphy. I had a buncha doo-wop groups — the Coasters, the Drifters, the Fifth Dimension before they had that name, and I backed them all. And if you got there by 9:30, 10 at night, you wouldn’t get a seat.How many people could you fit in that room?
About 80, maybe 75.Did you get harassed by the LAPD?
Yes! [Laughs.]On what grounds? Smoking reefer?
No, we’re not talking about that stuff — it went on, it does today, you can’t stop that. Here’s how they’d harass and intimidate: If they see you’re drawing people, if you have a good entertainer, then you have packed houses. And that creates a "police problem," they call it. But I got friendly with the Police Department. If you’re gonna fight ’em, they’re gonna win every time. çHow long did the Sanbah last?
I was there eight years. I sold it in 1962. I bought this other club, with a bigger room, 150-200 people; it was called the Sundown, and then we changed the name to the Summit. That was on Wilcox and Sunset, where the Lingerie is now. I had the stage to the right in the far corner, and then I had one big space. I became partners with Tommy Bee, he was the biggest jazz disc jockey of the day, and we started Monday-night jam sessions at the Summit. A lot of groups played, like Coltrane’s — very nice guy. And Thelonious Monk — real nice guy. Monk said, Jimmie, I don’t like to go out too much, so he didn’t leave the club for two days; he slept on the couch in my office. Yusef Lateef played there; Sam Cooke sang there; Louis Prima and Sam Butera used to drop in. And Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles, Steve Allen, Steve McQueen — everybody.You’re saying that John Coltrane played at your club?
I’m pretty sure his first appearance in Southern California was with me, in 1959. At the time, there weren’t any big jazz clubs in L.A., and Tommy and I thought, Well, we’ll hire a few guys from the Miles Davis band, who were working in San Francisco. We’d fly ’em in for Monday nights at the Summit.Do you remember what Coltrane was into the night he played there? Was he breaking free?
Yeah, he was starting to break free. He’d get up, start the band and then play for two hours. The band would take breaks, and he’d just keep playing. [Laughs.] It was revolutionary. He was trying to develop a new thing, break away from Parker, take it up to another level.